With remap, 117th has 4 contenders
By KAYLA REGAN
Special to The Telegram
Last Friday, residents of the 117th House District lacked a single candidate for the Legislature.
By noon on Monday, they had four in the running.
Dennis McKinney, John Unruh, John Ewy and Mitchell Rucker are the candidates in line for the Kansas House spot. The district now includes Pawnee, Hodgeman, Kiowa, Edwards, Ford and Ness counties. Many in the Legislature wrongly assumed the 117th would be dissolved in the redistricting process. Without an incumbent in the running, and the 117th District intact, the spot was open for anyone.
McKinney, D-Greensburg, may be the candidate with the most name recognition. He served nine terms in the Kansas House representing the 116th District and was minority leader from 2003 to 2008. In 2008, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius appointed McKinney Kansas state treasurer, and he was defeated in a 2010 election by current treasurer Ron Estes.
McKinney now lives on his ranch in Greensburg and said he didn't decide to run in the 117th District until speaking with his wife late Saturday night. He said he didn't like the idea of running a campaign and leaving his farm, but he felt it was his duty to do so.
"The redistricting is a perfect example of how the Legislature isn't working," McKinney said. "People want less anger and more reason."
McKinney said he was glad so many people were in the race, and he didn't think anyone was running to prevent a democratic win in the district.
"The fact that the secretary of state's office was full of people yesterday, I think, is a good thing," McKinney said. "It shows democracy works."
Unruh, R-Haviland, said that after receiving encouraging calls from the mayor of Haviland, he felt it was his duty as a Republican to compete for the spot. He said he was surprised on Monday to find out other Republicans were in the race and that he would have to figure out more about the candidates.
"I'm certainly not pulling out; I'm just assessing the situation," Unruh said. "I'm a conservative Republican and I think the governor and Legislature are on the right side with the new tax plan."
Ewy, R-Jetmore, said he sent his papers in to run for office Friday morning. He was the only candidate who didn't have to go to Topeka to file Monday morning. Ewy said that being conservative was less important to him than finding the best solutions for his constituents and that he was willing to work with Democrats on key issues. He said his main focus would be to work as an advocate for southwest Kansas.
"I hate to step on anyone's toes, but I'm really disappointed in them (the Kansas Legislature)," Ewy said. "I don't think southwest Kansas always gets its due."
Ewy, who describes himself as a "common man," said he figured McKinney would run, but his decision had nothing to do with that.
"Number one, I felt it was important to do it. Being Republican was secondary," Ewy said.
At 19 years old, Rucker, R-Burdett, is the youngest of the four candidates. Rucker, a University of Kansas student, said he wasn't seriously considering a run, but that the redistricting made it seem like a perfect opportunity. The political science major said he was a moderate Republican. He said he hadn't given much thought to whether he would win or lose, but he was excited to get out and talk to people.
"It seems that some of the things the Legislature is putting through are absurd and harmful," Rucker said. "It's not about partisan issues."
Greensburg Mayor Bob Dixson said he was glad the district attracted so many candidates. Dixson said southwest Kansas is rich in resources like oil and wind and is naturally centered on agriculture. He said he was positive someone would rise to the occasion of representing these interests in the Legislature.
"We want our children to have a good education, good roads to drive on for commerce, and we're compassionate people who want the less fortunate taken care of," Dixson said. "We're going to be excellently represented."
Although Dixson already has his favorite for the spot, he said he's not revealing it this early in the race.
"We have the opportunity to make our voices heard, and filing and running for office is an admirable thing," Dixson said.