Yael T. Abouhalkah

Johnson County voters’ choices for Kansas Senate are very clear

Republican moderate Dinah Sykes is the kind of candidate voters need to send to Topeka: engaged and informed on the issues, and ready to defend public education.
Republican moderate Dinah Sykes is the kind of candidate voters need to send to Topeka: engaged and informed on the issues, and ready to defend public education. File photo

Johnson County voters started a needed revolution in the August primaries. Now they need to finish it in the November general elections for the Kansas Legislature.

The overarching goal is to help rebuild state government as a well-functioning, adequately funded provider of public services to Kansans, with a special emphasis on state financing of K-12 education.

That last issue especially helped some deserving moderate Republican candidates in the county oust conservative GOP Senate and House candidates who had followed Gov. Sam Brownback’s failed economic policies in lockstep.

It will take engaged and well-informed Republicans and Democrats working together to repeal some of those policies in 2017.

Here’s a look at the most competitive races for Kansas Senate in Johnson County; next week will feature House elections. These assessments are based on interviews with people from both political parties, plus reviews of candidates’ records and of endorsements made by engaged groups such as Stand Up Blue Valley and the MainStream Coalition PAC.

▪ 7th District: Republican Barbara Bollier stepped out of her House seat to run for this office against Democrat Megan England. Bollier has been a consistent backer of public education and could be a real leader in a Senate that could slip out of Brownback’s clutches with enough changes on Nov. 8.

▪ 8th District: Democrat Don McGuire opposes incumbent Republican Jim Denning. McGuire will partly count on voters being fed up with Brownback when it comes to tossing out his staunch allies. Make no mistake: Denning has been exactly that in the Senate, constantly voting against public education policies as compiled by the Kansas PTA. Denning has tried to remake his image in recent months to try to get re-elected, but voters should not be fooled. If they want real change in Topeka, McGuire needs to be sent there — and Denning can be sent packing.

▪ 9th District: Democrat Chris Morrow is running an aggressive campaign against GOP conservative incumbent Julia Lynn. Morrow can properly point out that Lynn has been no fan of public education. While Lynn is in the more conservative part of the county, Morrow notes that more people are waking up to the damage being done by Brownback and his followers. That gives him a chance at an upset victory.

▪ 10th District: Democrat Vicki Hiatt deserves to beat GOP incumbent Mary Pilcher-Cook. She’s gone too far to the right on several issues (including the political stunt of her having a sonogram done at an anti-abortion committee hearing in 2014) while also refusing to get along with political allies. Hiatt is a pragmatist who can work with Republicans to improve state government.

▪ 11th District: Republican John Skubal handily defeated GOP incumbent Jeff Melcher, who has been among the worst of the worst in providing positive leadership for public schools and the entire county, in the primaries. Now Skubal faces Democrat Skip Fannen. If Skubal brings to Topeka the same hard-working traits he used to oust Melcher, he would be an extremely solid and pro-education addition to the Senate.

▪ 21st District: Republican Dinah Sykes also got rid of a thorn in the side of effective government, beating conservative Greg Smith in August. Her opponents now are Democrat Logan Heley and Libertarian Michael Kerner. Sykes, the mother of two and a former PTA president, has the experience required to be a true leader on school issues. Heley says he wants to “stop Sam Brownback.” It’s a good slogan but also one Sykes champions. That makes her the choice to — as she aptly says — “restore common sense to Topeka.”