Three KC area politicians who can’t lose (unless they do)

06/18/2014 1:55 PM

06/18/2014 6:01 PM

Who’s going to be the Eric Cantor of the Kansas City area in the next year or so, victim of a stunning defeat come Election Day?

The list has to be short, because it can only include those perceived as being on auto-pilot to re-election, usually because of their longevity in office, current popularity or lack of well-known opposition.

Naturally, all the signals being read right now could be flat wrong. One or more of the following “unbeatable” politicians could be thrown out of office.

Just don’t bet on it.

Sly James: The Kansas City mayor has a bit of a temper and can get carried away with his own golden tongue. He has rubbed some people the wrong way with his support for major upgrades at Kansas City International Airport, local control of the Police Department and the costly streetcar expansion.

Yet most Kansas Citians love James’ upbeat attitude and his sincere desire to work with a wide range of people to improve the city. Voters have endorsed the major items he has championed, such as a half-cent sales tax increase and water bonds.

No big concern has emerged that could derail James’ bid for re-election next summer. No serious City Council opponent has emerged to face him. The business community does not have anyone waiting in the wings to run.

The mayor’s race is well on its way to being a snoozefest.

Mike Sanders: Just last year the Jackson County executive was riding a parade float that voters torched at the polls — a sales tax increase for medical research. Plus, like in too many years, the county failed to properly do reassessment on thousands of properties.

But Sanders has brought a much-needed dose of professionalism to the courthouse, which included proactively dealing with the reassessment mess. Most of the problems caused by bickering legislators that once dominated the headlines are a thing of the past.

In his bid for a third four-year term as executive in 2014, Sanders is a shoo-in as the Democratic candidate (he has no primary opposition) and a big favorite in November.

Emanuel Cleaver: Running for his sixth term as a congressman, Cleaver faces the challenge of overcoming negative publicity about a large debt he acquired with his ownership of a car wash. He also is a Democrat with little real power to set any agenda in the Republican-controlled House.

But the two-term Kansas City mayor continues to be a high-profile spokesman for popular causes in his district, such as championing livable wages. He’s a representative in a district perceived to be friendly to Democrats, an unusual distinction in the two-state area.

And Cleaver has benefited from running against little-known or often-failed political candidates, something that appears to be continuing this election cycle.

A few others fall into a second tier of those who could cruise to re-election.

Johnson County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert — once the longtime mayor of Overland Park — is running for his second term. He remains popular, but does face challenges from current commissioner Ed Peterson and former state legislator Patricia Lightner.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is a Republican governor in a highly Republican state. But the revenue falloff after the deep tax cuts he championed is threatening the state’s finances. Democrat Paul Davis has a chance at knocking off Brownback this fall.

Cantor’s defeat opened the eyes of many incumbents around the country to the potentially fragile hold they have on their offices. And it gave opponents some hope of knocking off those incumbents.

But in the Kansas City area, at least three men aren’t good candidates to be Cantor-ized at the polls. Unless voters decide else wise.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at YaelTAbouhalkah.

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