Two Kiowa County politicians will run for a Kansas House of Representatives seat vacated by the recent redistricting.
Last week’s ruling by three federal judges changed a number of Kansas House of Representatives districts (see “Reading between the lines” in this week’s edition).
Kiowa County, no longer part of the 116th District, will be part of the 117th District.
The current 117th District Rep. Larry Powell has been moved out of the 117th District and into the 122nd District.
The 117th District will have no incumbent in November and two Kiowa County residents will seek to fill the vacated seat which now includes Kiowa, Ford, Pawnee, Hodgeman, Edwards and Ness counties.
John Unruh of Haviland, the current Kiowa County 1st District Commissioner, and former state treasurer Dennis McKinney of Greensburg, have each filed for the open seat.
Both men filed before Monday’s noon deadline.
McKinney, a Greensburg farmer and Democrat held public office previously, as a 116th District House representative and as an appointed Kansas state treasurer.
McKinney was a Kiowa County commissioner from 1989-1992, then served in the House of Representatives from 1992-2008, winning nine re-election campaigns and serving six years as the House minority leader.
In 2008 he resigned his legislative seat to serve under then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as the state treasurer until he lost his re-election bid to current Treasurer Ron Estes, a Republican.
“I struggled with it a lot, because I know how much work goes into a campaign,” said McKinney when asked why he decided to run. “But it seems like we have a shortage of legislators who want to listen to each other and cooperate. It seems like we have more of the Washington-style gridlock in Topeka. It’s not the way we should do business and it’s not the way we’ve done it.”
A Democrat who had been successful in a strongly conservative district, McKinney said that results and not party lines are what make state government successful.
“When I was the minority leader, I had good a good working relationship with the speaker of the House. We worked well together because we were both committed to solving problems. I think legislators with that approach are what we need now,” said McKinney, who cited the state budget and redistricting as examples of state gridlock.
“I believe I have valuable experience in how state government works and how we can make things work. I don’t think we should have a tax policy that shifts the burden to property taxes and property owners. It’s the hardest tax on farmers and small businesses. It’s also important that we preserve our rural schools,” he added.
When asked how he would approach new areas to the north, that may not be as familiar with him, McKinney said he would use the same approach that brought him success when we was running in previous elections.
Page 2 of 3 - “I just went into communities and started meeting people and talking to them,” said McKinney. “Seeing what their concerns are and listening. That’s the way I’m going to do it this time. Kansas voters are pretty smart folks, they’re not tied strictly to party lines. If they think you have something to offer, they’ll vote for you.”
Unruh a Haviland farmer and Republican, is serving his first term as a Kiowa County Commissioner for the 1st county district and served as Haviland mayor from 2007-2010.
Unruh said that 116th District Rep. Kyle Hoffman contacted him last Friday about the redistricting and encouraged him to run.
“I thought about it until Saturday, then I told him that if no one else was going to do it, I would file,” said Unruh on Tuesday morning. “I went to Topeka on Monday and filed. Since them I found that two other Republicans have filed so it looks like it’s a three person race for the ticket. At this point I am trying to assess the situation and see what I should do.”
Unruh said the parallels between new areas in the 117th District and his own political leanings will be a point of strength for his campaign.
“The new areas are quite rural and quite conservative fiscally and socially, as I am,” said Unruh. “I think I would be a good fit in the district.”
Unruh says that his experience in local government is a benefit should he move into a state position, but he feels extensive experience in government may not be the best indicator of a quality legislator.
“Our founding fathers set up [our government] so the common man could be part of it. The redistricting will bring in a lot of new blood. That may be for the best in the long run,” Unruh added. “It might bring a fresh perspective on things. Sometimes the professional politician gets a little jaded and buys into the system and I think it’s good to get some folks in who may not have a lot of experience.”
Unruh says that a good legislator should do what has to be done to get results and that the redistricting problems, and the resulting remapping, falls directly onto state legislators.
“Sometimes you have to give in order to get things done. Sometimes you need to compromise and sometimes you need to give in to something you don’t like for the greater good. You’ve got to look at the bigger picture and assess each situation. As far as the redistricting, they got what they deserved.”
Kiowa County having two local candidates for the open house seat will undoubtedly bring regional attention to the 2,100-population county at the south end of the reshaped 117th District.
Page 3 of 3 - “We have people [in Kiowa County] that are engaged and want to be involved and want to have a hand enough to step forward. I know Dennis feels a sense of responsibility, and that’s what prompted him to file. I think it’s good. So many times, I think folks aren’t engaged, I think it’s excellent.”
Unruh will need to win the Republican primary on Aug. 7 to reach the November ballot. He will be in a three-way primary race between Mitchell Rucker of Burdett and John Ewy of Jetmore.
McKinney will run unopposed in the Democratic primary.