By Jim Ellis
Feb. 2, 2017 — The state of Kansas is heading for a period of major political upheaval both in the state house and within their congressional delegation.
In addition to CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s vacant 4th District being slated for an April 11 special election, Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Topeka) has already announced that she will not seek re-election in the 2nd District.
With Jenkins not only leaving Congress but bypassing a chance to enter an open governor’s race – a contest most observers expected her to enter in 2018 – 3rd District Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Overland Park/Kansas City) is now reported to be seriously considering becoming a gubernatorial candidate. Should he make the jump into the statewide foray, his 3rd District will also be open in the next election.
Turning to the sprawling western 1st District where freshman Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Great Bend/Salina) will stand for his first re-election, the man he unseated in the 2016 Republican primary has already announced that he will return for a re-match. But, former Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) has also been mentioned as a possible candidate in the Jenkins’ open seat, potentially jumping districts and hoping to stake out a Tea Party base in what promises to be a crowded primary. Kansas has no run-off, so a person with a strong ideological or geographic base can often win a multi-candidate primary election with only a small plurality. Such is how Huelskamp originally won his 1st District nomination back in 2010.
Returning to the upcoming special election, the 4th District Republican Committee will meet on Feb. 9 to nominate their candidate. The current favorite appears to be state Treasurer Ron Estes, who is expected to top both former Rep. Todd Tiahrt and Wichita City Councilman Pete Meitzner, among others. Tiahrt still has a base of support, but his move to Colorado immediately after losing the 2010 US Senate race, and then returning in 2014 to primary Rep. Pompeo has apparently left more individuals feeling that Tiahrt’s time to serve in Congress has past.
On the statewide front, Kansas has no US Senate election in 2018, and controversial Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is ineligible to seek a third term. In addition to possibly Rep. Yoder becoming a gubernatorial candidate, other Republicans such as Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and Attorney General Derek Schmidt are all in the mix.
In this latter situation, there may be several options for one or more of the statewide office holders, however. First, is to run for governor. Second, since only Colyer is term-limited in his position, both Kobach and Schmidt have the choice of simply running for re-election. Third, if any of the three choose to bypass the governor’s race, each could make a case to run in Jenkins’ open congressional district. Since her 2nd CD includes the capital city of Topeka, all have established residency in that particular congressional district.
Kansas’ major political chess game is just getting underway, and the culmination of all the races and the changes they promise to bring may become one of the more interesting stories of the impending 2018 election cycle.