National Democrats targeting Kansas House races


National Democrats are returning to play in Kansas House races this fall, targeting 20 Democratic candidates as they try again to bust up the Republican supermajority.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, is backing six Democratic incumbents, six Democratic challengers and six seeking seats where there are no incumbents. Two incumbents are unopposed.

Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity is lining up to help 16 Republican candidates, including some who overlap with the Democratic targets.

AFP is backing five Republican incumbents and four other GOP candidates who are challenging Democratic incumbents outright.

It also is supporting seven other Republicans who are running in districts where there are no incumbents.

This is the second time the NDRC has invested in Kansas races. Two years ago, it focused on 12 candidates, winning seven of those campaigns while losing five. Nevertheless, the House Republicans expanded their supermajority from 84 to 86.

The new GOP supermajority cleared the way for the Legislature to put the abortion constitutional amendment on the ballot, override the governor’s veto of a bill cutting $300 million in taxes and passing a new set of congressional districts that critics said were rigged to help Republicans at the expense of minority voters.

The new supermajority also opened a path for the Legislature to pass legislation that put new limits on voting, some that have since been challenged in court.

The Republicans could be further empowered even if Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly wins reelection if they are able to expand their numbers this election cycle.

“The goal of our 2022 Democracy targets, including Kansas, is to help shine a light on races that have historically received little attention, but are crucial to our democracy, including fair maps,” said Jena Doyle, spokesperson for the NDRC.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee has a 501(c)(4) spinoff called the National Redistricting Action Fund, which lobbied against the new congressional maps drawn by the Republican-led Legislature last session.

The law firm of Marc Elias, regarded nationally as the Democrats’ leading expert on election law and redistricting, does work for the National Redistricting Action Fund and was involved in the unsuccessful legal challenge to the Kansas congressional maps.

Here are examples of the some of the seats that the NDRC is trying to help House Democrats defend in November:

In House District 17, Democratic state Rep. Jo Ella Hoye of Lenexa is facing a Republican challenge from Emily Carpenter, a former basketball star at Emporia State University. Carpenter ran unsuccessfully for the De Soto School Board last year. Hoye is seeking her second term in the House. The GOP makeup of this district grew by about a half-percentage point following redistricting, while the Democrats were reduced by a similar amount after redistricting.

In House District 88, Democratic state Rep. Chuck Schmidt of Wichita is facing a challenge from conservative Republican Sandy Pickert, who works as a clinic nurse manager at Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinics. Schmidt served as superintendent of Independence Schools for 10 years and as superintendent of the Mission Valley Unified School District for four years. He was picked by Democratic precinct leaders last year to replace former state Rep. Elizabeth Bishop. This district became about 4.5 percentage points more Republican after election lines were redrawn. It became about 3.3 percentage points less Democratic.

In House District 16, national Democrats are helping  Rep. Linda Featherston defend her Overland Park seat against Republican Ed Roitz, who represented the Pittsburg area in the state Senate from 1981-85 before leaving the statehouse to oversee the family business. Featherston is seeking a second term in the Kansas House. Featherston won a tight race in 2020 against Republican Rashard Young. This district became about 3 percentage points more Republican after the election boundaries were redrawn.

In House District 102, Democrat state Rep. Jason Probst of Hutchinson is facing a renewed challenged from Republican John Whitesel, who fell just short of upsetting the incumbent in 2020. Probst, a former journalist, is the assistant minority leader in the House.

And here are examples of where the NDRC is helping Democratic candidates challenge sitting House Republicans:

In House District 41, Harry Schwarz, the veterans service officer for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Leavenworth, is running against Republican state Rep. Pat Proctor of Leavenworth. Schwarz previously served as the veterans service officer for the VFW in St. Petersburg, Florida, and as the assistant state service officer in Leavenworth. He also spent 12 years in the Army, serving as a staff sergeant and a correctional operations manager. Proctor served in the Army from 1989 to 2019, including tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He and his wife came to Leavenworth in 2006 so he could attend the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He retired in 2019.

In House District 43, state Rep Bill Sutton faces a challenge from Democrat Keith Davenport of Gardner, who served in the ministry for 15 years. Davenport has been running an aggressive campaign against Sutton, challenging how the incumbent has spent his campaign money to travel to Las Vegas and criticizing the lawmaker for not holding any campaign events. Davenport now serves as the executive director for a nonprofit organization that raises awareness for employee ownership. Sutton was first elected to the House in 2012 and is now seeking a sixth term. He won his last general election with about 65% of the vote.

In House District 105, Democrat Jaelynn Abegg is a 37-year-old audio producer, musician and singer-songwriter. She would become the state’s second transgender lawmaker if she’s elected from this conservative-leaning district. Abegg is challenging Republican state Rep. Brenda Landwehr, chair of the House health committee who is seeking a fourth consecutive term. She already served in the House from 1995 to 2013.

And here are districts where both AFP and the NRDC are engaged:

The two organizations are waging a battle in House District 117, a new district that was created in eastern Kansas because of shifts in population out west and now includes parts of parts of Johnson and Douglas counties. Marketing director Courtney Tripp of De Soto is running as a Democrat. Fitness club owner Adam Turk of Shawnee is the Republican. The political makeup of the new House district is 47.3% Republican, 26.9% Democrat and 24.6% unaffiliated.

The two groups are also helping the Republican and Democratic candidates in House District 49, which was left without an incumbent after Republican Rep. Megan Lynn decided not to seek reelection. AFP supports Republican Kristin Clark, a former nurse. The national Democrats are supporting Olathe school board member Brad Boyd.

AFP and the Democrats are involved in the race between Democratic Rep. Jo Ella Hoye and a Republican challenger Emily Carpenter. AFP backs Carpenter. The NDRC is supporting Hoye. And AFP is backing Rep. Pat Proctor as he faces challenge from Harry Schwarz in House District 41. Schwarz has support from the national redistricting group.

Other prominent races where AFP is involved include:

In House District 111, AFP is supporting Republican state Rep. Barbara Wasinger of Hays who is fighting off a challenge from former Fort Hays State President Ed Hammond. This may be arguably the biggest House race in the state where Democrats are hopeful they may upset the incumbent. Hammond raised $31,560 this year and had $25,565 cash on hand at the end of the reporting period in July. Wasinger reported raising $5,245 through mid-July had $26,026 at the end of the reporting period.

In House District 20, AFP is supporting Republican Carrie Rahfaldt of Leawood who is challenging Democratic state Rep. Mari-Lynn Poskin. The lawmaker is seeking a second term in the Kansas House. She defeated a conservative candidate – Jane Dirks – in 2020 with 52% of the vote. After redistricting, the Republican voter makeup of the district grew by 0.91 percentage point. Meanwhile, the Democratic composition dropped by 0.48 percentage point.

In House District 33, AFP is backing Republican Bonner City Springs City Council member Mike Thompson, who is trying to swipe the seat now held by outgoing Democratic state Rep. Tom Burroughs of Kansas City. Thompson — not the state senator from Shawnee — is a former Navy SEAL and active-duty Army chaplain who served with Delta Force in Iraq. He faces Democrat Bill Hutton, former treasurer of the Kansas Democratic Party who serves as the municipal court judge in Bonner Springs and Basehor. The district became 2 percentage points more Republican after redistricting and 3 percentage points less Democratic.

In House District 29, AFP is supporting Republican David Soffer in an effort to knock off Democrat Heather Meyer in a district that former Democratic state Rep. Brett Parker seemed to have a lock on until he left the Legislature. Soffer comes into the race after working for Govs. Sam Brownback, Jeff Colyer and Laura Kelly. Soffer has been credited with guiding Kelly’s lieutenant governor, David Toland, through a tumultuous Senate confirmation process when he was nominated to be Commerce secretary. This is Meyer’s first election after she was chosen by Democratic precinct leaders to replace Parker.