Primary election brings mixed bag of results for Kansas legislative incumbents

By: - August 3, 2022 1:53 pm

Rep. Aaron Coleman was among a handful of controversial incumbent Kansas legislators to find themselves on the outs Tuesday as votes trickled in. Some races remain too close to call. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Several incumbent Kansas legislators are on their way out of the Statehouse after Tuesday’s election. Others are just barely hanging on.

Among those who missed the mark in their reelection effort is Rep. Aaron Coleman, a Kansas City Democrat, who lost in a three-way race in Wyandotte County. Melissa Oropeza, a health care professional, finished first with 49% of the vote, followed by Faith Rivera with 38%.

Coleman came in third with just 13% of the vote. Before his election in 2020, Coleman was accused of assaulting and threatening to kill an ex-girlfriend. He also admitted to cyberbullying and revenge porn while in middle school.

Police also allege that in October 2021, Coleman hit his brother and threatened his grandfather during an argument about religion. A judge signed off in March on a diversion that could see Coleman’s misdemeanor domestic battery charge dismissed.

“I hope this decision is the best for everyone,” Coleman tweeted in concession to Oropeza.

Another legislator voted out of their post after legal trouble in office was Republican Rep. Mark Samsel, who fell to Carrie Barth by nearly 1,200 votes in Kansas’ 5th House District. Samsel was accused in spring 2021 of assaulting two students in a classroom while substitute teaching.

The Wellsville legislator has since pleaded guilty to three lesser charges of misdemeanor disorderly conduct. He subsequently reported a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Rep. Suzi Carlson, R-Clay Center, finished third and trails leader Bill Bloom by 600 votes. Carlson was arrested in January by Topeka police on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Under a diversion agreement, the prosecutor will drop the charges if Carlson complies with a set of conditions.

Rep. Cheryl Helmer, a Mulvane Republican, fell short against challenger Webster Roth. Earlier this year, in an email sent from her legislator account to a transgender college graduate student, Helmer said that she did not appreciate sharing a restroom at the Statehouse with Rep. Stephanie Byers, a Democrat from Wichita. Helmer described Byers as a “huge transgender female.”

In a handful of other battles between Republican incumbents facing more conservative challengers, results were split in terms of who won and lost. Those who lost faced criticism from voters over controversial legislation in recent legislative sessions.

For example, Rep. Bradley Ralph, a Dodge City Republican, faced questions from opponent Jason Goetz regarding his votes against a bill banning transgender athletes in women’s sports. Rep. John Wheeler, R-Garden City, fell about 180 votes short of Bob Lewis, who noted Wheeler’s record on the parent’s bill of rights legislation.

“Looking forward to the new year and working on policy that will protect our faith, family, and freedom!” Goetz said on his campaign Facebook page.

In a notable upset, Scott Hill held nearly a 300-vote lead over incumbent Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene. Barker was initially elected to the House in 2013 after serving 25 years as a judge for the Eighth Judicial District.

Hill, a former state board of education member, gained notoriety in 1999 by supporting the elimination of evolution as a principle of the state science curriculum.

In the newly redrawn 118th House District maps, two freshman incumbents were pitted together. Rep. Jim Minnix, R-Scott City, outpaced Rep. Tatum Lee, R-Ness City, 59% to 41% to win the western Kansas district.

“Now it is time for us all to come together and unite as Kansans,” Minnix said via Facebook as results showed a clear path to victory. “Let us work together for a stronger community, a sustained rural way of life, and a brighter future for all.”

Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican, and one of the few remaining Republican legislators who are pro-Medicaid expansion, handily defeated challenger Gerald Johnson with 63% of the vote.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.

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