Kansas statehouse races got big league attention and money this year as Governor Sam Brownback's agenda begins to unfold.
What you'll hear is a debate over stimulating jobs and economic development versus lowering the social safety net and creating massive new debt for the state. The conservative majority also supports the governor's position on a variety of social issues, such as abortion, gay marriage and religion and the state.
Now to some of the races.
Democrats picked up a few seats in the Kansas Legislature, but not nearly enough to offset the conservative majority in both houses nor for the supermajority required to pass constitutional amendments under Kansas law.
In northeast Johnson County, Tom Holland, Laura Kelly and Anthony Hensley held on to their Democratic seats. Democrat Kelly Kultala defeated conservative Steve Fitzgerald in a newly drawn district that observers say favors the socially conservative Fitzgerald. Kultala lost two years ago as the running mate of losing gubernatorial candidate Tom Holland.
Democrat Pat Pettey turned over the 6th district of Merriam, Overland Park and Edwardsville against Chris Steineger. Some Dems allegedly had it out for Steineger, who flipped parties to run as a Republican. Others had expressed opposition to his views on consolidating counties and privatizing universities.
Voters are returning conservative Republican Greg Smith to Topeka in the newly created 21st district in south central Johnson County. Smith, a conservative, defeated Democrat Juanita Roy in one of the night's most closely watched races. It was a big money campaign and a reflection of divergent views in the county around the schools issue. Smith has voted for tax cuts that will effectively lower state aid per pupil in Johnson County. Schools are a top priority for voters here who take pride in a nationally recognized public education system.
In one of the tightest races of the night, Republican Melissa Rooker squeaked out a victory over Democrat Megan England. There was little light between the positions of these two candidates. Both campaigned on saving schools, so it's apparently not a victory that irks Democrats and moderates as much as some others.
Stephanie Clayton – defeated two years ago in the primary by conservative Rob Bruchman – came back last night to overtake Democrat Zach Luea, and voters sent moderate Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills back to Topeka for a second term.
In Prairie Village, long time moderate Republican Kay Wolf defeated Democrat Kyle Russell by a comfortable margin. That race took a nasty turn when opponents of Wolf tried to tie her closely to Brownback in the closing days of the campaign, an indicator of the vitriolic civil war among moderates and conservatives in the Kansas Republican party.
You can look for tensions to get higher in Topeka in an increasingly polarized statehouse as efforts move forward with one of the most conservative state agendas in the country.