Kansas Democrats never thought they’d gain enough seats to have a majority of the seats in the state’s 40-member Senate, but heading into Tuesday’s election, they had hoped to gain enough seats to help back-up any vetoes of legislation issued by Gov. Laura Kelly.
It takes 70% of a Kansas legislative body – either the house or the senate – to override the governor’s veto. That would have required the Democrats to gain four seats -- move from 9 to 13 seats – to help secure the Governor’s veto. Heading into the election, the Democrats had identified eight seats – mostly in Kansas City, Johnson County and Wichita -- they thought they had potential to win.
Similar to Democrats national goals to regain control of the U.S. Senate, the dreams of Kansas Democrats didn’t come through. Of the eight seats, the Democrats only gained two. However, they surprisingly lost a couple of seats in Topeka, for a zero-net gain.
What is encouraging though, is that even with a large Republican turnout, the Democrats pretty much lost by four percentage points or less. Ahead of the election, Kerry Gooch, Chief of Staff for Kansas Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, knew the races would be tough, but the fact that they were so close, indicated that many of these districts turning “blue.”
Johnson County is close to turning blue and the growing diversity of the two districts identified in Wichita, should help those district turn blue within the next few elections.
Incumbents Hold Strong
African-American incumbents in the Kansas Legislature dominated in their races. In Wyandotte County, KS Rep. Broderick Henderson and KS Sen. David Haley blew out their opponents, taking home 80% of the vote. In Sedgwick County, KS Rep. Gail Finney and KS Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau both took home 70% of the votes cast in their race. KS Rep. K.C. Ohaebosim also did well, securing 70% of the vote.
In Lawrence, KS. Rep. Barbara Ballard ran unopposed as did KS Rep. Valdenia Winn in Wyandotte. After securing a win in a tough primary, Wyandotte District Attorney Mark Dupree did not have an opponent in the general election.
KS Rep. Willie Dove, a Republican, decided not to run for his Bonner Springs House seat and instead decided to challenge the incumbent Democratic Senator in his area. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off. Dove just came up short, with 49% of the votes cast.
Patrick Penn, a Wichita Republican, survived a competitive primary against an incumbent Michael Capps, who had fallen out of favor with the Republican Party. Still, Penn didn’t have a cake walk in the general election. He took on long term Goddard Mayor Marcy Gregory. Penn prevailed winning 58% of the vote.
The surprise outcome of the election had to be the race for the State Board of Education, District 8 seat. This seat, considered the Wichita seat was held by former Wichita administrator and former USD 259 school board member Kathy Busch, a Republican. She was opposed by Betty Arnold, a Democrat and former USD 259 school board. The two served on the board together. Going against the statewide trends and with little or no advertising, Arnold earned 50% of the vote. At press time, this race is still too close to call. Absentee and provisional ballots may determine the result in this race. We’ve been tracking the online count, and as of presstime, Arnold has grown her lead from less than 100 to a little over 400.
According to Arnold, she pulled off this surprise win on less than a $500. She reached out to individuals and shared with them her philosophy. Instead of asking them for money, she asked them to tell others about her campaign and her believes. It worked! However, to make this kind of impact in heavily Republican Kansas, Arnold said she reached out to Republicans, particularly Republican women with a message that was appealing to them.
Although she hasn’t committed to supporting vouchers, she does believe a one-size-fits all approach to education doesn’t work and that the kind of education her daughter received at a private Christian school, may be the best fit for some students.
Alex Tyson secured a seat on the Geary County Commission. He becomes only the second African-American to serve on the commission. Other than commissioners on the Wyandotte County Unified Commissioners, a unique city/county form of government, Tyson is -- as far as we know – the only African-American serving on a county commission in Kansas.
Frederick Reid, a Democrat, lost in his bid to unseat the incumbent Geary County Sheriff.