Government & Politics

GOP lawmaker drops re-election bid in district where two openly gay Dems are running

The Kansas Capitol
The Kansas Capitol The Wichita Eagle

A conservative House Republican who had pledged to run for re-election dropped his bid this week as two Democratic challengers run for his seat in an effort to become the first openly gay member of the Kansas Legislature.

Rep, Randy Powell, R-Olathe, withdrew his bid before Friday’s filing deadline, according to the Kansas secretary of state’s office. His district, the 30th, includes a portion of Olathe and Lenexa.

“Like any legislator, my time in Topeka was a roller coaster of ups and downs, of great successes and frustrating setbacks,” Powell said in a statement. “Most recently, the passage of the Adoption Protection Act was a testament to the incredible things that can be done when good people come together with no concern for who gets the credit!”

Rep. Randy Powell

The adoption legislation, signed into law by Gov. Jeff Colyer last month, narrowly passed the House. The law will allow faith-based adoption agencies to reject gay and lesbian couples.

Powell, who had served in the House since 2015 and was considered one its most conservative members, was a steadfast opponent of Medicaid expansion and rolling back former Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts.

He was a driving force behind a resolution that condemned pornography on public health grounds that passed the House last year. He won re-election to the House during the 2016 general election over a Democratic challenger by about five percentage points.

The conservative Republican’s decision to leave the race sets up a GOP primary between Colleen Webster and Wendy Bingesser.

Webster, a teacher, described herself to The Star as a moderate Republican. Bingesser was praised by Powell in his statement Friday. Bingesser did not return phone calls seeking comment after Powell withdrew from the race.

"I think it will help me," Webster said of Powell's dropping out. "I think it's good to have many people on both sides of the race."

On the Democratic side, Brandon Woodard of Lenexa and Matthew Calcara of Olathe are running. The two openly gay men have both been critical of Powell’s tenure since announcing their runs for office.

“The voters of the 30th District, men and women alike, want a candidate who will stand up for the reproductive freedoms and civil rights of Kansas women,” Calcara said in statement. “The radical, anti-women agenda of ultraconservatives like Powell and his handpicked successor are simply unacceptable to most mainstream voters.”

Woodard was more measured in his comments after publicizing on Twitter Thursday afternoon that Powell had dropped out of the race.

"I think he saw the writing on the wall," Woodard said.