Somber declarations that the Aug. 7 primary election will shape the character and future of Kansas are not exaggerated.
Republican Sam Brownback, in his first two years as governor, has demonstrated that he is willing and able to erode the quality of public schools, threaten the status of great universities and tear gaping holes in the social services net. His agenda is to shrink government and present Kansas as a low-tax state, regardless of how badly that may diminish the state and its quality of life.
The Kansas Senate is the states last bastion of political moderation. As such, moderate Republicans and Democrats are bracing for a fierce political assault from Brownback and his well-funded allies.
The Star urges Kansas voters to look closely at the positions of candidates in state legislative races and not be swayed by attack ads. In many cases, voters will have to adjust to new Senate and House districts drawn recently by federal judges.
The Star is recommending candidates who we believe are most likely to look out for the interests of Kansas and its people and not cling to an ultra-conservative ideology or rubberstamp Brownbacks agenda. If no candidates in a particular district fit that mode, we will not make a recommendation.
Below are our choices for the Kansas Senate in Johnson and Wyandotte counties.
Recommendations for contested House seats will appear in Mondays paper.
District 6: Former Kansas legislator and Wyandotte County Unified Government Commissioner Pat Pettey is a welcome entry in the Democratic primary. She is a smart, hard-working public servant who would be in a good position to take on former Democrat-turned-Republican state Sen. Chris Steineger in November.
Her primary opponent, (Vincent) Mario Escobar is a neighborhood leader but lacks Petteys depth of experience. This mostly Wyandotte County district includes a slice of northern Johnson County.
District 7: As a representative in the Kansas House since 2005, Kay Wolf of Prairie Village has been a strong voice for better-funded schools and for laws promoting the safety of children and elderly people. She is an independent thinker with a strong background in running small businesses, and would be a capable replacement for Sen. Terrie Huntington, who is retiring.
Wolfs opponent in the Republican primary is David Harvey of Mission Hills, owner of a property management firm. Harvey unsuccessfully challenged Huntington two years ago.
District 8: Thomas C. ( Tim) Owens of Overland Park is a voice of reason in the Kansas Senate. That makes him a prime target of Brownback and his allies. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Owens has correctly and steadfastly thwarted the governors attempts to gain control of the selection process for state Court of Appeals judges. As a former Overland Park city councilman, he understands the needs of local communities and their citizens. We strongly recommend his re-election.
Owens opponent in the Republican primary is Jim Denning, who has served one term in the Kansas House and is vice president of Discover Vision Center. He supports Brownbacks goals of cutting the states income tax, even if services must be sacrificed.
District 10: A newcomer to state politics, Tom Wertz of Lake Quivira brings considerable strengths to the Republican primary against incumbent Mary Pilcher-Cook. He has held senior positions with natural gas and electric utility companies and served as a JAG officer in the U.S. Air Force. He supports better funding for public schools and would oppose further draining of Kansas revenues.
Pilcher-Cook, of Shawnee, is a reliable vote for Brownbacks agenda and any bill that advocates an extreme conservative viewpoint. Wertz would be a welcome change.
District 11: The retirement of veteran Sen. John Vratil has created an open seat in this crucial district. Fortunately, Rep. Pat Colloton of Leawood is willing to step up. She has been one of the Houses most knowledgeable and hard-working representatives. Her work on criminal justice issues has earned Colloton and Kansas national recognition.
Collotons opponent in the Republican primary is Jeff Melcher, a Leawood businessman. His focus is more on shrinking government than improving it.
District 21: This newly created district features a GOP primary race between political newcomer Joe Beveridge and one-term House member Greg A. Smith. Beveridge, an environmental engineer and business owner in Lenexa, would do a much better job of protecting school budgets and maintaining essential services. He is active in community and school organizations and would bring energy and common sense to the Senate.
Smith, of Overland Park, is a strident social and fiscal conservative who would be expected to vote in lockstep with Brownback.
District 37: Sen. Pat Apple of Louisburg voted with dismaying frequency in Brownbacks favor last session. Overall, though, he is a thoughtful, hardworking senator and the best choice of three Republicans running for a seat in this district, which includes parts of Johnson and Miami counties.
House member Charlotte OHara, of Overland Park, is far out of the mainstream on many issues. Daniel Campbell, of Paola, hasnt left much of a footprint with his campaign.