Kansas Legislature moves more toward the middle in Tuesday election

Democrat Jay Sidie makes a brief statement to his supporters

Democrat Jay Sidie, a candidate for 3rd Congressional District in Kansas, made a brief statement to his supporters Tuesday night before all the election night results were in.
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Democrat Jay Sidie, a candidate for 3rd Congressional District in Kansas, made a brief statement to his supporters Tuesday night before all the election night results were in.

The Kansas Legislature’s pull toward the center continued on election night, though as local Democrats found themselves cheering on wins in the House many competitive Senate seats stayed in Republican control.

Unofficial results in Johnson County were delayed by problems at the county election office Tuesday night and weren’t posted online until Wednesday afternoon.

Statewide, the Kansas secretary of state’s website showed Democrats after the election holding 40 seats in the House, with Republicans holding 85. And in the Senate, Democrats had nine seats and Republicans had 31.

Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas GOP, said Wednesday morning that he thought Republicans lost one Senate seat and around 12 in the House.

“I can’t say I’m pleased we lost seats,” Barker said. “But I’m pleased it wasn’t any worse.”

Though the Senate had already appeared to be moving more toward the middle, the gains Democrats made in the House could also shift the chamber in that direction as the Legislature resumes in January 2017.

“I do think on balance, not a bad night for Democrats,” said Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas. “Could have been somewhat better. Johnson County is proving very tough for Democrats to win the Senate, not so much the House.”

Several prominent Kansas Senate conservatives, including Mary Pilcher-Cook and Steve Fitzgerald, kept their seats despite the anti-incumbency sentiment candidates said they heard often in their communities.

Pilcher-Cook, viewed as one of the most conservative members of the Legislature, defeated Democrat Vicki Hiatt, a retired Johnson County educator.

And in the Wyandotte County area, Fitzgerald beat out Democrat Bill Hutton for the the District 5 seat.

Democrats and moderate Republicans waged hard-fought campaigns against one another in the area for much of the last few months. Tucker Poling, the vice chairman for the Johnson County Democrats, said he didn’t think any hard feelings caused by that would last.

“I think in the long run, that’ll be water under the bridge,” Poling said. “Elections are tough. It’s not patty cakes. Elections are important.”

Democrats in Wyandotte County found easy wins with incumbent senators Pat Pettey and David Haley facing no major challengers.

Barbara Bollier, a moderate state representative, defeated Democrat Megan England for the District 7 Senate seat in Johnson County.

As she watched the results come in Tuesday night, Bollier said it looked like the House, at least, would be different than in years past.

“It’s moving more moderate,” Bollier said of the House. “There’s a huge change in the House.”

Newcomers in Johnson County, including Jan Kessinger in the House and John Skubal in the Senate, cruised to easy victories. Both were Republican moderates who pulled upsets over conservative opponents in the August primary.

In competitive local House races:

District 16: Democrat Cindy Holscher was able to send Republican Amanda Grosserode packing in her re-election attempt.

District 17: Democrat Helen Stoll lost in her race against Republican Tom Cox. Cox beat out the more conservative Republican Brett Hildabrand in the August primary.

District 18: Democrat Cindy Neighbor won her House race against Republican Eric Jenkins.

District 21: Democrat Jerry Stogsdill won against Republican Dorothy Hughes in the race for the Johnson County seat. The candidates were trying to replace Bollier, who left the seat to run for the state Senate.

District 29: Democrat Brett Parker, a local educator, had a surprise victory against Republican incumbent James Todd.

In competitive local Senate races:

District 8: Republican Jim Denning kept his spot in the Senate, defeating Democrat Don McGuire.

District 21: Dinah Sykes, a moderate Republican who beat a conservative incumbent in the primary, won against her Democratic challenger Logan Heley.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw