Candidates in Kansas races focused on schools, affordability and rural investments

By: - June 3, 2022 12:23 pm

Jose Lara files to run as a Democrat for Kansas Senate in the 38th District at the Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Candidates who have entered races ahead of the filing deadline plan to focus their campaigns on bringing attention to rural Kansas, free school lunches, affordable gas and getting Kansas “back on track.”

Some rushed to make a last-minute filing at the Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday, including Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who revealed his running mate on the GOP ticket for governor, while others had previously filed. The deadline for some races was extended from June 1 to June 10 because of redistricting litigation.

Jose Lara drove from Liberal to Topeka on Wednesday to file as a Democrat for the Kansas Senate in the 38th District. Lara, who is currently a Shelter Insurance agent and city commissioner, hopes to bring more attention to southwest Kansas. 

“The biggest focus is going to be economics,” Lara said. 

He believes not enough state funding is appropriated to small and rural communities. Lara referred to the BASE Grant program, which he said issued most of its funding to Kansas’ larger cities. The Kansas Department of Commerce BASE Grant program aims to develop infrastructure and economic opportunities throughout Kansas. 

Lara’s filing is part of a special election. He is running against GOP incumbent Ronald Ryckman Sr., who was appointed to fill former Sen. Bud Estes’ seat after he died in February 2021. 

A married couple also appeared at the Secretary of State’s Office to file. Robert Klingenberg, who had already filed, is a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate, while his wife, Molly Molina, filed to run for the Kansas House as a Democrat in the 69th District.

Molina said she decided on Tuesday she wanted to file. She expected a Democrat would file in her district, and when they did not, she decided she needed to. 

Molina, who works in food services at Salina Regional Health Center, said her biggest focus would be to provide universal school lunches and afternoon meals to students across the state of Kansas.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Congress signed federal waivers allowing schools to provide free meals to children. This waiver is due to expire on June 30 if lawmakers do not agree to extend the waivers. 

Klingenberg agrees with Molina on several policies. 

“In Kansas, especially in southeastern and a lot of areas of southwestern (Kansas), there are food deserts. There are a lot of children — just children, not even talking about families — who are hungry,” Klingenberg said. 

Robert Klingenberg talks about goals for his campaign at the Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday after filing to run as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)

According to FeedingAmerica, 1 in 6 children in Kansas face hunger, yet in southeast Kansas it is 1 in 4 children. 

Klingenberg, who says he has been criticized for having too big of a platform, is labor-focused because of his working-class background. Klingenberg worked as a Frito-Lay driver for years and has experience as a salesman. 

He also believes in universal Medicare, universal housing and universal education. Klingenberg would also focus on rural investment, as he said “progressive leftists don’t talk about it much.”

Another newcomer is John A. McCaughrean. McCaughrean filed to run as a Republican for the U.S. House for the 3rd District. The seat is currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, who is running for re-election. Amanda Adkins is also seeking the GOP nomination for the seat. 

McCaughrean, who served in the U.S. Army for 10 years, has dubbed his campaign the “most motivated veteran campaign” and is focused on reinstating “a constitutional republic.” 

McCaughrean said the Founding Fathers never mentioned the word “democracy” in the constitution, and that the United States is constitutionally a republic form of government. According to McCaughrean, a republic form of government means states compete with one another. 

“The essence of this constitutional republic is the states fighting over who has better philosophy, better ideas, and the federal government stays out of the way of this,” McCaughrean said. 

McCaughrean said he believes in a citizen government and “restoring the country back to the people in the states.”

Two of McCaughrean’s focuses are national security and making gas, food and utilities affordable. 

“Talking to a whole bunch of my friends and a whole bunch of blue collar workers I work with out here, they’re feeling it,” McCaughrean said while talking about the spike in gas prices. 

McCaughrean said sheriffs in the 3rd District have told him there has been an uptick in drug and cartel movements within the last couple of years. 

“So, we need to make sure our borders are secure. We want as many awesome, beautiful people that want to come to this country to come in, but want to keep the bad guys out,” he said.

McCaughrean said he is not a candidate for the party, but rather it is his job to be there for Kansas’ 3rd District. 

Schmidt and his family entered the Secretary of State’s Office Wednesday morning to make a last-minute file. He was accompanied by Katie Sawyer — his running mate and former staffer of U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall — and her husband and two young sons. 

Many were surprised by Schmidt’s running mate choice. Schmidt said it is “nice” to be running with a young family, alluding to Sawyer’s comparably younger age of 38. Schmidt is 54 years old. 

“We want young families to decide to stay here, to return here, to come here,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt and Sawyer are focused on reversing and revising Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s work over the last four years. 

“The focus of running in this race is to leave Kansas better than we found it, and to do that we have to elect a Republican governor in November,” Schmidt said. 

Sawyer said they would get Kansas “back on track.”

If elected, Schmidt said he would focus on middle class tax relief, community safety efforts, and ensuring Kansas has the best schools, including trade schools and universities. 

Because of the additional time courts took to review the redistricting of Kansas this year, candidates for the Legislature, Congress and Kansas Board of Education have an extended deadline to file until June 10. 

“We get to do this all over again next week,” Secretary of State Scott Schwab said before striking down a gavel at noon Wednesday to declare the deadline for statewide offices.

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Lily O'Shea Becker
Lily O'Shea Becker

Lily O’Shea Becker studied journalism at the University of Kansas. She was an intern with the Kansas Reflector for the 2022 summer. Lily has experience as a multimedia journalist, photojournalist, producer and copy editor for a variety of news outlets in Lawrence and at the University of Kansas.