The race for the Republican nomination for the 37th District Senate seat in the Aug. 5 primary pits two conservative women with wide name recognition and legislative experience once again.
Molly Baumgardner was appointed to the seat in April, when Republican precinct committeemen and committeewomen voted for her to fill the unexpired term of former Sen. Pat Apple, who resigned to accept an appointment to the Kansas Corporation Commission. Baumgardner is a former member of the elected Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees.
Baumgardner defeated the woman who will be her August primary opponent, Charlotte O’Hara, by the precinct vote of 50-35 to assume the senate seat.
O’Hara had previously lost to Apple in the 2012 Republican primary election.
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O’Hara has legislative experience, though. In early 2011, she was appointed to fill the unexpired term of former 27th District House Rep. Ray Merrick.
Merrick resigned his House seat to fill the unexpired 37th District Senate term of Jeff Colyer, who was elected lieutenant governor as Gov. Sam Brownback’s running mate in November 2010. Merrick held the Senate seat for nearly two years before winning his former House seat in November 2012 and then becoming speaker.
After redistricting in 2012, O’Hara pursued the 37th District state Senate seat nomination, but lost to Apple.
Now she’s going for it again, this time against Baumgardner.
The winner of the primary is likely to win the Senate seat, because no Democrat has filed to oppose the Republican nominee.
There is hardly any difference between O’Hara and Baumgardner on the issues.
Both candidates say they would not vote to repeal the income tax cuts passed by the Legislature in 2012. Both say they would vote to repeal the state’s renewable energy standards, contending that the standards have resulted in higher costs to consumers.
Neither favors expanding Medicaid, despite the offer of federal help to pay for it that came along with the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Neither favors exempting private health clubs from paying property taxes, as would have been the case had the House agreed and Brownback signed a bill that passed the Senate in each of the past two years. Private, for-profit health club owners say they need the break to compete with nonprofit centers like the YMCA.
Both women think public education has been funded adequately in Kansas.
“(T)he money should go to the classroom, not to bloated bureaucracy and unnecessary brick and mortar,” O’Hara said in response to a Star questionnaire.
“When including all resources, Kansas taxpayers are generous in their support of education,” Baumgardner wrote. “When you add up all of the costs directed by the State Supreme Court, the spending is currently $12,781 per student.
“I believe more of that funding should be directed to the actual classroom and look forward to the findings of the state’s new K-12 Commission on financial efficiency and student accountability.”
Baumgardner said there were several reasons why she would make the best senator.
“Our number one priority should be education,” she said. “I believe I have the broadest and most in-depth experience in education. I have taught in the classroom, I have served in an advisory role and I have served on a board, reviewing those budgetary and goal decisions.
“I have that experience in the State Legislature, looking specifically about … how to be certain those funds are getting into the classroom.”
Baumgardner said her experience with testing would help in coming up with state standards, which she favors as an alternative to the Common Core.
O’Hara said she was the true tea party conservative in the race and that Baumgardner was the pick of “establishment” Republicans, citing Brownback’s endorsement of Baumgardner.
O’Hara contended that Baumgardner tacked to the right after learning that O’Hara would run against her in the primary.
“I’ve been there fighting on the front lines,” O’Hara said. “On the question on Medicaid, I was the one who fought the early implementation of Obamacare. I am not just on paper that I am going to be doing these things. I have a record, and vigorously have I opposed Obamacare.
“I also have a record of fiscal responsibility on schools clear back to 1994. And I have been a big supporter of school choice for years. I was a big supporter of Kay O’Connor.”
O’Connor is a former state senator from Olathe who became nationally known in the early 2000s for her conservative politics, including support for school-voucher programs.
Education: Bachelor’s from University of Missouri-Kansas City, master’s from University of St. Mary, teacher certification from Mid-America Nazarene University
Elected experience: Kansas Senate, 37th District, since April 2014; trustee, Johnson County Community College, 1987-2004
Education: Bachelor’s in education, University of Kansas
Occupation: Real estate investor; family-owned manufacturing company; former general contractor/developer
Elected experience: Kansas House, 27th District. Served in the 2011 and 2012 sessions