Yael T. Abouhalkah

Kansas countdown, T-minus 5 days: Cash can help GOP moderates weaken Sam Brownback

Joy Koesten, challenger for the Kansas 28th District House seat in Johnson County, raised more than $37,000 — among the highest amount reported for House candidates through last week.
Joy Koesten, challenger for the Kansas 28th District House seat in Johnson County, raised more than $37,000 — among the highest amount reported for House candidates through last week. abouhalkah@kcstar.com

Fresh evidence is arriving daily that the battle for control of the Kansas Legislature among Republicans has ramped up to full-scale war as next Tuesday’s all-important primaries loom.

On one side are responsible members of the moderate GOP wing. In Johnson County, that includes challengers in two Senate races, plus about a dozen candidates for House seats.

On the other side are the incumbents, mostly from the ultraconservative GOP wing that has helped Gov. Sam Brownback carry out his relentlessly disastrous economic policies.

Johnson Countians are receiving lots of misleading mailers from incumbents. The contentions: They approved a “bipartisan” funding plan to keep schools open last month, and superintendents in the Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission districts praised them for supporting education.

Ignore these bogus claims.

The conservatives caused the K-12 crisis in the first place; don’t reward them for going along at the last minute to do the right thing.

And the districts’ letters were not endorsements, as officials recently made clear in alarmed statements.

The other topic that deserves more attention today focuses on the crucial issue of money.

Are the moderate GOP candidates getting enough financial support to help them make the case that voters need to weaken Brownback’s agenda?

The answer is an encouraging “yes” in many cases. In fact, challengers often have raised more money than incumbents, possibly showing voters are ready for a change.

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Here’s a short review of key Johnson County races. The figures are from the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission for the reporting period of Jan. 1 to July 21 of this year.

For Senate primaries:

▪ 11th District: John Skubal raised $31,700, more than incumbent Jeff Melcher’s $25,500. However, as with several other incumbents, Melcher had the advantage of previous fundraisers and was ahead in total cash on hand.

▪ 21st District: Dinah Sykes raised $31,300, more than incumbent Greg Smith’s $12,500.

For House primaries:

▪ 8th District: Patty Markley raised $22,700, more than incumbent Craig McPherson’s $4,350.

▪ 17th District: Tom Cox raised $16,900, more than incumbent Brett Hildabrand’s $5,900.

▪ 20th District: Jan Kessinger raised $19,000, more than incumbent Rob Bruchman’s $10,900.

▪ 28th District: Joy Koesten raised $37,200, more than incumbent Jerry Lunn’s $8,800.

▪ 38th District: Mitra Templin raised $20,000, more than incumbent Willie Dove’s $5,800.

▪ 43rd District: Donald Roberts raised $14,900, more than incumbent Bill Sutton’s $4,900.

Keep in mind these numbers don’t measure what others are raising or spending.

Brownback’s Road Map PAC, for example, reported five $1,000 contributions to candidates, but none was an incumbent facing a challenger on Tuesday in the county.

But Brownback’s PAC also gave $20,000 to the Kansans For Life PAC, which in turn spent more than $25,000 on postcards and voters’ guides on behalf of pro-life candidates.

I usually don’t pay much attention to which candidates are grabbing the most cash and instead focus on whether their messages deserve to resonate with voters.

But in 2016, most moderate GOP challengers have good reasons to be the victors on Tuesday.

They will be better stewards of tax funds in properly funding schools, get rid of some or all of the 2012 Brownback income tax cuts and improve other public services in Kansas.