Wichita’s typically low-key school board elections were swept into the mix of a national trend this year that brought school board elections into the center of the country’s political divisiveness. Spurred on by mask mandates, critical race theory and the fight against the use of bathrooms based on sexual identification, Wichita’s non-partisan school board election became a political hotcake.
Wichita’s school board meetings had not experienced the controversy seen on national media around mass mandates and other of these controversial issues. So, few people were paying attention to the school board races and even fewer people knew the Republican Party in Kansas had solicited and put forth a slate of candidates with the goal of unseating all four of the candidates up for reelection.
They were nearly successful, winning three of the four seats up in this election. With a seven-member school board, the election of the four Republican-backed candidates would have given them control over the policy-making decisions for the district. Even though they fell short of a majority, these new board members will still have considerable power to move their agenda and to influence the board’s policies.
The Republicans invested typically unheard-of amounts to get their candidates elected. They invested in mailers and billboards and targeted Republicans and independents with their mailings. They even solicited the endorsement of Republican Congressman Ron Estes as an endorser of the candidates.
Meantime, Democrats were sleeping, and unaware of what was going on until it was almost too late. Keeping to the policy that these races were supposed to be non-partisan, the Democrats officially stayed out of the race. However, late in the race, a Democratic-leaning PAC did send out a mailer endorsing the incumbents. Their effort was too little and too late to build awareness of what was really at stake.
Elected from the Republican slate were Kathy Bond, who unseated Mia Turner the only African-American on the board; Hazel Stabler, who unseated Ron Rosales, the only Hispanic person on the board; and Diane Albert, who will now represent District 1, which until the 2017 election had been represented by an African-American for more than six decades. The only incumbent who won reelection was Julie Hedrick.
It wasn’t a good night for incumbents in Wichita. Of the three city council seats up for reelection, only one incumbent won. Brandon Johnson, successfully won his second and final term on the city council.
Not winning reelection was Cindy Claycomb, who was defeated by Maggie Ballard. At this point, Michael Hoheisel is leading incumbent Jared Cerullo by just 69 votes.
Totally opposite of the school board, the new members of the city council are Democrats and set the council up for a Democratic majority led by Mayor Brandon Whipple