Moderate Hughes defeats conservative Melton in Republican primary, setting up race against Stogsdill in general

Dorothy Hughes, seen here at a Overland Park Chamber of Commerce candidate forum, won the Republican primary Tuesday.
Dorothy Hughes, seen here at a Overland Park Chamber of Commerce candidate forum, won the Republican primary Tuesday.

Healthcare consultant Dorothy Hughes on Tuesday soundly defeated mortgage banker Neil Melton in the Republican primary for House District 21, part of a surge of moderate candidates who scored victories across the county.

Hughes’s 61-39 margin was the second widest among Republican primary races in Johnson County on the night. Only Olathe incumbent Ron Ryckman, Jr., the House majority whip, won by more as he defeated challenger Allen Clayton 73-27.

Though Hughes’ victory doesn’t represent a significant change from the district’s current representation — moderate Republican incumbent Barbara Bollier had endorsed her — the defeat of Melton and other conservatives offered a strong rebuke to the agenda of Gov. Sam Brownback. As she celebrated at the Overland Park Marriott with other moderates Tuesday night, Hughes thanked Melton for running a “good race.”

“I appreciated the back and forth,” she said. “It’s a small enough town that I’m sure we will see each other now and then, and I’m glad we’d be able to work together in the future.”

Democrat Jerry Stogsdill garnered 1,409 votes on the night despite not having a primary challenger, less than Hughes’ 1,646 but more than Melton’s 1,061. While the district has been safely held by moderate Republicans for more than a decade, it did go heavily for Democrat Paul Davis in the 2014 gubernatorial election, suggesting it could be in play for a Democrat this November.

Hughes said she respects Stogsdill’s longevity in the district and his experience in public education, but feels her broader policy experience — she started her career as a staffer in the office of then-Congressman Jerry Moran on Capitol Hill — made her the stronger candidate.

“What sets me apart is my experience in the policy process itself,” Hughes said. “Education is not going to be the only issue we have to deal with. I’ve had experience in other policy areas.”

In the wake of the results, Stogsdill indicated that he intends to press the case that putting more Republicans in the statehouse, whether favorable to Brownback’s policies or not, will only further the status quo. He characterized Hughes as part of the “existing Republican power structure in Topeka” and pointed to her work for Moran, a conservative, and her participation in Kevin Yoder’s reelection campaigns as evidence that she would not offer a substantially different set of views than those dominant in the statehouse.

“I congratulate Ms. Hughes on her primary victory and look forward to a vigorous general election campaign. I believe I’m the only candidate in our district who offers a real change from politics as usual in Topeka,” Stogsdill said in a statement. “I think the voters in our district are ready to try something different this November.”

For her part, Hughes said she believed the moderates’ success on Tuesday indicated that the state was ready to change the course of the state.

“People want to get the state back on the right track, and I hope they stay engaged and vote in November,” she said.