Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Kansas: Mulling the Lawrence City Commission primary

By Diane Silver

I don't have deep thoughts on this yet, except to say that if progressive folks in this most progressive of Kansas towns don't get to work, we're going to once again face a developer-run city government.

On second thought... yesterday's primary may well have illustrated the impact of money, pushback by one group of voters and complacency by another.

In terms of money, it's no surprise that candidates with the biggest bucks most often win elections. In this primary, the top two fundraisers, Mike Dever and Rob Chestnut, were the top two vote getters. These are also the candidates most favored by the real estate developers and the Chamber of Commerce. They succeeded in moving the two progressive incumbents, Boog Highberger and David Schauner, down the list of winners.

This is significant because in Lawrence, city commissioners run citywide. There are no districts. In the April 3 general election, the top three vote getters will win seats on the City Commission. If the results are the same in April as they were yesterday, only Highberger would win.

Money was one factor -- money that flooded into the Dever and Chestnut campaigns from the real estate and business community.

Pushback may have been another factor since the current commission has refused to support growth for growth's sake. I may not have always agreed with everything the current commission did, but at least I had the sense commissioners were trying to protect all Lawrence residents.

In the past, the City Commission has been dominated by developers. That often meant growth for the sake of pumping up developers' bank accounts at the expense of preservation, liveability and sometimes even the tax base. Unhappy with the progressive commission, these folks are now pushing back.

The final factor in determining the vote, though, may well have been complacency, particularly among the city's progressive voters. Only 14 percent of registered voters cast ballots. That's appallingly low. This happened just after the progressive PAC that helped rally voters to elect the current commission dissolved. Developers appear to have rallied their supporters, while preservationists and progressives simply failed to go to the polls.

One more thought. Yesterday I may have misidentified James Bush as a candidate favored by developers. He did get a contribution from the Kansas Realtors PAC, but Bush may well be a stealth candidate for the religious right.

Bush is senior pastor at First Southern Baptist Church. He came in 5th in the primary, but he could still be a factor.

The key question for me is how would Bush vote on the domestic partner registry? Actually, we need to work harder to pin Chestnut and Dever down on that issue. As I understand it, Chestnut has avoided giving a clear answer to where he stands on the registry. I don't have any information yet on Dever's stand on the registry.

The Lawrence Journal-World also published an analysis of the primary vote.


Mike said...

On the LJW question and answer sessions over the past couple weeks, all three "chamber" candidates were asked about the DP registry. They all hemmed and hawed and refused to give a straight answer (pun intended). None were absolutely opposed, however, but none said they were in favor. They all gave a variation of "well, we need to study it and figure out the repercussions and financial impact" -- kinda of weaselly answers.

I'd love to try to pin any of them down for an absolute yes or no answer. Bush, as I mentioned on my own blog is almost assuredly a right-wing stealth candidate. I suspect he is running specifically to oppose the registry. It would be good to get more evidence of this.

Diane Silver said...


Thanks for your comments and for collecting the quotes about the registry. (folks, see my next post, which links to Mike's blog)

I don't know what to make of Bush. I find it interesting and hopeful that his church works for Habitat for Humanity. I find it interesting and possibly hopeful, or maybe just a case of political lying, that he doesn't come out and say he opposes registries. On the one hand, Bush might not oppose them. On the other hand, he might just be trying to hide his position because he knows that Lawrence voted overwhelmingly against the marriage ban.