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  • Writer's pictureClay Wirestone, Kansas Reflector

Opinion: Kansas primary season begins: Five takeaways as we plunge into a summer of breakneck campaigning

The Kansas Statehouse dome is seen on May 20, 2024. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)


By Clay Wirestone, Kansas Reflector opinion editor


Welcome to Kansas primary season.


As of noon Monday, the filing deadline crashed down like the gate to a medieval fortress, and races across the Sunflower State began. Both Republicans and Democrats will battle among themselves to secure a place on the November ballot. Read all about the scene through the eyes of Kansas Reflector senior reporter Tim Carpenter, then brace yourself for an onslaught of deceptive mailers.


If you wonder what to watch for the next couple of months — the primary election is Tuesday, Aug. 6 — here are five takeaways.


McPherson Sen. Rick Wilburn (left) signs papers at the Kansas secretary of state’s office to be a candidate for the Kansas House seat vacated by McPherson Rep. Les Mason to withdraw. To Wilburn’s left is Eddy Martinez, a Lawrence Democrat, who filed to run in the 42nd District of the Kansas House. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)


The Legislature will look different come January

Several veteran legislators have decided to step aside. They include Republican Reps. Brenda Landwehr and Susan Concannon, along with Sen. Molly Baumgardner. Their colleague, Rep. Les Mason, died Monday. Overall, 20 House members and 11 senators have decided against reelection bids.


At the very least, this means that when 2025 dawns, 16% of the 125-member House of Representative and a quarter of the 40-member Senate will be different. I nearly wrote “new,” but given that several former legislators have mounted fresh campaigns for office, perhaps we can say they’re lightly used.


You can read a full list of everyone who has declared at the secretary of state’s website.


Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly votes in advance on Oct. 25, 2022, at the Shawnee County Election Office in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)


Expect actual competition in the summer and fall

You want competitive races for state offices? You need people to actually file and run. It appears as though Kansans rose to the challenge.


The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee crowed in a press release: “Democrats have recruited candidates in 92 of 125 House races and 34 of 40 Senate races, creating favorable odds for Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto power to be protected. Notably, many women have filed to run this year in the wake of Republicans’ continued onslaught on attacks on reproductive freedoms, even following a referendum from voters in 2022 that signaled the popularity of protections for abortion access.”


While those running may not be eager to identify themselves as such, moderate Republicans have stepped up to challenge conservative opponents. I plan to track that story through the summer, as groups including Kansans First and Kelly’s Middle of the Road PAC highlight centrist voices.


It wasn’t all good news. A whopping 27 Republicans and 16 Democrats will enjoy uncontested House races. Five senators won’t face opponents either.


Rep. Christina Haswood leads a procession of senators to the House for Gov. Laura Kelly’s State of the State speech. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)


Democrats want to spice up their lives

Humorist Will Rogers’ immortal statement — “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat”— rings as true today as it did 90 years ago.


True to form, Democrats have decided to run against one another in a couple of high-profile races. Rep. Christina Haswood has filed to run for state Senate, challenging Sen. Marci Francisco in District 2. And activist Ephren Taylor III has decided to run against Sen. David Haley in District 4.


These contests won’t determine who controls either chamber of the Legislature or whether Democrats break the GOP supermajority. But expect local activists to spend plenty of time making their cases to Lawrence and Kansas City, Kansas, progressives.


Protesters took advantage of the scheduled movement of members of the Kansas Supreme Court, Kansas Court of Appeals and the Kansas Legislature at the Capitol to share views on abortion rights in January. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)


We could see a far more moderate or far more conservative body next year

You might think I’m simply covering myself by going both directions at once here, but give me a chance.


No one could call the 2023-2024 Legislature moderate, but retirements, open seats and contested races add up to one thing: uncertainty. If Republican leaders have their druthers, handpicked candidates will sweep into office and allow them to continue serving a buffet of delectable garbage. On the other hand, a handful of moderate Republican or Democratic victories could cost the GOP its supermajority.


I’ve gone on record saying I think that Republicans will lose that advantage, but as ever I could be wrong. Right now, I would put chances of more conservative Legislature at about 40% and chances of a more moderate Legislature at about a 60%.


The shift need only be a few seats in either direction to result in big changes. LGBTQ+ rights, access to reproductive health services and the ability to vote could all be increased or restricted. No pressure or anything.


An array of political flyers from the 2022 general election case make their case at columnist Eric Thomas’ home. (Eric Thomas)


We want your mailers!

We’re taking this opportunity to unveil a brand-new Kansas Reflector project. We plan to build a database of mailers sent out during the primary and general election season.


Anyone who has worked in or near Kansas politics understands the importance of those glossy cards that keep postal workers on their toes throughout the summer and fall. Big-money groups flood mailboxes with outlandish distortions, unforgivable hyperbole and the occasional fact.


Unfortunately, up until now no one has bothered to keep track of them in a systematic way.

So send us your ads. You can do so one of two ways. First, take photos of the mailer (both sides, please) and email the images to us at info@kansasreflector.com. Second, you can tuck the mailers in an envelope and send it to Kansas Reflector, 112 SW 6th Ave., Suite 408, Topeka, KS 66603. We will obscure your address when sharing pictures of the mailer.


Onto the primary!


Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.


This article was reprinted with permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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