Moderate Republican incumbents fall to conservative opponents in state legislature primaries

Rep. Kellie Warren, currently serving a term in the Kansas House as the representative for the 28th District, beat out Skubal with 63% of the unofficial vote for the Republican track to the Kansas Senate’s 11th District. Above, Kellie Warren thanking supporters in 2018. Photo credit Emily Park. 

Two moderate Republican incumbent state legislators from Johnson County, Rep. Jan Kessinger and Sen. John Skubal, lost their bids for reelection during Tuesday night’s primary election, each falling to more conservative challengers.

The two were the last of a group of local Republicans that leaned more moderately than their GOP colleagues from around the state. Rising from the post-Brownback era, most of them swept into office in 2016 and fought for increased funding for public education across the state. Most of those electoral gains, however, have now been wiped out between the 2018 midterms and this most recent election.

Kansas Senate District 11

Rep. Kellie Warren, currently serving a term in the Kansas House as the representative for the 28th District, beat out Skubal with 63% of the unofficial vote for the Republican nomination to the Kansas Senate’s 11th District.

“I’m so grateful to the voters for their support,” Warren said. “They are clearly anxious for Topeka leaders to provide solutions and help rebuild our economy. I’m committed to independent solutions rooted in common sense and helping Johnson County prosper in the future.”

Skubal previously unseated then-incumbent Republican Jeff Melcher in the 2016 primary.

Warren will face moderate Democrat Joy Koesten, a former Republican state representative. Koesten switched parties after falling to Warren in the 2018 Republican primary for the 28th Kansas House district. Koesten joined a wave of other Republicans who fled the party during the midterms — including current Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills.

Unofficial final results:

  • Kellie Warren: 63%
  • John Skubal (incumbent): 35%

Kansas House District 20

With close to 56% of the unofficial vote count, Jane Dirks knocked Kessinger out of the running for representative of the 20th District in the Kansas House — a seat he’s held since 2017. Dirks will face Leawood Democratic challenger Mari-Lynn Poskin in the general election in November.

“I am grateful for the support I received from so many people I have met over these past several months and am humbled by the opportunity to serve my constituents,” Dirks said. “There is still a lot of work ahead for the general election, and I am looking forward to meeting more people in my district and listening to their concerns. My thanks to Jan Kessinger for his service in the Kansas House and best wishes for his future endeavors.”

In 2016, Kessinger defeated Republican incumbent Rob Bruchman.

Unofficial final results:

  • Jane Dirks: 56%
  • Jan Kessinger (incumbent): 41%

Kansas Senate District 10

In other races, incumbent Republican Mike Thompson beat Republican challenger Tom Cox with about 72% of the vote in the Kansas Senate 10th District race. Cox is another moderate Republican, who currently serves in the Kansas House in the 17th District.

“[I’m] very obviously very grateful to everybody’s support,” Thompson said. “I really have been very surprised at how receptive everybody has been along the campaign trail. It’s just been a gratifying experience, and now [we] jut go work hard to move on.”

Thompson, a former local TV meteorologist, was tapped to fill the 10th District seat when Mary Pilcher-Cook resigned last year.

In November, he’ll compete with current Shawnee city councilwoman and co-founder of  Climate Action KC Lindsey Constance.

“I got a pretty good sense of what people were worried about … and that that’s going to help I think just to give us a good sense of what the issues are to them,” Thompson said.

Unofficial final results:

  • Mike Thompson (incumbent): 72%
  • Tom Cox: 27%

Kansas House District 18

In the 18th House District race, Republican Cathy Gordon beat out Republican Calvin Vandegrift for the chance to face Democrat incumbent Cindy Neighbor in November with 71 percent of the vote.

Gordon, a nurse practitioner, is a founder of Mercy & Truth Medical Missions, a faith-based health clinic network in the greater Kansas City area.

“We’re all very excited about the primary and the many Republican wins. I think it’s setting the state up well, and we’re all very excited to see that and looking forward to the general election in November, to do the same,” Gordon said. “It’s another run for the win. Work hard and God-willing, it will happen.”

Neighbor held the 18th District seat from 2007-2011, but lost in 2010 to Republican John Rubin. In 2016, she beat former Shawnee councilman Eric Jenkins, winning the seat back.

Unofficial final results:

  • Cathy Gordon: 71%
  • Calvin Vandegrift: 21%