Government & Politics

Koesten, Markley ousted as conservatives make gains in Johnson County GOP primaries

Incumbent Rep. Joy Koesten (left) and challenger Kellie Warren. Warren defeated Koesten Tuesday in a Kansas House of Representatives GOP primary, part of a small wave of conservative victories over moderates.
Incumbent Rep. Joy Koesten (left) and challenger Kellie Warren. Warren defeated Koesten Tuesday in a Kansas House of Representatives GOP primary, part of a small wave of conservative victories over moderates.

Rep. Joy Koesten and Rep. Patty Markley’s reelection bids ended Tuesday as conservatives ousted them and made gains in Johnson County Republican primaries.

When the county finally finished tabulating unofficial results Wednesday morning, conservative challenger Chris Croft had beaten Markley 58-42 percent in the Kansas House District 8, which includes parts of southern Olathe and Overland Park.

Croft will face Democrat Michele Lobitz, who has raised little money, in November.

Koesten, another first-term legislator elected in a moderate wave in 2016, lost to well-funded conservative challenger Kellie Warren by the same margin in District 28, which includes parts of Overland Park and Leawood. Warren will face Democrat Brian Clausen in November.

With two conservative heavyweights — Gov. Jeff Colyer and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — at the top of the ballot driving turnout, Koesten and Markley’s losses were part of a conservative mini-wave in the latest chapter of the long-running feud between the state’s Republican factions.

Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas political scientist, said on Twitter that it looked like conservatives would net about five more spots statewide, striking back some after moderates made gains in 2016. The margin could have been bigger given the trend, Miller said, but conservatives didn’t field challengers for a number of moderate-controlled seats.

Republicans currently hold an 85-40 majority in the Kansas House, even after Democrats picked up 13 seats in 2016. But the makeup of the House Republican caucus has been swinging slowly back to the center after years of conservative rule.

After the 2016 election, House Republicans voted to split the leadership positions, with Olathe conservative Ron Ryckman becoming House Speaker and Dighton moderate Don Hineman becoming majority leader. The two factions continued to have their differences, though, and conservative gains this year would ensure the party’s right wing would still have the ability to uphold vetoes on issues like Medicaid expansion and gun control.

Kansas Senate seats aren’t up for grabs again until 2020. Republicans hold a 31-9 edge in that chamber, but their caucus is also split between moderates and conservatives.

Most Kansas City area Democrats were unopposed Tuesday, but in one of the contested primaries, Brandon Woodard won the opportunity to try to make history in November as the first openly gay candidate to be elected to the Kansas Legislature.

Woodard defeated Matthew Calcara, who is also openly gay, 66 percent to 34 percent in District 30, which includes parts of Lenexa and Olathe.

Woodard is vying to replace Rep. Randy Powell, a Republican who is one of the Legislature’s most conservative members. Powell initially filed to run for re-election, but dropped out of the race earlier this year. On Tuesday, conservative Wendy Bingesser defeated moderate Colleen Webster in the Republican primary.

In other local Kansas House primaries:

District 14: Rep. Keith Esau’s decision to run for Kansas secretary of state opened up a three-way Republican primary. Esau’s wife, Charlotte, defeated Tom Stanion and Aaron Young. Charlotte Esau, a conservative, will face Angela Justus Schweller, a Democrat with a solid fundraising edge, in a district that includes parts of Lenexa, Olathe and Shawnee.

District 17: Republican Rep. Tom Cox had little trouble with challenger James Eschrich, who spent less than $1,000 on his race, winning 75 percent to 25 percent. Cox, a first-term incumbent, will face Democrat Laura Smith-Everett in a district that includes Lenexa, Shawnee and Lake Quivira. Libertarian candidate Michael Kerner has also filed to run.

District 18: Democratic incumbent Cindy Neighbor defeated Andrew Hurla by a wide margin in this Shawnee district. In the Republican primary, Eric Jenkins, who had the backing of the conservative Kansas Chamber, defeated Cathy Gordon, 65-35 percent. That sets up a rematch of 2016, when Neighbor beat Jenkins 52-48 percent.

District 22: Democratic incumbent Nancy Lusk rolled to an 89-11 percent victory over Michael Coleman. With no Republican filed to run against her, Lusk effectively won a fourth term in her north Overland Park district.

District 27: First-term incumbent Sean Tarwater warded off challenges from both flanks, winning the Republican primary with 46 percent of the vote against conservative Rochelle Bird (30 percent) and moderate Karen Snyder (24 percent). Tarwater will face Democrat Nicole Rome in a district that includes Leawood, Overland Park and rural southern Johnson County.

District 29: Conservative Republican James Todd defeated moderate Peggy Galvin 56-44 percent, setting up a rematch with incumbent Rep. Brett Parker, a Democrat, for the right to represent the Overland Park district. Todd served two terms in the Legislature before Parker beat him 53-47 percent in 2016. Libertarian candidate Robert Firestone is also in the race this year.

District 38: Three-term incumbent Rep. Willie Dove defeated challenger Noel Hull 64-36 percent in the Republican primary. Dove, a conservative, will face Democrat Stuart Sweeney in a district that includes western Johnson County and southern Leavenworth County.

District 39: Rep. Shelee Brim’s decision not to run opened up the Republican primary for Kristy Acree and former legislator Owen Donohoe. Donohoe, who was one of the Legislature’s most conservative members from 2007 to 2013, defeated Acree, a moderate endorsed by Brim, 54-46 percent. Donohoe will face Democrat Michael Bolton in a district that includes western Shawnee and a bit of southern Bonner Springs.

District 40: First-term incumbent Rep. Debbie Deere defeated Donald Terrien by a wide margin in the Democratic primary. Deere, who defeated conservative Republican John Bradford by about 4 percentage points in 2016, will face Republican David French in November. French has the backing of conservative groups in a district that includes Lansing and Leavenworth.

District 42: First-term incumbent Rep. Jim Karleskint, a moderate Republican, defeated conservative challenger Lance Neelly, 53-47 percent. Karleskint will face Democrat Thea Perry in a district that includes rural Douglas County and Leavenworth County.

District 49: Rep. Scott Schwab’s decision to run for Kansas secretary of state opened up a Republican primary between Megan Lynn and Fsehazion Desalegn. Lynn, a conservative like Schwab, notched an 89-11 percent victory over Desalegn, a college student who mostly self-funded his $420 campaign. Lynn will face Democrat Darnell Hunt in this Olathe district.