With 34 members whose districts are located in whole or in part in the county, Johnson County’s delegation to the Kansas House and Kansas Senate should represent a powerful force focused on supporting efforts that will benefit the state’s most populous county. That’s the vision of freshly elected Johnson County Delegation chair Stephanie Clayton, the Overland Park House representative who will start her third term in office in January.
In the past, Clayton said, the delegation chair has served a largely administrative role, organizing weekly lunch gatherings for Republicans and Democrats from the area once a week during the session and scheduling speakers from state agencies or chambers of commerce to address the group. While those gatherings are important, she said, she views the chairmanship as an opportunity to foster real political power for the county.
“When you look at Sedgwick County [where Wichita is located], that’s an area where you’ve got elected officials who are far right Republicans and far left Democrats, but they can put aside partisanship and deliver for Sedgwick County when they need things,” she said. “I’ve heard frustrations about the lack of unity and lack of initiative on the part of the Johnson County delegation.”
Clayton earned the right to serve in the one-year role as Johnson County delegation chair by winning a vote in a contest against Olathe Republican Erin Davis, who also sought the position. Clayton earned 19 votes to Davis’s 7 with 8 delegation members either absent or abstaining.
Clayton says she has no fanciful notions that she’ll be able to bridge the philosophical gap between the delegations’ conservatives, moderates and liberals on issues like school vouchers. But, she said, there are plenty of issues where all Johnson County elected officials should be able to come to together to see legislation that would benefit the area. Pro-Johnson County business issues are the low hanging fruit, but she imagines the group should be able to come together at least in part on approaches to balance the budget and develop a new school funding formula.
“It’s about finding the issues around which we can all coalesce,” she said. “And I’m still very open to finding out ideas for what it is our delegation can bring home.”
Clayton replaces Sen. Jim Denning who served in the role last year.