You’re not alone if you get to the last couple of screens on your ballot and you’re absolutely clueless about who to vote for, what the positions are and why their election even matters. Like many voters, you think the presidential race is what really matters, and it does. But, the other races matter as much or even more.
The individuals in the other races make laws and decisions that impact us closest to home. City Council members make decisions about our police force – that’s why Wichita police have body cameras while other cities don’t. County Commissioners set our property tax rates, the County sheriff controls the operation of the jail, just to name a few.
Let’s look at the positions beyond the president that you’ll have an opportunity to vote on and why they matter.
U.S. Senator In case you don’t remember from your high school government class, each state has two U.S. Senators and they’re elected to six year terms. Approximately one-third of the total membership of the Senate is elected every two year.
The U.S. Senate proposes and considers new laws, approves or rejects presidential nominations, provides advice and consent on international treaties, and serves as the high court for impeachment trials. Although the U.S. House of Representatives also works on new legislation, only the Senate performs the other three duties.
Current Kansas Senators are Pat Roberts, who was first elected in 1996 and Jerry Moran, who was first elected in 2010. Both are Republicans. This year, Senator Moran is up for election.
He is being opposed by Patrick Wiesner, a Democrat, and Robert Garrard, a Libertarian. Wiesner, 60 is an attorney and a CPA who has run for office several times before. He prides himself on being a fiscal conservative. However, with the benefit of incumbency and an “R” beside his name, Moran will be hard to beat.
U.S. Congressman Back to your government lesson. Also referred to as a the House of Representatives, each congressman or woman is elected to a two-year term and serve the people of a specific congressional district.
That means every two-years the entire membership of Congress is up for re-election. The short term doesn’t give a good congressman much time to get things done, but it gives the voters a chance to get rid of a bad congressperson in a hurry. Among other duties, representatives introduce bills and resolutions, offer amendments and serve on committees.
The number of U.S. Representatives a state has is based on the state’s population. Kansas, one of the least populous states, has four representatives. Compare that to California with 53; Texas with 36 and New York with 27. Four isn’t as bad as it seems when you find seven states (Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Montana, Alaska and Wyoming) have only one representative.
Current Kansas House members are:
Tim Huelskamp, a District 1 Republican was first elected in 2010. The 1st district, is often referred to as the “Big 1” because it covers nearly 2/3 of the geographic area of Kansas. The district is so large because it encompasses most of very rural western Kansas with a very sparse population.
Huelskamp lost his bid for reelection in a nasty contest that was made even worse by piles of outside Political Action Committee money. The winner of the Republication primary Dr. Roger Marshall is pretty much guaranteed the seat since he doesn’t have any opposition in the general election.
Lynn Jenkins, District 2 Republican was first elected in 2008. She is being opposed by Democrat Britani Potter and Libertarian James Bales. The second district covers most of eastern Kansas except the Kansas City area.
Kevin Yoder, District 3 Republican was first elected in 2010. District 3 is composed of Johnson, Wyandotte and parts of Miami Counties. Yoder may have his work cut out for him this election. Based on primary voting, Republicans in the District are in an “out with the old” mode.
His Democratic opponent Jay Sidie, is well funded and organized. Besides, it hasn’t been that long since District 3 was represented by a Democrat. Steven Hohe a Libertarian is also in this race.
Mike Pompeo, District 4 Republican was first elected in 2010. The 4th District includes Sedgwick County and most of south central Kansas. Pompeo has three opponents: Daniel Giroux, Democrat; Gordon Bakken, Libertarian and Miranda Allen, Independent.
Giroux, a Wichita attorney has the polish and charm to give Pompeo a run for his money, but with so many people in the race, it will be hard for him to win. Miranda Allen, who made her way onto the ballot through a petition effort, has a lot of grassroots support.
The Kansas executive branch is charged predominately with implementing and administering the public policy enacted and funded by the legislative branch. In Kansas, there are six elected statewide officers including the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer and insurance commissioner. None of Since all of the Kansas Executives were elected during the 2014 mid-term election, they will not be up for reelection until 2018.
Because these races are always during non-presidential election years when voter turn out is low, a smaller number of citizens end up making a decision about who makes very important decisions about our state. That’s why it’s important to show up and vote during these mid-term as well as presidential elections.
The governor is the head executive of the state. As the state’s CEO, he/she is responsible for the enforcement of the laws of the state. The governor’s official duties include signing bills into law, serving as commander-in-chief of the state’s National Guard and militia forces, convening special sessions of the state legislature, delivering a “state of the state” address to citizens, and appointment people to various judicial and state offices.
The official duties of Lieutenant governor are few. According to Kansas statutes, “the lieutenant governor shall assist the governor.” The big roll of the LG is lady or man in waiting, as in waiting for the governor to die or to become disabled. In that case, the LG would step in to serve.
We addressed the two together, because in Kansas, they run together as a team. When you vote for the Governor, you’re also voting for the LG. In Kansas both the Governor and the LG are limited to two consecutive four year terms in office.
Since both Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer were elected to their second four-year term in 2014, they will not be able to run for reelection in 2018.
Attorney General The attorney general is the chief legal advisor to state officials. The attorney general provides formal legal opinions to the state’s governor and other appointed or elected state officials on constitutional or legal matters. Some of the legal areas where the attorney general protects the interest of the state and its citizens are in the areas of consumer fraud and protection, energy and utility company regulation, environmental protection, internet regulation, and telecommunications.
Some areas where citizens might see the direct benefit of the attorney general’s office would be in protection from consumer fraud and illegal or misleading trade practices. Other common complaints include unfair mortgage foreclosure practices, illegal e-mail advertising, and home repair and remodeling contractors that fail to complete jobs despite being paid in advance.
Kansas’ current Attorney General is Derek Schmidt, a Republican. He was first elected in 2010.
Secretary of State At the state level, the Secretary of State is the chief record keeper for a wide range of documents and also serves as the state’s chief elections officer. As the state’s record keeper the Secretary of State keeps records and state document including the state constitution, legislative acts, and executive orders. For civil records, the SOS is responsible for keeping up with birth certificates, marriage certificates, and adoption and divorce decrees.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, is most well-known for his role as the state’s chief elections officer. Kobach has pushed for and helped get passed in Kansas some of the most restrictive voting requirements of any state in America.
In addition to voter Identification requirements, Kansas is just one of three states that requires individuals to provide proof of citizenship to register to vote. While most SOS take the position of encourage voting participation, Kansas’ SOS takes a rather opposite position, making the masses do more to make sure the few fraudalent people are caught.
State Treasurer The State Treasurer of Kansas is the chief custodian of Kansas’ cash deposits, monies from bond sales, and other securities and collateral and provides for the safe and efficient operation of state government through effective banking, investments and cash management.
Kansas’ Treasurer Ron Estes, a Republican, aggressively pushes the state’s 529 education savings accounts that allows people to take advantage of federal and state tax deductions while saving for a person they specify’s future higher education expenses. Estes also administers the Kansas Housing Loan Deposit Program that provides qualified builders and developers in Kansas access to $60 million in low interest loans to finance housing developments.
Insurance Commissioner The Kansas Insurance Commissioner serves as the head of the Kansas Department of Insurance, which regulates and reviews insurance companies for financial solvency and regulatory compliance, educates consumers and helps license agents selling insurance products in the state. The current insurance commission Ken Selzer, a Republican, was first elected in 2014. He succeeded Sandy Prager, who retired in 2014 after three terms.
The legislative branch of government is responsible for enacting the laws of the state, setting the budget to operate the government and establishing the source of income to pay for the associated expenses.
Kansas, similar to the Federal Government is divided into two houses – the Senate and the House of Representatives. There are 40 Senators elected to four year terms and 125 Representatives elected to two year terms. That means Representatives must run to maintain their seat during every election. All of the Senators are up for election the same year, instead of half during one election and another half during the next election. With that kind of rotation, every other election – and it coincides with the presidential election – every member of the Kansas legislature is up for reelection.
That’s the case this year and a lot of voters are hoping for a change in the legislative body. During the past two election cycles, a controlling majority of the Kansas Legislature has become ultra conservative. Moderate Republicans and Democrats have attempted to thwart the conservative movement, but haven’t had the numbers to win on many issues. They’re hoping this election, they’ll be able to get enough moderates and Democrats elected to be able to build a coalition that can control the house and Senate.
There is a good possibility for the coalition to work in the House, but it seems almost impossible in the Senate.
The conservative majority has been responsible for passing bills like open carry (gun) laws, requirements for proof of citizens to register to vote, and a taxing system that’s given income tax cuts to corporations over individuals.
The third branch in balancing the Kansas’ political power is the judicial branch. The courts/judges are responsible for interpreting the constitution and laws and applying their interpretations to controversies brought before it. In the three armed format of Kansas and Federal government, the persons charged with the exercise of one power may not exercise either of the others, but that separation of power is under attack in Kansas by the current Legislative majority and Executive branches aren’t too pleased with recent Judicial rulings on school funding and a ruling that overturned the death sentences of convicted killers Jonathan and Reginald Carr.
Because of these rulings, the judicial retention elections are a big issue this year, with millions of dollars expected separation of power is under attack in Kansas by the current Legislative majority and Executive branches aren’t too pleased with recent Judicial rulings on school funding and a ruling that overturned the death sentences of convicted killers Jonathan and Reginald Carr.
Because of these rulings, the judicial retention elections are a big issue this year, with millions of dollars expected to be poured into unseating four of the liberal judges.
Judges in Kansas are initially appointed by the Governor, however they are retained by a vote of citizens. Four of the five judges up for a retention vote were appointed by former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebeilus – they are: Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Associate Justices Carol Beier, Dan Biles and Marla Luckert. The fifth justice on the ballot, Caleb Stegall, was appointed to the bench by Gov. Sam Brownback, and conservative groups are campaigning in favor of his retention.
While you may not have paid much attention to judicial elections in the past, this year just don’t roll pass these races. Failing to vote in the judicial retention races is truly giving away your power to control the future of Kansas.
In addition, your vote on Legislative race will impact the way judges are selected in the future. In the last two legislative sessions, conservative lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to pass a constitutional amendment changing the way Supreme Court justices are chosen. Their proposed changes would put more power in the hands of the governor. They will likely try again this year to get similar changes through.