TOPEKA — Democratic state Rep. Vic Miller easily won a first-ballot election Thursday night to complete the final two years of Gov.-elect Laura Kelly's unexpired Senate term.
Miller, who has served in city, county and state government and worked as a municipal judge in Topeka, captured 49 of 80 votes among precinct committee members in the 18th District, which is anchored in Topeka and extends into Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties.
He declined to say whether he would seek election to a full term in 2020, but he will transition to the Senate from the House in January.
"I love politics," Miller said during remarks at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. "We will show Kansas what it's like to be governed by Democrats and not incompetents."
A similar election is scheduled Saturday in Wichita to fill the vacancy created by the pending resignation of Sen. Lynn Rogers, who was Kelly's running mate and will be lieutenant governor. Another Topeka election will be required to select a replacement for Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Republican elected state insurance commissioner.
Miller said one of the significant obstacles to Kelly's success as governor was the GOP's numerical advantage in the Senate, where Republicans hold 31 seats to nine for Democrats. The GOP advantage in the House over Democrats is 85-40.
"I believe her departure from the Senate and that of her running mate Lynn Rogers leaves Democrats especially needing a person with legislative experience to fill the void," Miller said.
None of three other nominees for Kelly's seat had previous experience in elective office. In secret-ballot voting, Miller defeated Lucas Ryan and Emily Stanley, both of Topeka, and Vivien Olsen, of St. Marys. Olsen came in second with 16 votes, while Stanley netted 15 and Ryan zero.
Miller's five-minute speech was a personal manifesto touching on education, mental illness, gender pay equity, medical marijuana, gay rights, the food sales tax, state employee wages, gun reform, voter suppression and greyhound racing.
"Our party is one that views government first as a tool to make the lives better of those less fortunate than ourselves — not as a tool to enrich our own selves," Miller said.
The senator-elect said he placed a high value on public education and held teachers with police and firefighters as public service heroes. He said Kansas worker compensation laws have been twisted by Republicans to employers' advantage. The state's 6.5 percent sales tax on food should be eliminated rather than reduced as some propose, he said.
Miller said Kansas must extend Medicaid to 150,000 low-income Kansans in need of affordable health care, and he endorsed legalization of medicinal marijuana. The House and Senate approved a bill, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Sam Brownback.
"Parents shouldn't have to move to Colorado just to provide life-saving relief to their seizure-suffering children," he said.
Miller served 15 years on the Shawnee County Commission, eight years on the Topeka City Council and eight years in the Kansas House. He was a Topeka Municipal Court judge for four years.
In early November, Kelly defeated Republican Kris Kobach, independent Greg Orman and two other candidates to follow Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer into the governor's office. Her campaign emphasized reversal of the Brownback era, bringing stability to the state budget, proper financing of K-12 education, Medicaid expansion and opposition to new taxes.