The area’s two House incumbents held on to their seats Tuesday on a night in which extension of a controversial half cent sales tax won what turned out to be an easy approval.
Reps. Sydney Carlin, a Democrat, and Tom Phillips, a Republican, both defeated their opponents, Republican candidate Lee Modesitt and Democratic candidate Aaron Estabrook, by comfortable margins.
In a rematch for the 66th district seat, Carlin defeated Modesitt by nearly 1,300 votes, 4,364-3,089. That equates to 58-41 percent win. Two years ago Carlin won by only 182 votes.
Phillips beat Democrat Aaron Estabrook 6,312 – 3,519, a 64-36 percent margin.
Carlin said the key to her victory was the hard work from her friends and supporters, who worked up until the polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday. She said her involvement throughout her 40 years in the community helped as well.
“I feel validated,” she said. “I feel appreciated. It makes all the hard work I’ve given this job worthwhile.”
Given another term in Topeka, Carlin said she wants to make sure taxpayers are treated fairly, schools are funded and losses in mental health support are rectified.
She said the results of her race and others signal that people aren’t looking for one-sided government. “What it signals is nationally people are looking for balance in government,” she said. “They want us to disagree and try to compromise.”
Modesitt said he didn’t know what to think about the results Tuesday. “I thought it was going to be a close race, particularly how close it was two years ago,” he said.
Modesitt mentioned Carlin’s statements about him having no public service record as something he could have addressed more in retrospect. “It’s hard to analyze right away,” he said. “I look back at the campaign at things that were said that I should have fought stronger on.”
Phillips was the incumbent, but Tuesday was his first time being elected to his seat. He was appointed to the seat earlier this year after Susan Mosier became the Medicaid service director for Kansas.
Phillips said his victory “tells me I have connected with the voters, and they understand what I’m trying to accomplish.”
He said his main goals are to look at modifying the tax law, increase education funding, and provide oversight for KanCare, the restructured system for Medicaid.
Estabrook, a veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan, said he would make himself available to Phillips if he needed help understanding the plight of veterans returning home. He said he would be watching Phillips closely, hoping he follows through on his statements about mental health and veterans.
“If he doesn’t, we’re going to find somebody to beat him,” he said. “If it’s not me, then hopefully it’s someone else.”
In the 51st district race for a vacant seat, Republican candidate Ron Highland defeated Democratic candidate Richard Pikul by a 6,652-2,868 margin. The race didn’t have an incumbent.
The sales tax question passed with 11,572 votes in favor and 7,945 opposed. That result, which translates to 59 percent support, is sharply different from 2002, when the tax was originally approved with about 52 percent of the vote. The 2002 tax actually lost in the city of Manhattan, but won by 3,000 votes this year.
When city and county commissioners placed the tax question on the ballot this year, they modified portions of its purpose. The county portion will be used as the 2002 tax was, for road and bridge improvements. The city tax, however, will be used for a combination of debt relief, infrastructure and economic development. The city portion of the tax passed in 2002 was devoted entirely to economic development. The extension approved Tuesday continues the tax through 2022.
Turnout Tuesday was 20,536, which is 59 percent of the county’s 34,625 registered voters. But that number was about 4,000 fewer than the 24,412 who cast ballots in the 2008 presidential election.
Advance voting activity was also significantly less than in 2008, when 9,203 voters made their decisions ahead of election day. This year the comparable figure was 6,333.