The races are nonpartisan — but Johnson County parties still work to support candidates for county commission, mayor

Leah Wankum - October 15, 2018 11:55 am
Campaign signs for Ed Eilert’s re-election bid for the non-partisan role of Johnson County Commission Chair are available at the Johnson County Republican Party headquarters.

It’s no surprise to see campaign literature and signs promoting Republicans in the Johnson County Republican Party headquarters. Or to hear a Democratic party canvasser extoll the virtues of Democratic candidates when going door-to-door.

But the parties are employing those campaign tactics even in non-partisan races, as is evidenced by this fall’s races for Johnson County commission and the mayor of Prairie Village.

Pay a visit to the offices of the Johnson County Democratic Party, and you’ll see signage and literature for Eric Mikkelson, one of the two candidates for Prairie Village mayor, as well as signs for Janeé Hanzlick and Becky Fast, both candidates for Johnson County commission seats.

Likewise, the offices of the Johnson County Republican Party have signage to promote the candidacy for Michael Ashcraft and Ed Eilert, both incumbents running again for their spots on the Johnson County commission.

Political parties say the issue is nothing new

Eric Mikkelson is running for Prairie Village mayor — a nonpartisan position. His signage and literature are available at Johnson County Democratic headquarters.

Local leaders of both parties said they have been promoting candidates in nonpartisan races for years. For example, the Johnson County Democratic Party has promoted candidates for city councils, which are also nonpartisan races, in recent years.

However, as long as the Johnson County commission seats have been filled in a  nonpartisan election — since the county commission’s charter was adopted in 2001 — “it has always been an issue” when nonpartisan candidates from time to time will put their party affiliation on their campaign material, said Eilert.

“There really is no enforcement provision,” said Eilert, a lifelong Republican. His signage doesn’t identify him as a Republican, he added.

Both parties also stressed that the practice falls within proper campaign rules.

“We don’t necessarily seek out and ask for any campaign literature to be brought here, but we let Republicans know we’ll put it out and make it available,” said Mike Jones, who recently stepped down as chair of the Johnson County Republican Party.

Jones said Republicans ask “all the time” how candidates in nonpartisan races are registered.

“I don’t vote for anyone unless I know what they’re registered as,” Jones said, adding that he doesn’t think campaign rules force nonpartisan candidates to hide from their party affiliation.

The only “rule” in nonpartisan races is that party affiliation is absent next to a candidate’s name on the ballot. And some candidates for non-partisan positions run for partisan positions in other races. County Commissioner Ron Shaffer, for example, ran for a Republican precinct committeeman position in August’s primary.

Jones said he’s “not a fan” of nonpartisan elections because he sees some candidates in nonpartisan races promoting partisan issues on their platforms.

Helena Buchmann, executive board member of the Johnson County Democrats and Democratic precinct committeewoman for Ward 4 Precinct 1 of Prairie Village, said she, as a Prairie Village resident and Democrat, would “prefer a Democrat to be elected.” Because Mikkelson is registered as a Democrat in the county, the Democratic Party is supporting his campaign.

“I want to promote good governance on every level,” Buchmann said.

John Pauldine, Mikkelson’s campaign manager, said Mikkelson’s campaign has endorsement from the Johnson County Democratic Party, Mainstream Coalition and Prairie Village city council president Dan Runion, who is registered as a Republican.

Robin Essex, who was most recently vice-chair of the Johnson County Republican Party last week, just before new officers were instated, said Republican candidates of all nonpartisan races are welcome to leave their literature and signage at their office.

Buchmann said Mikkelson is “accepting the support of the precinct committee people in Prairie Village who are knocking on his behalf.” That is to say, members of the Johnson County Democratic Party who are elected by Democrats in their precincts at the primary election will go out knocking doors, mostly at homes of registered Democrats, in Prairie Village to garner support for Mikkelson’s candidacy.

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