Johnson, Reitz decisions have others guessing

By Bill Felber

On the eve of the final weekend before the deadline for filing for county offices, leaders of both political parties are unsure what to make of the contest for the second district seat on the Riley County Commission.

Two-term incumbent Al Johnson, a Republican, has not made his re-election intentions known, a fact that appears to have created hesitation on the parts of other potential candidates as well. He indicated this morning he is “still kicking it around” with respect to whether to seek a third term.

To date, no candidate on either side has filed for the position.

The second commission district largely consists of the northern rural portions of the county, although the most recent redistricting scrambled district boundaries so much that it is impossible to accurately generalize.

Barb VanSlyke, chair of the county Republican Party, said Friday there have been “conversations” about the Johnson seat, but that people appear to “want to see what his (Johnson’s) intentions are. “Honestly I do not know,” VanSlyke said of Johnson’s potential interest in seeking a third term.

If Republicans are uncertain, so are Democrats. Kathryn Focke, Democratic Party chair, promised Friday that “we’ll have somebody” by the filing deadline, but was not sure who it would be. “We’re still talking to people,” she said.

Barring a surprise, it appears that incumbent county department heads all will be able to run unopposed for re-election. That includes county attorney Barry Wilkerson, county clerk Rich Vargo, county treasurer Eileen King and register of deeds Deb Regester.

“People just aren’t interested in those county jobs,” Focke said, suggesting that time demands coupled with the difficulty of taking out incumbents were high hurdles.

The situation regarding legislative races is less critical, largely because the filing deadline has been pushed back to June 10. But what will happen with at least two contests also remains unknown. Democrats are trying to find a candidate to oppose incumbent 67th State Rep. Tom Phillips. Both parties are also uncertain what will happen in the 22nd District State Senate race, where incumbent Sen. Roger Reitz has not indicated his re-election plans.

Republicans at least have two declared candidates in that race; both Bob Reader and Joe Knopp have been running since last year. That’s two more than the Democrats, although Focke assures that in both the 67th House and 22nd Senate fields a candidate will emerge by the deadline.

Part of the problem in those races is the Legislature’s failure to agree on district boundaries. “A lot of people were hanging back to see where the district lines were going to be,” Focke said. She believes the failure of lawmakers to finalize districts ought to spur a movement to take the Legislature out of the redistricting process. “I’m for pushing the Legislature to get a new process going,” she said. That process would involve a commission similar to ones that control redistricting in about half the states at present.

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