Sunday, December 21, 2014

GOP leader: Focus on future

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 12/11/2013

Bob Fluke wants to see a Republican president sitting in the White House come January 2015.

The new chairman of the Franklin County Republican Central Committee said he wants to ensure Franklin County Republicans turn out in good numbers for coming local, state and national elections.

Central committee members voted unanimously Monday night to tap Fluke for the chairman post. Fluke, a math teacher at Ottawa Middle School, succeeds Jeff Richards, Franklin County sheriff, who has guided the committee for the past 3 1/2 years. Richards, who submitted his resignation letter in late November, said the coming August primary election for Franklin County sheriff would distract him from his chairman duties.

“We will do whatever we can as the central committee to help Jeff [win re-election],” Fluke said. “We think a lot of him.”

Each election, Fluke said, the GOP central committee realizes some of its local state legislators will be targeted by the Democrat Party. State Reps. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, and Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, are up for re-election in November 2014.

“We know Franklin County is being targeted by our opposition party on some key elections,” Fluke said. “We need to make sure the Republican base in Franklin County is ready for that, and that none of our legislative candidates are vulnerable.”

Fluke said he thought Republican incumbents in county offices were in a strong position to retain their positions, but that the central committee would not be taking anything for granted and still would be pushing hard to get them re-elected.

As for the coming state House races, funding for public education and tax policies likely would be a couple of key issues, Fluke said.

The 2013 state Legislature’s tax bill set in motion the march to zero income taxes in Kansas in what Gov. Sam Brownback and some GOP leaders have called a move that should put more money in individuals’ pockets and encourage businesses to bring more jobs to Kansas.

“I think what the state of Kansas is doing, as far as last session’s tax bill, is on the right track,” Fluke said. “Lowering taxes will give people money to spend on other things” and strengthen the economy.

The state Supreme Court is expected to rule, possibly during the 2014 session that kicks off next month, on a legal challenge to the state’s school finance formula. In the lawsuit Gannon v. State of Kansas, plaintiff Wichita and 53 other school districts claim current levels of school funding violate the state Constitution and deprive students of a suitable education.

“Looking at the education issue, I think the court decision coming up is going to make a big impact,” on the 2014 Legislature, he said.

The school funding issue is close to Fluke’s heart, he said.

The OMS math teacher is in his 43rd year as an educator. Before joining the middle school staff eight years ago, Fluke spent 30 years as a teacher in the Central Heights school district, he said. He began his teaching career during a five-year stint in Cherryvale, Kan., before moving to Ottawa nearly 40 years ago, he said.

“After 30 years at Central Heights, I actually did retire,” Fluke, 64, said. “But when the opening came up here at Ottawa, I decided I really wasn’t ready to leave the teaching profession.”

Richards said Fluke’s teaching background and the perspective he brings to the table makes him an ideal choice to chair the central committee, with school finance and Common Core teaching standards a couple of hot-button issues.

“I like Bob a lot, and I have a lot of respect for him,” Richards said. “He’s going to be good for the committee.”

Cathy McClay, vice chair of the GOP central committee, said she thought Fluke was a good fit for the role because he is well-known and liked — not only in Ottawa — but throughout the county. She said Fluke has taught multiple generations of students during the past four decades in Franklin County.

“He is always running into his former students and stopping to talk with them,” McClay said.

McClay said Fluke has known many of the central committee members for a number of years, beyond the five years he has been associated with the committee.

“Personally, I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like Bob,” she said.

McClay expressed confidence Fluke would do a “great job” leading the county’s Republican Party.

Growing up on a farm near the small agricultural community of Turon in central Kansas, Fluke traveled with his family’s custom cutting wheat harvesting crew, from Oklahoma to Montana, during the summers in his high school and college years, he said.

“I think I first became interested in politics watching the Nixon-Kennedy [presidential] debates,” Fluke said.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon faced off in the first televised presidential debates in U.S. history.

A graduate of Emporia State University — then Kansas State Teachers College — Fluke said he enjoyed talking politics with his college buddy Mark Cation, who also lives in Ottawa, is a former teacher and is an involved member of the Republican Party in the county.

Fluke and his wife Shirley have two grown children, JoAnn Fluke and Brandon Fluke, and seven grandchildren.

Though he has not run for political office, Fluke said, he did work on state Sen. Caryn Tyson’s successful 2012 campaign. The Parker Republican is in the midst of her first term as a state senator.

The veteran educator said he is excited about serving as the central committee chair.

With all the bickering going on in Washington, Fluke said, the Republican Party needs to energize the base and win back some GOP voters who might have become disenfranchised with politics.

“We need to get people back involved, not just on the political scene but also on the government scene,” Fluke said. “Speaking as a citizen, I think we need to get down to the nitty gritty behind [the political fighting], and remind them in Washington that ‘You’re working for us, we’re not working for you.’”  

Fluke is looking forward to the coming presidential election, he said.

“I think we need to do a grassroots campaign and make sure the base is there and get back to the basics of what the Republican Party is about,” Fluke said. “We need to be focused on the future.”

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