The future of the most politically and economically powerful county in Kansas is up for grabs.
By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH
The Kansas City Star
So just how far to the right are Johnson County voters willing to go on Nov. 6?
Moderate Republican and Democratic candidates for state Senate and House seats in the county are about to find out. They are in the crosshairs of ultraconservative forces.
But they arent the only ones in that position. So are Steve Klika and Calvin Hayden, candidates for the two contested, nonpartisan County Commission seats.
The outcomes next month will show whether voters generally have decided to further reject the leadership of the countys moderate political and business forces from politicians such as Annabeth Surbaugh to civic leaders such as Fred Logan to journalists such as Steve Rose.
They and many others have accomplished a lot over the last 40 years by creating a county with top-flight and most essentially well-financed public schools and basic services such as great parks and libraries.
But the vision of a progressive county is in danger of being repudiated on Election Day.
• Its likely that penny-pinching, socially conservative Republicans will take most of the state Senate and House seats contested in the county.
Blame Gov. Sam Brownback for that potential outcome. He wanted like-minded elected officials in Topeka next year, so he successfully fought to defeat almost all moderate Republicans in the countys Aug. 7 primaries.
If conservative GOP candidates win most of the seats in early November, as is likely, just call it mission accomplished for Brownback.
Then, starting in the 2013 session, Johnson Countians will see just how far the Kansas Legislature might go in ratcheting back funds for public schools and social services.
That would be chilling news for a county that has built its reputation as a great place to live by providing well-funded public schools. Meanwhile, the numbers of elderly and lower-income residents are growing quickly, so any reductions in state funding for social services would affect a large number of people.
• Regarding the County Commission, Klika is running for the 3rd District seat against Terry Presta, a former state legislator from Garden City without a strong record of public service in the county.
Klika is the kind of moderate politician most Johnson County voters used to embrace. Hes served on the Blue Valley School District board of education. Hes tackled an important topic future transit options and helped develop a program that one day could well serve thousands of residents.
Yet Klikas backers are worried that members of evangelical church groups and pro-life factions could help defeat him.
Haydens predicament as he runs for re-election from the 6th District is even more telling about how conservative the county is turning.
In 2008 he narrowly defeated John Toplikar, who had made his mark as a staunch budget conservative on the County Commission. But Toplikar also had gained a reputation for being lazy on constituent services; the final blow came when Toplikar was filmed stealing some Hayden signs.
Now Toplikar is back and given a fighting chance of winning this fall, even though Hayden has voted to hold the line on the countys property tax levy the last few years. Haydens crime seems to be that hes not considered to be far enough to the right on social and fiscal issues.
Klika and Hayden are well-qualified candidates who deserve election, as do many of the Democratic and moderate Republican legislative candidates.
On Nov. 6, voters will go a long way in deciding how their countys future will unfold. Or, as some critics of the far right contend, whether the countys future is going to further unravel.