Former schools superintendent wins seat in statehouse

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Former Independence Schools Superintendent Chuck Schmidt upset Wichita lawyer Kelly Johnston to win the Democratic precinct election for House District 88.

Precinct committee leaders chose Schmidt over Johnston, who had the support of outgoing state Rep. Elizabeth Bishop of Wichita.

Schmidt defeated Johnston 8-5 to win the seat Bishop has held since 2017. A third candidate, Andrew Hubbard, didn’t follow through with plans to compete.

Bishop announced her decision to leave the Kansas House on the last day of the legislative session for family and health reasons.

Chuck Schmidt

“Nothing can better prepare a person to work in the Legislature than a lifetime as an educator,” Schmidt told precinct leaders.

“I’ve taught, coached and been an administrator for 33 years,” he said. “Teaching children is the most important interaction you can have with the community.”

As a school administrator, Schmidt said he worked with the Legislature and an elected school board to make policy for the “common good.”

He noted that most of the school board members he worked with were Republicans, yet he was able to work with them to do what was best for students.

He touted his previous work as a school administrator lobbying a Legislature that was often not receptive to the funding needs of schools.

“Sometimes we were able to agree, and sometimes we had to force the issue,” he said.

Schmidt served as superintendent of Independence Schools for 10 years and as superintendent of the Mission Valley Unified School District for four years.

He pointed out the Independence district was one of the founding members of Schools for Fair Funding, the group that successfully challenged school funding in court.

“This experience has allowed me to develop relationships with members of the Legislature so I can hit the ground running,” he said.

In 2016, Schmidt ran for the state Senate in District 15 in southeast Kansas against Republican state Sen. Dan Goddard.

Goddard defeated Schmidt with 61% of the vote.

Schmidt noted that he raised almost $70,000 in 2016 when he ran against Goddard and lost with about 40% of the vote in a district that was heavily Republican.

Schmidt said he’s been working in local Democratic politics for four years for a variety of local, state and federal candidates.

He promised to continue that effort going forward.

“I have done the work before and I will do it again,” he said.

Johnston, former chairman of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, touted himself as a “proud liberal Democrat” who knows how to listen to people.

“I believe governments have a duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves,” he said. “This is liberalism.”

Johnston argued he was the best candidate to win the seat for a full term in 2022.

He suggested Schmidt was vulnerable to being carved out of the district when election boundaries are redrawn because he lives on the eastern edge.

“If you want to vote for a candidate tonight that is likely to survive gerrymandering in redistricting, that person is me,” Johnston said.

He also emphasized the fact that he’s spent a lifetime in Wichita, including leadership roles in the local Democratic Party.

He cited a large network of friends and associates that would help him get elected in 2022.

After the election, Schmidt acknowledged that the work ahead in Topeka will be tough with a Republican-controlled Legislature.

“I know it’s going to be frustrating. There’s a lot of things we can’t do,” he said. “We can stop bad things from happening. There are some things we can accomplish.”

He said he was honored to replace Bishop at the Capitol.

“I was happy to work with her when she was in the Legislature. She is one of the great ones. We’ll miss her.”