TOPEKA — Minutes from the deadline for candidates to file for the Kansas Legislature, Rep. Brenda Landwehr withdrew from the ballot after more than 25 years in the Kansas House to spend more time with family and make way for a Republican she was comfortable endorsing.

Landwehr, a Republican from northwest Wichita and the influential chair of the House’s public health committee, said the decision to retire was easier after getting to know Jill Ward, who filed to run in the 105th District’s two-person GOP primary in August and, if successful, against a Democratic nominee in November.

“I love the people and the work, but it is time to devote more of myself to my husband, kids and grandkids,” Landwehr said.

Ward successfully lobbied the Legislature this year to pass Levi’s Law to increase penalties for people found guilty of leaving the scene of a deadly collision. Her son was killed in a hit-and-run accident.

“Drafting, introducing and shepherding the bill through to being signed by the governor taught me a lot about the process and the people that make policy affecting Kansas families and businesses,” Ward said. “It ignited a passion in me to make a difference for current and future Kansans.”

On Monday, Landwehr was among 19 members of the House and 11 in the Senate who chose not to seek reelection in 2024. The list included moderate Republican Rep. Susan Concannon of Beloit, who was involved in policy initiatives on child welfare, public health and rural life. Concannon was a fervent supporter of Medicaid expansion, to the consternation of GOP leadership, and she looked “forward to celebrating its passage someday.”

Under tragic circumstances, McPherson Rep. Les Mason’s candidacy for reelection in the 73rd District was withdrawn after he suffered a brain aneurysm Friday. He was unresponsive at a Wichita hospital before passing away Monday, said House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita.

McPherson Sen. Rick Wilborn, who serves as vice president of the Senate and had decided not to seek reelection, filed for Mason’s seat in the House.

“We’ve been friends for 40 years,” Wilborn said. “We have served in the Legislature together, both serving McPherson County. We have a lot of common interests. I felt compelled, on behalf of Les. I cannot fill his shoes, but I can sure run for a seat.”

Secretary of State Scott Schwab, literally, brought a gavel down on new filings at noon Monday. Despite skepticism expressed by election-fraud conspiracy theorists in Kansas and elsewhere, the GOP secretary of state said he was convinced the 2024 elections would be fair, accurate and honest.

“Yes,” he said. “Our clerks will make it so.”

Triumphs by default

 

Overall, 41 candidates for the House, which amounts to nearly one-third of the chamber’s 125 seats, immediately won their 2024 campaigns because none attracted an opponent. Twenty-five Republicans and 16 Democrats were among lucky victors on filing deadline day. There also were five senators who didn’t draw a primary or general election opponent, and could only be defeated by a write-in or third party candidate.

Nine state representatives decided to leave the House to seek promotions to the Senate, and several former state legislators filed in an attempt to return to the Capitol.

Democrats fielded candidates in 92 of 125 House races, and placed a Democratic candidate in every House seat — except one — that was won by Gov. Laura Kelly in 2022. That fell in line with a quest of Democrats to break the Republican’s two-thirds majority in the House, which has made it easier for the GOP to override vetoes by the Democratic governor. Kelly and other organizations have set up political-action committees for the purpose of ending the GOP supermajority in the House.

House Minority Leader Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat running for the Kansas Senate, said Democratic candidates also were motivated by GOP lawmakers intent on diminishing abortion rights in Kansas. He said that GOP agenda existed despite rejection by Kansas voters in 2022 of a state constitutional amendment designed to reverse a court decision declaring the right to abortion was embedded in the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

“It is no accident that so many women filed this year. Women are sick and tired of being silenced, and they’re not holding back. Our candidates reflect Kansans. They’re hard working, humble and diverse,” Miller said.

In Senate District 19, Miller is involved in a five-candidate race for the open seat with two Republicans and two other Democrats. Candidate Patrick Schmidt, a Topeka Democrat who previously ran for the U.S. House, said it was clear GOP extremists in the Legislature were eager to trample reproductive rights of women in Kansas.

Schmidt said the district required a senator who would be a “champion of women’s rights” and “bring new blood to the Legislature.”

In an intriguing move, Rep. Christina Haswood, D-Lawrence, filed to challenge incumbent Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, in the 2nd District. That political tangle became more interesting with the filing of Republican David Miller, 74. He served a dozen years in the Kansas House, was chairman of the Kansas Republican Party and in 1990 was a lieutenant governor running mate to GOP gubernatorial candidate Nestor Weigand.

“Douglas County has become a one-party county and we are all paying dearly for it,” David Miller said. “We must have real tax relief. Our taxes have skyrocketed and the Legislature failed to override the governor’s tax cut veto. It seems that she and her party care more about the government’s fat checkbook than they care about the taxpayers.”

Baumgardner’s exit

 

In a maneuver comparable to that of Landwehr, Louisburg Republican Sen. Molly Baumgardner withdrew her candidacy for reelection in the final hour. She arrived at the secretary of state’s office to submit written notification of her decision at the same time Doug Shane, a Miami County Republican, showed up to file for her 37th District seat. Democrat Sherry Giebler of Olathe also filed in that Senate district.

“In knowing the responsibilities facing me in the near future,” Baumgardner said, “this is an appropriate decision for the constituents I’ve had the honor to serve these past 10 years.”

Eleven senators opted not to run in 2024. Combined with three resignations and one death, it meant 15 of 40 senators elected in 2020 have or will have exited by January.

Sen. Dennis Pyle, the Hiawatha Republican who irritated some peers by running as an independent candidate for governor in 2022, decided to seek another four-year term. He said he didn’t object to assertions he was a maverick who “stands for the people and doesn’t take orders from the establishment.”

In the GOP primary in Senate District 1, he faces state Rep. John Eplee, R-Atchison, and Holton Republican Craig Bowser. No Democrat filed in that district.

“I am the only candidate with Senate experience and a proven conservative record fighting for traditional family values, 2nd Amendment, life, limited government and fiscal conservatism,” Pyle said.

Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat who didn’t draw an opponent, said 34 of 40 Senate seats were contested by Democrats. Eighteen of 39 Democrats seeking Senate seats were women, she said. Currently, Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate 29 to 11.

A goal of Senate Democrats was to increase their caucus by recruiting candidates capable of mounting campaigns to defeat “extremist Republicans trying to turn our state into a place that isn’t welcoming and that doesn’t respect or invest in its people,” Sykes said.

Sen. David Haley, the longest-serving state senator and a Democrat from Kansas City, Kansas, wound up with a primary challenger. Ephren Taylor, who has worked as an organizer for the nonprofit organization Loud Light, said he entered the 4th District contest to support public schools, expand Medicaid, create a more fair tax system and bring about gun control laws.

“Our people need someone in office that is accessible, who will listen to their needs and provide them a seat at the table,” Taylor said.