Saturday, July 26, 2014

HAWVER: Not all political races created equal

By MARTIN HAWVER, At the Rail | 6/9/2014

You’ve almost gotta wonder whether those candidates for the Legislature know what they’re getting in for this election year — and once elected, whether they’re going to have a good time.

The luckiest, or at least those with the least to worry about, are the 35 House candidates who don’t have a major party opponent. They’re virtually already elected, unless they do something very wrong, or lose to a Libertarian or an independent candidate in the general.

You’ve almost gotta wonder whether those candidates for the Legislature know what they’re getting in for this election year — and once elected, whether they’re going to have a good time.

The luckiest, or at least those with the least to worry about, are the 35 House candidates who don’t have a major party opponent. They’re virtually already elected, unless they do something very wrong, or lose to a Libertarian or an independent candidate in the general.

Scattered across the state are those 23 Republicans and 12 Democrats who, if they’re smart, still turn out for the parades and toss candy to the children in the crowd and act like they’re losing. That’s showing character that they might need two years from now if they want to come back to Topeka for the winter.

And for another 15 would-be House members — all Republicans — if they can make it through the low-turnout primary election, they’re ready to start thinking about business cards and letterhead.

Wow, by Aug. 5, we’ll have 50 of the House’s 125 seats likely filled.

Nineteen House districts have primary elections that are warm-ups for the November general election, which ought to give the voters a chance to see what sort of candidate the other party chose to toss at them. It’s a an opportunity for those primary candidates to get some experience, learn a few tricks of the campaign trade, and probably learn how to be absolutely un-bashful when it comes to asking for campaign contributions.

Those warm-up elections will see 14 Republican vs. Republican primaries and just four Democrat/Democrat contests. Busiest primary? Look to Johnson County’s 16th District, where incumbent Rep. Amanda Grosserode, R-Lenexa, has two Republicans to fight off, and Democrats have their own primary to select a challenger for whoever emerges from the GOP tiff.

For much of the state — that’s 56 House seats — this is a one-shot hunt. No primary elections, just the title bout in November.

All that campaigning for what is likely to be the toughest legislative session we’ve seen in decades.

Statehouse-dwellers are looking for a new session — yes, just a couple weeks after final adjournment of this session — for which there will be no tax breaks to hand out and a merciless effort to squeeze spending to avoid red ink in the budget.

That doesn’t mean social issues that don’t cost any money won’t be the first bullet point on campaign handouts. But it means they become distractions when the state has to cut spending on programs ranging from schools to health care to law enforcement.

It might be a little like completing your wedding ceremony, and then having to tell your newly official spouse that you can’t afford the honeymoon and to hold down on the rice-tossing because you may need it for dinner.

Or maybe there’s a candidate out there who has the answer, a plan to make an anorexic budget work; find ways to cut spending that most Kansans won’t notice. Or, to find a group of Kansans, or an industry or product that most people won’t mind raising taxes on. Maybe folks who didn’t vote?

And there is, of course, that standby for the Legislature: Sending programs and spending down to the local level. Protect programs that Kansans are interested in, just make them and the responsibility for financing them something that counties or cities or school districts have to levy property taxes to pay for. Call it “local control.”

Gotta wonder whether the new candidates to the Legislature had that in mind when they ponied up the filing fee, or whether they were just embarrassed by the ties or purses that incumbents in their districts are photographed wearing and carrying.

This might be interesting. But some successful candidates — once they emerge from the campaign and get sworn in — might find the best part of being a legislator is that the work is indoors.

Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report. Visit his Web site at www.hawvernews.com

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