What’s at stake in election?
Despite no real battles at the top of the ticket, Tuesday’s primary election is shaping up to be among the most interesting and important in recent memory.
The election may have serious impact not only on abortion and reproductive rights but also could help determine the future character of the Republican Party in Kansas.
To help voters think about the choices they will make in going to the polls, we offer these capsule commentaries about all of the contested races that will appear on the ballot in Marion County:
Attorney general — Despite what’s obviously the smallest ad budget, Tony Mattivi appears to have by far the most experience as a prosecutor and the least interest in playing politics unrelated to duties of the office. Kellie Warren’s platform is what you might expect more from a right-wing legislator than from an attorney general candidate. Failed 2020 gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach has filled airwaves with ads attacking Warren’s legal experience and elsewhere has indicated at least some things he might do with the office, though many appear to echo ultra-right causes he espoused as secretary of state.
Governor and lieutenant governor — Attorney general Derrick Schmidt and running mate Katie Sawyer face token opposition from a perennial candidate, Arlyn Briggs, a self-styled Christian recently arrested for allegedly threatening a law enforcement officer while Briggs was harboring an alleged stalker, and running mate Lance Berland, also a perennial candidate, who Briggs reportedly said did community service to resolve legal difficulties in Colorado.
Precinct committeeman — Most winners of these surprisingly powerful posts, with largely unfettered power to fill vacancies that occur outside of elections, will be write-ins or, failing that, appointed by the county chairman. Just two incumbents are being challenged. In Grant Township, deputy sheriff Joel Womochil is challenging rancher Mark Harms. In Marion South, ultra-conservative hospital executive Jeremy Ensey has said he was urged by others in the party to challenge attorney, former state representative, and one-time county chairman Bob Brookens.
Secretary of state —Most duties involve routine recordkeeping with little discretion by officeholders, yet both candidates have focused almost exclusively on election security, largely controlled by statute and generally not a problem. Incumbent Scott Schwab has handled office responsibilities with less theatrics than predecessor Kris Kobach. Challenger Mike Brown appears to want to return to the theatrical days of Kobach.
State board of education — Challenger Luke Aichele is a barber who seeks to impose a litany of ultra-right causes on state education. Incumbent Jim Porter is a lifelong educator who seems to have an agenda more about education than politics.
State representative, District 70 — Few differences seem to exist between the conservative stances of incumbent John Barker, who stresses his experience, and challenger Scott Hill, whose supporters have used sometimes deceptive information to challenge Barker’s record and who occasionally hints of odd, ultra-conservative beliefs, like his widely publicized (and, he says, mischaracterized) attempt to remove evolution from state school curricula.
State treasurer — For yet another office that elections tend to unnecessarily politicize, Caryn Tyson has focused on issues like those she pushed for as a right-wing legislator. Steven Johnson, also a legislator, has stressed qualities that might actually involve duties of the office.
U.S. Senate — Incumbent Jerry Moran faces token opposition from conspiracy theorist Joan Farr, who is running for Senate simultaneously in both Kansas and Oklahoma, where she already has been defeated.
Governor and lieutenant governor — Incumbents Laura Kelly and David Toland face token opposition from Richard Karnowski and Barry Franco, whose positions other than being opposed to abortion are difficult to discern.
U.S. Senate — Six candidates are competing to challenge popular incumbent Jerry Moran in November. Paul Buskirk, who oversees tutoring of University of Kansas athletes, and Mark Holland, a pastor and former Kansas City (Kansas) mayor, stress pro-choice positions and protections for gender identity. Attorney Patrick Wiesner shares those views and seeks limits on so-called assault weapons. Robert Klingenberg is a first-generation Mexican-American who wants universal health care, six-month family leave, and no income taxes on people earning less than $100,000. Mike Soetart is a gay, pro-life Catholic. Positions of Mike Andra, who owns Wichita Union Stockyards and KWLS-FM, are not clear.
Constitutional amendment — “Value Them Both” is a confusing attempt by the legislature to take state courts out of considering laws on abortion and reproductive rights. While it seems to promise exceptions to what undoubtedly would be an abortion ban, it is in effect a blank check. A “yes” vote would not ban abortion but would re-impose laws that, among other things, require all abortions to be reported to the state and allow them only if two completely independent physicians recommend them. A “no” vote preserves court rulings stating that Kansas women have a constitutional right to choose whether they can be forced by government to carry pregnancies to term.
— ERIC MEYER