On November 8, several key issues will be represented on the Kansas ballot. There will also be a significant local ballot question for the citizens of Beloit.
Kansas Supreme Court Justice retention has been a hot political topic leading up to the election, and the result will have an impact on issues in the state ranging from education to abortion. There is a massive push by conservative groups to remove four of the five judges from the panel by popular vote on Tuesday.
Governor Sam Brownback’s Road Map Political Action Committee (PAC) pumped $65,000 in September and October, and over $100,000 in total since the first of the year, to Kansans for Life. The governor has insisted that those donations to KFL are for anti-abortion efforts and not for justice anti-retention efforts. He also stated that he has supported KFL in the past.
“I’ve helped and given some funds to Kansans for Life over multiple campaign cycles,” Brownback told reporters in Topeka earlier this week.
His PAC’s contributions to KFL this year are by far the largest given to the anti-abortion organization this election year. KFL is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization which is not legally required to disclose how it spends the money contributed by Brownback’s PAC.
However, KFL Executive Director Mary Kay Culp told the Wichita Eagle recently that those funds are being used directly in an anti-retention campaign led in part by KFL called “Better Judges for Kansas”. Their goal is to convince voters to check no on retention of four of the five current justices. The group, and another called “Kansans for Justice”, are both looking to retain Justice Caleb Stegall and remove Justices Lawton Nuss, Marla Luckert, Dan Biles and Carol Beier.
Critics claim that Brownback is knowingly aiding the anti-retention efforts financially with the donations to KFL and with payments to former members of his reelection campaign who are currently working for anti-retention groups. They say the indirect involvement of the governor working through his PAC to assist anti-retention efforts through KFL allows him to claim he has not gone back on a pledge to stay out of the the justice retention issue.
Brownback attempted to get the legislature to grant him authority to appoint judges rather than have them voted on during the 2016 legislative session. Those efforts failed, and the next supposed plan of attack was to campaign against the sitting justices prior to the upcoming election. The justices have been painted by Brownback and his supporters as liberal activists due to their decisions on education funding. They are also under attack from anti-abortion groups as well for not being conservative enough in their views and actions according to those groups.
The “Kansans for Justice” group claims they are representing the families of murder victims from the infamous Carr Brother’s case in Wichita who were upset when the Kansas Supreme Court overturned their death sentences on a technicality because they were sentenced together instead of separately. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision and put the Carr Brothers back on death row.
Opponents of “Kansas for Justice” suggest that there is much more to that movement than simply representing Carr Brother’s victim’s families. Saying it is a heavily politically motivated movement simply using the Carr Brothers case to emotionally influence the public to support anti-retention efforts as they have spent about $280,000 on television ads as of last week.
Supporters of the current justices call the efforts to remove them a power-grab by the Brownback Administration aimed at allowing the governor the opportunity to essentially reshape the state supreme court to aid in furthering and upholding his policies and agenda.
In the Kansas Legislature there are two races that will be determined locally, in part, including incumbent Kansas Republican Senator Elaine Bowers of Concordia versus Democrat challenger Brian Angevine of Cuba. Republican House of Representatives incumbent Susan Concannon is unopposed.
Republican Deena Horst of Salina will face off against Independent candidate Aaron Estabrook of Manhattan for the Kansas Board of Education.
In the State Legislature, Democrats are essentially guaranteed election in four seats barring unforeseen circumstances. In the eight open Republican seats, all eight have general election competition. If Democrats intend to make any gains, it will be in the 36 districts which have general election competition between two major party candidates.
Only 10 seats were challenged in 2012. Six conservative Republican incumbents were defeated in the primary by more moderate Republican candidates. Particularly in northeast Kansas.
No significant changes will likely occur in terms of political party control based on the number of seats that could potentially change hands. Republicans are fielding unopposed candidates in 32 districts, while Democrats have 19 unchallenged candidates.
Twenty-six incumbents – three Democrats and 23 Republicans – are not running for re-election in 2016. Seventeen of those seats have competitive races.
If Democrats intend to make any gains in the Kansas House, it will be in the 74 districts which have general election competition between two major party candidates. Only 15 seats were competitive 2014. In the August primary, eight conservative Republican incumbents were defeated by Republican candidates viewed as more moderate.
In local races, Mitchell County Commissioners Mike Cooper and Jim Marshall are up for re-election and are both running unopposed. County Clerk Chris Treaster, Treasurer Yvonne Melton, Register of Deeds Tami Eck, and County Attorney Mark Noah are running unopposed. Undersheriff Tony Perez is the only candidate running to fill the position of Sheriff, and he will replace Doug Daughtery who will retire at the end of this term.
There is only one contested race for Mitchell County Township positions. That is in Custer Township for Treasurer between Republican Will Wiese and Democrat Galen Seehafer, both of Hunter. Only township residents vote for the township representatives.
Perhaps the most compelling issue is that which will be decided by the citizens of Beloit whether or not to change the make-up of the Beloit City Council in terms of number of members and the job description of newly hired City Administrator Jason Rabe.
The ballot question was recommended by the Leadership Mitchell County Taskforce, and placed on the ballot by the current city council. It would reduce the city council from eight members to six, with three members selected from each of two wards. The current eight member council consists of two members from each of four wards.
The role of Mayor Tom Naasz would not change. However, City Administrator Jason Rabe’s role would transition to that of a city manager. As a city manager, Rabe would make all administrative and personnel decisions. City department heads would answer directly to him as opposed to answering to the city council as is now the case. Rabe would continue to implement and work to improve city policy, and he would continue to answer directly to the city council.
A “yes” vote would be a vote to adopt the proposed changes. A “no” vote would leave the structure of the city council and Rabe’s role as a city manager as is.
Tune in to KD Country 94 beginning at 8:30p.m. on Election Night for live in-studio updates every 30 minutes until 11p.m. as we keep you posted on local, state and national races that will impact NCK.