Yael T. Abouhalkah

Here are Johnson County’s best candidates for Kansas House seats

Democrat Brett Parker (right) is a well-qualified candidate running to oust Republican James Eric Todd from his 29th District seat in the Kansas House.
Democrat Brett Parker (right) is a well-qualified candidate running to oust Republican James Eric Todd from his 29th District seat in the Kansas House. along@kcstar.com

The battle to control the Kansas House runs straight through Johnson County.

Voters this fall should seize their chances to elect well-qualified moderate Republican and Democratic candidates — while ousting some ultra-conservative GOP troublemakers.

These decisions would help improve the Legislature’s ability in 2017 to start delivering a better-financed, more efficient government for the people of the Sunflower State. That especially means repealing some of Gov. Sam Brownback’s failed economic policies.

This space last week looked at the most competitive races for the Kansas Senate in Johnson County, with assessments of the candidates best poised to deliver needed changes in Topeka.

They are Barbara Bollier in the 7th District; Don McGuire in the 8th District; Chris Morrow in the 9th District; Vicki Hiatt in the 10th District; John Skubal in the 11th District; Dinah Sykes in the 21st District; and Spencer Kerfoot in the 23rd District.

Today’s column features a similar exercise about selected, contested Kansas House elections.

It is based on interviews with people from both political parties, plus reviews of candidates’ records and of endorsements made by organizations such as Stand Up Blue Valley and the MainStream Coalition PAC.

▪ Retain good incumbents

While changes are needed and are coming to the Legislature, Johnson County already has some hard-working and effective lawmakers.

They include Republicans Stephanie Clayton in the 19th District; Linda Gallagher in the 23rd District and Melissa Rooker in the 25th District.

All have done the heavy lifting in recent years to battle on behalf of the county’s top asset: a strong K-12 public education system.

In addition, Democrat Jarrod Ousley in the 24th District deserves re-election, as does Democrat Kathy Wolfe Moore in the 36th District in Wyandotte County for her service as a lawmaker.

▪ Help the GOP moderates

In recent weeks, some Democratic candidates as well as party leaders have argued that voters need to keep as many Republicans as possible out of the Legislature.

Wrong. There are new, strong, moderate Republican voices that need to be sent to Topeka. They will help that party elect a more responsible speaker than Ray Merrick.

The GOP candidates best able to provide that leadership are Patty Markley in the 8th District; Tom Cox in the 17th District; Jan Kessinger in the 20th District; and Shelee Brim in the 39th District.

▪ Boost Democrats, too

Even in a county that skews Republican, the other major party has pockets of power.

That’s especially true in districts where Democrat Paul Davis beat or came close to edging Brownback in the 2014 governor’s race.

In addition, extremely widespread disenchantment with Brownback among voters in both parties could help Democrats pull upsets and eliminate ultra-conservative incumbents.

Victories by these Democratic candidates would help improve the spirit of cooperation in the next Legislature:

Merlin Ring in the 14th District; R. Paul McCorkle in the 15th District; Cindy Holscher in the 16th District; Cindy Neighbor in the 18th District; and Brett Parker in the 29th District.

▪ It’s a toss-up

One contest fits that bill. Voters still have a few weeks to decide whether to send Democrat Jerry Stogsdill or Republican Dorothy Hughes from the 21st District to Topeka. Both are well qualified.

Advance voting in Johnson County starts Oct. 24. Election Day is Nov. 8.

All the good intentions in the world won’t matter unless people vote for a new, improved and more forward-thinking Legislature this fall.