I’m saying it until I’m blue in the face this fall: Johnson County voters need to elect more moderate Republicans and Democrats to take over Kansas House seats in the Legislature.
Who are the best choices? They are the ones ready to fight Gov. Sam Brownback’s disastrous economic policies in Topeka — which means ousting as many as possible of the incumbent ultra-conservative Republicans. The newcomers will need the ability to work well with others in the opposite party. They especially must be keen on fully funding the K-12 education programs significant to Johnson County’s future. (On Sunday I printed my Kansas Senate choices in Johnson County.)
What follows is my list of the best Kansas House candidates from the county in many contested races. This is based partly on watching more than a dozen candidates at a League of Women Voters’ forum Sunday, plus lengthy discussions with close watchers of these races in both political parties.
8th District: Patty Markley (Republican) over Ben Chociej (Democrat). Markley is a savvy newcomer.
14th District: Merlin Ring (Democrat) over incumbent Keith Esau (Republican). This would be a major upset, but Esau is not a force for progressive change in Kansas.
15th District: R. Paul McCorkle (Democrat) over incumbent Erin Davis (Republican). Davis is favored. While she is less of a troublemaker than other conservative incumbents, McCorkle would bring a good perspective as a teacher to the Legislature.
16th District: Cindy Holscher (Democrat) over incumbent Amanda Grosserode (Republican). Holscher is an impressive candidate and already seen as a key to a positive collaborative effort to beat back Brownback’s policies.
17th District: Tom Cox (Republican) over Helen Stoll (Democrat). Both are knowledgeable candidates. Cox gets extra credit for defeating GOP incumbent Brett Hildabrand in the primary.
18th District: Cindy Neighbor (Democrat) over Eric Jenkins (Republican). Neighbor, a former legislator, is the clear choice in this race, though she will have to work extra hard to win.
19th District: Incumbent Stephanie Clayton (Republican) over Elizabeth Meitl (Democrat) and John Taube (Libertarian). Clayton is a remarkable, plain-spoken lawmaker working for the best interests of her district — and of the state.
20th District: Jan Kessinger (Republican) over Chris McQueeny (Democrat). Kessinger beat incumbent GOPer Rob Bruchman in the primary and would be an excellent representative.
21st District: Dorothy Hughes (Republican) over Jerry Stogsdill (Democrat). This one is a very close call. Stogsdill has strong educational credentials. Hughes has exceptional health policy experience that includes working to draft and pass legislation, along with a solid resume in other areas.
23rd District: Incumbent Linda Gallagher (Republican) over Amber Versola (Democrat). Gallagher is a reasonable, intelligent opponent of Brownback’s policies and deserves re-election.
24th District: Incumbent Jarrod Ousley (Democrat) over Rob Johnson (Republican). Ousley has the right collaborative approach that will help moderate Republicans beat back Brownback’s proposals in 2017.
25th District: Incumbent Melissa Rooker (Republican) over Matt McCann (Democrat). Rooker is exactly the kind of phenomenally focused champion Johnson County voters need in Topeka.
29th District: Brett Parker (Democrat) over incumbent James Eric Todd (Republican). Parker is the best bet here to, again, help GOP efforts to take down some of Brownback’s schemes. Parker will need help from independent voters to oust Todd.
39th District: Shelee Brim (Republican) over Angeliina Lawson (Democrat). Brim defeated GOP incumbent Charles Macheers in the primary and is another in a line of impressive younger candidates in this general election.
There are other House races on the ballot, but in almost every case, party operatives on both sides think one candidate easily will win. In a few races, I’m simply not excited about either candidate (Republican Sean Tarwater and Democrat Larry Miller in District 27 is an example.)
If wishing could make it come true, I’d hope for big upset victories for Democrat Mike Fonkert over incumbent Republican Willie Dove in the 38th District; and Democrat Jason Graff over incumbent Republican S. Mike Kiegerl in the 121st District.
But wishing doesn’t make anything happen. The candidates and their supporters are in charge now of getting the voters to come to the polls, starting with in-person voting on Oct. 24 and continuing through Nov. 8.
Johnson County must take advantage of its shot to get Kansas back on the right path. That means electing a good mixture of moderate Republicans and Democrats this fall to both the House and Senate.