Former Finney County Attorney John P. Wheeler announced Wednesday that he intends to file as a Republican candidate for Kansas House District 123.
Wheeler has appointed Tom Walker, chairman of the Finney County Economic Development Corporation board, lifelong county resident, banker and business developer, as campaign treasurer in anticipation of filing, which he expects to do with the Secretary of State’s office in Topeka either the week before or after Labor Day.
“I am honored that a pillar of the community, such as Tom Walker, has agreed to support me through his service as my campaign treasurer. I hope to gain the trust of the people of my community to support me in seeking this very important office,” Wheeler wrote in a news release.
Wheeler, who served five terms and 20 years as Finney County attorney before deciding in 2012 to not seek reelection, said in a phone interview Wednesday that he enjoyed the peace and quiet of his retirement, though it took him a year to adjust. He said that for several years, people asked about his interest in running for office after he stopped working as county attorney.
“I said no, I don’t think I want to go back in that fray again,” Wheeler said. “But I’m prepared now. I do think we need to have some experience, and I think I have the skills, knowledge and wherewithal that I can take to the Legislature and provide for the citizens of my community and the state of Kansas.”
Kansas House District 123 covers the Garden City. Current district Rep. John Doll, R-Garden City, is seeking the District 39 Senate seat currently held by incumbent Larry Powell, R-Garden City.
When asked, Wheeler said he was disappointed with the most recent legislative session, the longest in state history.
“It’s locked up right now. It’s only until we have new people going in and being able to participate in the process that maybe things can change somewhat,” he said. “And I think it’s important.”
The political climate and gridlock in Topeka actually made him hesitant to run, and unsure whether he wanted to fight that fight after 20 years of battles as a prosecutor.
“But if I take that attitude, and we all take that attitude, we’ll never change a thing,” Wheeler said. “The only thing I can change is me. I have decided I’m willing to do it if the people are willing to place their trust in me.”
Wheeler said school funding is one of his top issues. He said the state’s actions have made it difficult for local governments and school boards to have any kind of certainty about what to expect from the state or how they are going to raise their own tax revenue.
Wheeler thinks the decision to fund schools using block grants needs to be revisited.
He said it is sending school districts back to the state begging for more money to meet their needs and hoping to be one of five or six approved.
“There’s just something wrong with that system,” he said. “I think the state is on a course of financial crisis if we don’t do some adjusting and sit down and work out the various points of view to see if we can find some moderation of where we are.”
But changing attitudes can only be done one person at a time. While western Kansas tends to be outnumbered by eastern representatives, Wheeler believes most people recognize this area is a vital part of the state economy.
“We are fortunate in our little niche out here in southwest Kansas that we are very highly respected across the state. I experienced that as president of the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association. Not everybody looks at us as bumpkins out here. Generally, I think that’s not the case,” he said. “We do have real issues with certain people that don’t think the money should flow any further west than Lawrence. But they’re gonna be around everywhere.”