And regardless of how Franklin and Osage county voters cast their ballots during Kansas’ Nov. 6 general election, Ottawa will have one of its own representing it in the state Legislature.
Blaine Finch and Caleb Correll, both of Ottawa, are campaigning to represent Kansas House District 59, which includes the western portion of Franklin and a few precincts in northeastern Osage counties.
The fact that Ottawa soon will be represented by one of its lifelong local residents is an exciting prospect for some, including Blake Jorgensen, mayor of Ottawa.
“I think it can only be a good thing for [Ottawa],” Jorgensen said. “Under the old system, Ottawa was covered by at least two representatives, and so we felt like we had good representation in the [Kansas] House. However, with the redistricting, we’ll actually have one live in town. I think that’s going to be good for us. ... I believe that both would be capable of representing us.”
Direct Ottawa representation in Kansas Legislature ended with House Rep. Walker Hendrix, a Republican, in the mid-1990s. Since then, Ottawa has produced plenty of candidates seeking both state and federal offices, but each has fallen short. Ottawa now has a shoe-in townie to send to Topeka, which provides it with some advantages, John Coen, Ottawa Area Chamber of Commere president, said.
“Having worked in Legislature previously, I can tell you that having a person that is from your home community is invaluable,” Coen said of either Correll or Finch representing Ottawa and the district. “You learn of opportunities, and you can get people back home a heads up. It’s going to be a great asset having one of our own representing us in Topeka.”
Before Kansas’ new political boundaries were redrawn by federal judges in June, Ottawa was split between two — the 5th and 10th — house districts. In total, Franklin County was divided between four House legislators.
In addition to easing potential confusion, the new political boundaries attracted fresh faces to seek state offices, including Finch, a Republican candidate.
“Ten years ago I had hoped to run, but redistricting split Franklin County into four different [House] districts,” Finch said. “When the new maps came out and the 59th district included all of Ottawa and a good portion of Franklin County — as well as being a completely open seat with no incumbent — I felt the time was right to throw my hat in the ring.”
Asked why he decided to run for political office, Correll, a 27-year-old Democrat, said he hopes to revitalize the Kansas Legislature with his ideas.
“I feel like it’s time to have some fresh blood in the political system in Topeka,” Correll, a former para-educator, said previously. “I feel like I have a pretty good pulse of what’s going on in Topeka.”
From his observations and limited interaction with his opponent, Finch said, the two seem to share some similar values and priorities. For example, both candidates’ platforms emphasize the importance of education, job creation, quality infrastructure and sustainable economic development.
While he concedes that they likely differ in their stances on social issues, Finch has a hypothesis on why he and Correll maintain similar legislative priorities.
“In Kansas, we kind of have what’s called a modified one-party system,” Finch, an Ottawa attorney, explained. “You have Republicans that may be of different opinions and then you have Democrats that are traditionally more conservative. I think that my opponent is a fairly conservative Democrat. In fact, I’d say some of his positions are borderline on being almost Republican.”
If elected, Correll said, he has several plans to distinguish himself, including his approach to Kansas’ new tax plan, which likely will be revisited during the 2013 legislative session.
“I think Kansas’ new tax plan is going to lead to very dire budget deficits,” Correll said. “I think what we need to do is start over with the new tax plan that was passed. We need to repeal it and replace it with property tax relief so that way the local school districts don’t have to raise property taxes to make up for these shortfalls. ... I want to go to Topeka to get things done.”
If voting participation from the 59th District’s primary election is any indication of where the district’s allegiance lies, Correll appears to be at a significant disadvantage. More than six times the number of voting Franklin County Democrats — 3,934 GOP votes compared to 631 Democratic — cast ballots in the Republican primary election, according to statistics from the Kansas Secretary of State Office.
The number of new voters is a potentially positive sign for Correll, however, with the county adding more than 275 voters since late June, bringing the total number of registered voters in Franklin County to 17,017.
Today is the last day to register to vote for the 2012 general and presidential elections. Kansans can register to vote online by visiting the Secretary of State website at kssos.org