Last week’s decision by a panel of three federal judges changed district lines throughout the state. The 117th Kansas House of Representatives District, thought by many to be on the chopping block, will now include Kiowa, Edwards, Pawnee, Hodgeman and Ness counties as well as eastern portions of Ford County and western parts of Rush County.
Four candidates have filed for the vacancy, which has no incumbent. The Republican primary ticket will include John Ewy of Jetmore and Mitchell Rucker of Burdett. Dennis McKinney of Greensburg has registered on the Democratic ticket and will run unopposed in the Aug. 7 primary.
Rucker and Ewy, both relatively unknown candidates, are at either end of the education spectrum.
Rucker, a political science and economics major at University of Kansas (KU), is a fulltime student, active in a number of campus organizations and is running his first campaign for public office.
“I’ve always planned on [running for office] at some point,” said Rucker in a phone interview last week. “It may be sooner than I had planned on, but I think things are going to work out. I have a strong group of supporters here at the university that have advised me. I have some other people back there that have shown me some support as well. I think it is a learning process, not having done this before, but I think I’ll be able to rise to meet the challenge.”
Rucker, a sophomore, is an elected member of the student and university senate.
He said he is a volunteer of the Center for Community Outreach, a KU sanctioned Lawrence-area outreach program that offers a variety of tutoring and community services, where he tutors area high school students in math and English.
Rucker also said he was the treasurer for the KU chapter of Amnesty International (AI).
According to their website, AI’s vision “…is of a world in which every person – regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity – enjoys all … internationally recognized human rights standards.”
Some of AI’s issues, outlined on their website, are the abolition of the death penalty, migrant and refugee rights, woman and children’s rights, censorship and free speech and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.
In a March 15 article in the University Daily Kansan, the KU student newspaper, Rucker was quoted as opposing a $100,000 student senate reserve expenditure to upgrade parts of Wescoe Hall, a multi-use campus building.
“I think this is purely an exercise in vanity and excess, and it isn’t necessary,” Rucker was quoted as saying.
The $100,000 was part of an estimated $250,000 upgrade project that added lights, trees and additional outdoor seating to the building, built in 1974.
The Daily Kansan reported that the student senate account balance was just shy of $320,000 prior to the 48-6 approval vote.
Rucker, who identified himself as a moderate Republican, was asked what issues were important to him.
“I think one of the big issues in the state right now is education funding with the budget crisis,” said Rucker. “We’ve been consistently cutting from our education budget and I think that is a step in the wrong direction. I also think we should show restraint and not over-tax our constituents. The recent tax plan that the legislature has put through was not responsible in the way it has cut taxes and made it so we will have to cut spending in the future.”
Rucker was asked where he would look for cuts, if education funding were restored.
“I think what’s been done recently has been a major tax cut to corporations and small businesses. I’m not opposed to giving tax cuts to them, but at a point we need to make sure we have adequate revenue coming in to the state, so we can fund the programs necessary to ensure that people are equipped to meet the challenges of our times,” he said.
Rucker, a former forensics and high school music student, felt confident he could compete with some of the more experienced candidates.
“That is where I grew up, it’s where I live. I know a lot of people from that area. They are good people; I think I’d be able to do a good job representing them.”
Ewy, (pronounced ay-vee) also comes from education, albeit on the other side of the classroom. He’s been a broadcasting and speech professor at Dodge City Community College (DCCC) for 36 years and is also seeking public office for the first time.
“I was going to run a while ago, but Larry Powell [was the incumbent],” said Ewy. “Incumbents are tough to beat. Then of course Larry hung it up, and we thought it was going to collapse, but I thought ‘I’m going to run for the 117th.’ Just in case they were going to keep it, not knowing for sure what counties were going to be in there. This is what I wanted to do, I talked to my family and my kids were excited. They knew I was interested. This is something that John Ewy wants to do.”
Ewy, a DCCC grad who completed degrees at Fort Hays State University (FHSU) and Kansas State has five grown children with his wife Marsha (a nursing professor at DCCC) and six grandchildren.
Ewy is chairman of the Hodgeman County Republican Party, a Methodist and a member of the local American Legion, “I never miss the town hall meetings or our legislative coffees.”
“I know Dennis [McKinney] is going to have all kinds of support. I have friends and relatives in Edwards County and into Spearville. I figured out the other day that over my 36 years of teaching I’ve taught a lot of students and a lot of them are from these areas,” said Ewy when asked about the challenge of campaigning against more experienced candidates. “I said I wanted to be an advocate for this area and people in this area. Western Kansas does not get credit for what we produce for the rest of the state.”
Ewy, who identified himself as a conservative Christian who is “strong on family values, raised in the Mennonite church,” said he believes a good idea is worth listening to, no matter whom it comes from. “I’m a conservative, but I am a listener. I don’t care what party it is, if they have a good idea and it is good for us, we’re going to take a long look at it.”
Ewy was asked if he felt state education was being properly financed.
“I have a lot of friends in education, around education and outside of education and we really need to sit down and take some heavy looks at it. There are a lot of things in education that we are probably doing that maybe we need more money in some areas and less in others. There is only so much money to go around. We have a lot of areas that are in need, but we only have so much money,” he said.
Ewy also commented that the inability for the legislature to agree on district lines, and the ensuing court ruling, shows disconnect between legislators and their constituents.
“I thought the House had theirs pretty well set up. I wasn’t in Topeka, but it sounded like the incumbents were worried about who they were going to go up against, in both parties. I was very disappointed that our legislature couldn’t get it done. The way I see it, I go up there to serve the people. I hope I get re-elected, but I go up there to do the job. I go up there to go to work.”
The state Republican primary is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 7.