Though The Herald is issuing endorsements in local contested general election races, we aren’t planning to offer our support to the Republican or Democrat in the Kansas Senate District 12 contest.


Simply put, we don’t think either candidate would adequately represent the people of Ottawa and Franklin County at the Statehouse.

Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, is facing Denise Cassells, D-Mound City, in the legislative match-up. Both women have a background in government service — either at the state or local level — and are connected to ranching in Linn County. They also both have strong ties to their respective political parties’ operations.

Neither candidate, however, has displayed the kind of responsiveness and real connection to local voters and the issues important to them that we would like to see in a state lawmaker representing this area.

At two Ottawa candidate forums, Tyson staunchly defended Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s controversial tax plan, despite widespread calls for its re-evaluation. Many lawmakers and legislative candidates, including Republicans, have agreed the tax bill needs heavily tweaked since its success largely depends on economic development results that cannot be guaranteed (and are a longshot at best). The consequence of failure would be a budget shortfall that critics say likely would hit education and seniors first.

We fear Tyson’s allegiance is to the governor — not the people of Senate District 12. By staying in lock-step with Brownback’s agenda, she presents herself as a rubber-stamp for the conservative executive. That probably is a positive to some voters, but not for those who think the Legislature and governor’s office should function as two separate branches of government.

Tyson’s decision not to take part in The Herald’s recent online candidate video interviews also gave us pause.

In Kansas legislative commentator Martin Hawver’s column last week, he discussed some candidates’ fear of social media and other online elements that increasingly allow political comments to go “viral.” When such comments cast the candidate in a negative light, it can mean disaster for a political campaign. So to maintain control of their messages, some candidates are opting to play it safe — shying away from any potential “gotcha” moments and hoping to slide into office under the radar with little media scrutiny.

Perhaps that’s Tyson’s plan. We don’t know.

A candidate who proves himself or herself so timid, however, might do well to stay out of politics entirely. We expect our elected representatives to be fearless and tireless in their fights to serve our communities. If a candidate is quick to hide from potential conflicts on the campaign trail, can we really believe that person will stand up on the floor of the Senate and veraciously advocate on our behalf?

The Herald online video interviews were produced as a way to give voters insight into the candidates vying for their support. None were edited to make the candidates look bad or to highlight any particularly controversial statements. Tyson’s opponent, Cassells, along with about 20 other candidates, took part.

Doing so, however, obviously didn’t guarantee anyone an endorsement.

Cassells, for example, lost us during a discussion about education. The Democratic candidate was explaining her opposition to Project 17, a Republican-led regional effort to improve the quality of life and economic opportunities in Southeast Kansas, when the conversation turned to the group’s focus on vocational education.

Vocational education, Cassells said, turns young people away from quality education at a four-year university. While she said vocational classes aren’t “bad,” they rob students of the finer points of a well-rounded university experience that expands their horizons and teaches more valuable life lessons. Those with a vocational education simply don’t have the depth of knowledge of their university-educated counterparts, she said.

“Students shouldn’t be expected to come out of high school job-ready,” Cassells said.

At a time when Kansas certainly needs more qualified workers, it’s a strange position to take — particularly when considering the valuable contributions vocational education has had on the local workforce, as well as potential economic development. We understand she just wants the best for Kansas youths, but Cassells’ comments come off as narrow-minded and elitist, as well as disconnected from the community she’s hoping to represent.

Lost on the Democratic candidate is the reality that many people who choose a vocational education aren’t picking between it and a university experience — they’re choosing between skilled work and a minimum-wage life; they’re opting to take a positive step toward being a productive member of society instead of falling onto the unemployment rolls.

A university education isn’t for everyone — especially as tuition costs at state colleges continue to rise. For some, vocational education is about following their passions. For others, it’s their best shot at a quality life.

Cassells would do well to learn more about the value of all kinds of education within Senate District 12.

Perhaps an office seeker in another state legislative race, House candidate Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, said it best:

“Who’s going to ever say they’re against education? That’s just crazy.”

Tommy Felts is Herald managing editor. Email him at