Redistricting will completely change how southern Johnson County is represented in the state Senate.
The newly court-drawn lines spurred a shakeup leading Republican incumbent Sen. Ray Merrick to run again for the Kansas House, leaving the GOP primary for Senate District 37 a two-person affair.
The new district lines gave Republican state Sen. Pat Apple of Louisburg a big chunk of Johnson County after he had represented parts of Miami, Franklin and Anderson counties plus all of Linn County for the last eight years. About two-thirds of the new Senate district’s population is in Johnson County.
Apple now finds himself in a Republican primary against state Rep. Charlotte O’Hara and Daniel Campbell of Paola. However, Campbell said he is withdrawing from the race and endorsing Apple. His name will still be on the ballot even though he will not be actively campaigning.
Apple has been in the Senate since 2005. O’Hara served one term in the House and has twice run unsuccessfully for the Johnson County Commission. There’s no Democrat in the Senate race.
Apple said he wanted to go back to Topeka to help people.
“I believe being an elected official is about public service,” Apple said. “I believe I have 71,000 people that I work for. It’s my job to help them in whatever way I can. You can really make a difference in somebody’s life.”
O’Hara agreed to bow out of the House at Merrick’s request so he could work for other conservative candidates and try to become speaker of the Kansas House. O’Hara said she’s the true conservative in the race.
Apple’s “a newcomer to the conservative movement,” she said. “I’ve been in the conservative movement for 20 years.”
As an example of her commitment to conservative causes, O’Hara said she came out early in wanting the state to turn down a $31 million federal grant that would have helped pay for the state to set up health exchanges that are part of the President Barack Obama’s health care plan. “These are important, important issues,” she said.
O’Hara is challenging Apple’s conservative credentials. She points out that he supported leaders in the Senate who have been blamed for blocking Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s measures.
“He voted for the liberal/moderate leadership in the Senate that has caused a lot of problems for conservatives,” O’Hara said.
Apple said he supported those leaders eight years ago, but he parted ways with them when he opposed a penny sales tax increase in 2010.
Apple calls the Senate leadership issue “inside baseball,” saying that his record and supporters show he is a conservative lawmaker. He has the support of some conservative-leaning groups such as the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Kansans for Life.
“I would probably not look at it as a race for who is the most conservative,” he said. “It’s a race for who can be the most effective.”
During his Senate tenure, Apple said he successfully pushed a law that stopped local governments from taking property for economic development unless it was first approved by the Legislature.
Back in 2009, Apple got the Legislature to block a plan by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to expand a treatment program for violent sexual predators at Osawatomie State Hospital in neighboring Miami County.
O’Hara and Apple share similar votes although they have parted ways at times.
Apple voted for one school finance plan that called for giving an extra $100 million to schools over two years along with some very limited ability to raise their local option budgets. Meanwhile, O’Hara voted against a measure in the House that would have added $50 million for schools. O’Hara opposed the plan because it would have sent $25 million to property-poor school districts to help them raise more money without disproportionately high property taxes. “We continue ship too much money out of Johnson County for education,” she said.
On other issues, Apple and O’Hara both supported the massive tax cuts approved by the Legislature this year.
In fact, Apple was one of the architects of a compromise plan for cutting taxes but not as aggressively as the plan signed into law by the governor, which critics say will leave big holes in the state budget. The Senate, however, rejected that plan.
Both support letting the governor pick appeals court judges. Both think the state should repeal a law allowing the children of undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition at state universities.
And both generally agree that the holder of concealed-carry gun permits should be allowed to carry firearms in public buildings.
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