Two career prosecutors — with differing views on how best to serve the community — are vying for the top prosecutor job in Franklin County.
Incumbent Stephen Hunting and challenger Fred Campbell are competing for Franklin County attorney on the Nov. 6 general election ballot — Hunting as a Republican and Campbell as a Libertarian. Despite their differing party affiliations, both candidates said they agree it would not be their job as county attorney to craft policy based on political beliefs, but rather to serve the people of Franklin County by prosecuting those who choose to break the law.
Appointed county attorney by Gov. Sam Brownback in May, Hunting began serving after being selected by the Franklin County Republican Central Committee to fill the role of the county’s chief prosecutor. Hunting filed his intent to run for election shortly after being appointed.
It’s not Hunting’s first time working in the Franklin County office. After graduating from the University of Kansas Law School in 2004, Hunting worked as both assistant county attorney and deputy county attorney for Franklin County from 2004 to 2009. He then left and worked in several other county attorney offices in Kansas, as well as with the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, before returning to Franklin County.
“I started my career here, and I care very deeply about the Franklin County Attorney’s Office, its members and more importantly the community it serves,” Hunting said. “I wanted to return and take the office to a level of professionalism and success that it and the community deserves.
“Our most important goal is to seek justice in every case — we’re required to do that,” he said. “And we want to see Franklin County be a safer place to live and a safer community for everyone involved.”
Since being appointed, Hunting said he has instigated scheduling and organizational methods that allow the prosecutors, judges and law enforcement to process cases more effectively and quickly. The staff in his office, he said, have responded well to the changes, which enables them to use their time more efficiently, he said.
A graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Campbell now serves as county attorney for Anderson County. He said he has been watching the Franklin County attorney’s office closely, and thought this was the year to step in to try and make changes.
“Over the years it seemed that the county attorney’s office has been growing more than necessary, and I think that their budget and hiring needs a little reining in,” Campbell, 53, Garnett, said. The Franklin County attorney’s office operates with a staff of eight, including three assistant county attorneys. The Anderson County office has a staff of one.
Campbell said he would be interested in looking at reallocating funds in the attorney’s office and reducing staff, if elected. The staff in Franklin County has grown, Campbell said, because of a people serving in the office who are more interested in playing the political game.
“I think it’s because the office has been run in the past few years by people who are more interested in being politicians than they are in enforcing the law and doing what’s right for the community,” Campbell said. “Our job is to do justice, and that sometimes requires that you don’t file things that are brought to your office.”
Refraining from getting involved in party politics is at the core of Campbell’s political party choice, he said. A party that emerged in the early 1970s, Libertarians believe in being “socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” Campbell, who joined the party in 2004, said.
As a prosecutor, Campbell said he is not given the opportunity to demonstrate his party’s principles often because he is not a policy maker, but there are some ideals he tries to uphold in the courtroom.
“The ideals of fairness to everyone, the ideals of sticking to the Constitution and the law are the ideals I try to uphold,” he said. “The idea of being honest to everyone and being fair to everyone.”
In addition, many Libertarians, Campbell said, believe that some crimes should not be against the law at all.
“If a crime doesn’t specifically hurt someone, then it shouldn’t be a crime,” Campbell said.
Campbell said he hopes to uphold his principles of prosecution in the four counties in which he has filed for county attorney: Anderson, Osage, Coffey and Franklin.
The fact that Campbell is running for office in three other counties is precisely why Campbell’s opponent said he is not suited for the job. Hunting, Gardner, 38, said there are too many demands on the time of the Franklin County attorney to facilitate holding more than one county attorney position. After being appointed to the position earlier this year, Hunting said he was surprised by the amount of work that went into each case.
“Franklin County deserves a county attorney that this is there only job and there is no other way around it,” Hunting said. “This is a full-time job. It is impossible to be a county attorney in another office and in this office, when you consider the management that goes into managing three attorneys and five support staff, as well as carrying your own case load, on top of all the administrative duties and obligations and all of the things you do in the community with community partners and community leaders.”
Campbell disagrees with Hunting’s assessment that serving in two county attorney offices can’t be done. The people of the county deserve to have someone available at all times, he said. Campbell said he would be willing to take a pay cut to fund hiring an assistant in the Anderson County office, so that someone would be readily available if he happens to be gone to neighboring Franklin County.
“What I would do is, since I don’t have an assistant in Anderson, I would probably split my salary, not take both full salaries, and use the split to hire an assistant there, so I could always have someone available,” Campbell said, adding the workload in Franklin County could be covered by the number of assistant attorneys, as well.
Campbell did not mention what his plan would be if he were to win in more than two of the four county attorney races.
As career prosecutors, both candidates have experience in prosecuting a variety of crimes, including driving under the influence, rape, child molestation, teen alcohol use and traffic infractions. Hunting also has experience in homicide cases, which Campbell has not.
Both also agree a gateway drug of some kind leads to many of the other crimes in the county. Hunting said methamphetamine use is high in Franklin County, leading to more criminal acts. Campbell said the use of alcohol by teens should be stopped to decrease the crime rate, although he cites putting more responsibility on teens’ parents to push alcohol abstinence.
The county boasts nearly 8,500 registered Republicans and only 116 Libertarian voters, but those numbers won’t necessarily matter on Election Day, because voters do not have to vote straight party in the general election. Running as a third-party candidate, Campbell said he isn’t confident with his chances of winning, but he thinks he is offering residents an option that will be better for the people of Franklin County.
“I think I can bring a sense of balance to the office that has been lacking for many years, because I’m not interested in politics, because I’m not interested in making sure that I’m politically correct all the time and I meet all the right people,” Campbell said. “I’ve already had a reputation for prosecuting powerful people in Anderson County. I think that’s what’s needed here.”
Hunting said he is optimistic and hopeful about his chances of winning the election.
“I believe that over the last few months I’ve demonstrated to the citizens of Franklin County that I’m committed to this community,” Hunting said.
Polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday throughout the county. Residents must have valid identification to cast their ballot.