A bad election cycle for moderate Republicans concludes with apparent ouster of 2 Shawnee Mission area incumbents

Jay Senter - November 7, 2018 11:52 am
Moderate Republican Melissa Rooker appears to have narrowly lost her seat to Democrat Rui Xu.

In the hours after the numbers started to trickle in on primary election night this August, Johnson County moderate Republican started raising alarms about what they were seeing. Not only were moderates getting knocked off by more conservative challengers in a number of races across the state, but in a handful of Shawnee Mission area districts, Democratic voters were turning out in levels that suggested incumbent moderates were going to face a real test in the fall.

Those worries proved to be justified Tuesday, as Shawnee Mission area voters appeared to oust two sitting moderate Republicans who had been key figures on increasing K-12 funding and reform of the Department of Children and Families, positions that often put them at odds with more conservative members of their party.

District 25 Republican incumbent Melissa Rooker trailed Democratic challenger Rui Xu by 51 votes in the unofficial final results posted Tuesday night — a margin close enough that it could be affected by provisional ballots to be added to the tally next week.

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Incumbent District 23 Rep. Linda Gallagher (right) and Democratic challenger Susan Ruiz (left) at a forum this summer.

In District 23, Republican Linda Gallagher lost to Democrat Susan Ruiz 50-47.

Rooker had been among the leading figures in the capitol the past several years in work to develop K-12 school funding formulas that would pass constitutional muster in the courts, a fact that had put her at odds with conservative Republicans who opposed injecting more money into the K-12 system. She was widely seen as being an expert on the intricacies of the complicated K-12 funding formula and the many court rulings on the legislature’s attempts to meet constitutional funding. Rooker was first elected to the House in 2012.

Gallagher and Shawnee Mission area Democrat Jarrod Ousley had joined forces in an effort to clean up the Department of Children and Families after a string of deficiencies in management of the department came to light. Gallagher was first elected to the seat in 2014.

Fellow moderate Republicans Stephanie Clayton in District 19, Jan Kessinger in District 20 and Tom Cox in District 17 all fended off challenges from Democrats.

But Republicans lost the District 30 seat previously held by conservative Republican Randy Powell to Democrat Brandon Woodard, meaning Democrats picked up three Republican held seats among the 14 districts that include parts of the Shawnee Mission area.

Once seated in January, Ruiz and Woodard will be the first openly gay people to serve in the Kansas legislature.

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