2020 Ellis County Voter Guide

BY AUSTIN RUFF

As Election Day draws near, ad campaigns are ramping up and candidates are making final rounds throughout the state and in Ellis County. Here is a quick voters’ guide to races of importance in the county prior to the general election Nov. 3.

U.S. Senate

The first, and arguably most publicized, race is for the Senate seat that was left vacant by retiring Sen. Pat Roberts. Democratic candidate Dr. Barbara Bollier has presented herself as a moderate solution in a polarized field. She pledges to be a “voice of reason” in Washington. Bollier has promised to improve rural hospitals and protect Kansans’ healthcare. Bollier has also pledged to defend a woman’s right to choose her own healthcare, to act on climate change and to seek equality for all Kansans. 

Republican Dr. Roger Marshall has served the Kansas First Congressional district since 2017. He has been an outspoken critic of Obamacare, arguing it should be repealed and replaced with something that better serves Kansans. Marshall is pro-life and claims to have delivered approximately 5,000 babies. Like Bollier, he stresses the need for free and fair trade deals to ensure the survival of Kansas’ rural ag economy. Marshall is a lifetime member of the NRA and believes the government should not interfere with Kansans’ basic rights. 

Libertarian Jason Buckley is also on the ticket. Buckley is an IT contractor from Overland Park who served in the U.S. Navy. He advocates for a strictly hands-off approach to governing. He believes taxes should be voluntary, the economy and healthcare services should be free of government regulation, and that all people in this country should be free and equal.

Big First House of Representatives 

Looking over to the House of Representatives, the seat in the Big First has been left vacant by a departing Roger Marshall. Democrat Kali Barnett and Republican Tracey Mann are vying for the seat. Barnett has been an elementary school teacher for the last 12 years and has pledged to help forge a more supportive and sustainable education environment for Kansans. As the daughter of a farmer, Barnett is familiar with the rural lifestyle and has framed herself as a “real advocate” for farmers in Washington. She has said the state must “build on” the foundations of the Affordable Care Act, while also investing in physical infrastructure such as broadband. 

Mann, a former lieutenant governor in Kansas, is the son of a farmer from Quinter. He works in commercial real estate and has served as student body president at Kansas State University, as well as holding positions on several boards and committees throughout the state. Mann is pro-life and has pledged to protect the lives of the unborn. He has promised to protect the 2nd Amendment and to “be a voice for our farmers” in Washington. Mann believes investing in services like broadband is essential for Kansans to thrive in the Big First. He has voiced his support of President Donald Trump, citing his appointments of conservative Supreme Court justices and improving trade deals as “promises kept.”

District 40 Kansas Senate

In the race for Kansas Senate District 40, Larry Dreiling is running on the Democratic ticket, while incumbent Rick Billinger is the Republican candidate. Dreiling was a reporter for High Plains Farm Journal from 1989 to 2019 and was the principal reporter for farm policy and rural development. He has received various awards for his work and traversed some 35,000 miles across Kansas while on the job. He has pledged his support for restoring economic security for middle-class Kansans, the protection of Kansas values and the creation of good-paying jobs for our citizens. 

Billinger is the incumbent for the seat. Before serving his first term in the Kansas Senate, he served two terms in the Kansas House of Representatives. He is a proud Catholic and professes “inflexible moral values.” Billinger believes western Kansans bring a unique perspective to Topeka, and he wants to invest in ways to bring people back to western Kansas. He has advocated for deregulation and the reduction of “red tape” to decrease regulatory burdens, and to continue to fight for lower property taxes.

111th District Kansas House of Representatives 

In the Kansas 111th District House race, incumbent Republican Barbara Wasinger is being challenged by Democrat Eber Phelps. Phelps has represented the 111th in the past and formerly served as a Hays city commissioner. He lost the House seat in 2018 to Wassinger by 35 votes, a margin so small, it triggered a lawsuit and a recount that was eventually dismissed. He strongly disagreed with the Brownback administration and will work to overturn much of the Brownback tax plan. Phelps has also said he will work with Gov. Laura Kelly to expand Medicaid in Kansas, as well as proper funding for education and mental health for Kansans

During the past two years, Wasinger has voted for increased spending on education, has voted against increased taxes, voted for the Eisenhower Legacy Program for state roads, as well as voting for a $115 million payment for KPERS funding shortfall. Wasinger pledges she will work to promote solutions for Kansans struggling to find adequate healthcare, as well as giving tax breaks to our senior citizens. She has promised to find ways to keep schools open and safe, and reform the broken foster-care system. 

110th District Kansas House of Representatives 

In the Kansas 110th House District, incumbent Republican Ken Rahjes is running unopposed for the seat. Rahjes is a supporter of the pro-life movement and supports the 2nd Amendment. He has prioritized issues like agriculture and tax reform during his time in Topeka. He is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, the House Taxation Committee and is the chairman of the Higher Education Budget Committee. 

109th District Kansas House of Representatives 

In the race for the 109th House District, incumbent Republican Troy Waymaster is running unopposed. Waymaster is from Russell, where he continues to play an active role in the family farm. Prior to being a representative, he was a board member for the Russell Chamber of Commerce as well as the president of Russell Main Street Inc. After winning the election in 2017, he became chairman of the Appropriations Committee, where he “serves as a fiscal watchdog for taxpayer dollars.”

23rd Judicial District 

In the race for the 23rd Judicial District Court Judge (1st Division), incumbent Republican Blake Bittel was beaten in the primary by Thomas J. Drees. Drees is on the Pretrial Justice Committee for the Kansas Supreme Court, which he was appointed to by Justice Lawton Nuss in 2018. He has served as the Ellis County attorney since 1997, and has held numerous positions in the field of law during the past 30 years. Drees says on his campaign website, “With my 30+ years of courtroom experience, including scores of jury trials, I am prepared to make experienced decisions as your District Judge.”

In the Second Division, Republican Glen R. Braun is running unopposed. Braun was appointed chief judge of the 23rd District in 2016 and has held that position since. 

In the contest for 23rd Judicial District Magistrate Judge, incumbent Douglas Bigge is running on the Republican ticket. Bigge has served as the District Magistrate Judge since he ran unopposed for the position in the 2016 election. Democrat Richard A. Flax, currently the Division 3 Magistrate Judge, also ran unopposed during the 2016 elections.

Ellis County Commission 

County commission candidate Neal Younger defeated incumbent Dustin Roths in the primary, securing his place on the ticket. Younger is now running unopposed for the 2nd District position. Younger, when asked what the role the county commission should play in dealing with COVID-19, said he would speak with the head of the county’s Emergency Medical Services, Jason Kennedy.

“He is the medical matter expert and communicates with the medical center,” Younger said in an interview with the Hays Post, “The Ellis County commissioners can then make the decision.” 

Younger also voiced disagreement over the uneven distribution of raises amongst county employees and stressed the need for better communication between the city and the commission.

In the 3rd District for county commission, Dean Haselhorst is the Republican incumbent but is being challenged by Democrat L. R. Boyd. Boyd, a native of Victoria, and retired Assistant High School Principal. 

Ellis County Treasurer

The race for the treasurer in Ellis County got off to an eventful start when incumbent Lisa Schlegel — who often butted heads with county commissioners — was defeated by Vernon Ruder in the Republican primary. Ruder has been in charge of the Ellis County Landfill for the last three years. Prior to that, he served as a financial advisor and as the district manager for E. A. Sween Co. He has voiced his concern about the turnover rate for the treasurer position, and said he would “decrease spending and increase efficiencies.” Ruder would like to install a kiosk that would allow citizens to pay their tags and taxes after hours, citing the fact that the office closes at 4 p.m. and most people don’t get off work until 5 p.m. 

Opposing him is Democratic candidate Julie Mercer. Mercer moved to Ellis County 10 years ago to attend Fort Hays State University. She and her husband decided to stay and start their family here. Mercer has served as the manager of the Hays movie theater, the assistant manager of a local retail store, and is currently the office/branch manager of a healthcare agency. She believes it is important that the treasurer have both financial and customer service skills. Mercer has pledged to “promote economic growth and stability.”

Ellis County Sheriff

Longtime Ellis County Sheriff Ed Harbin is retiring from his position. His undersheriff, Scott Braun, a Republican, is running to replace him. Braun began his work at the Ellis County Police Department in 1997 after serving on the Ellis Police Department. He was promoted to detective in 2005 and coordinated the K-9 program, becoming the department’s first canine handler in 1999. He was awarded the State of Kansas 2006 Deputy Sheriff of the Year, the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police Gold Award of Valor and the Kansas Highway Patrol Superintendent Meritorious Award.

County Attorney 

Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees resigned from the position in order to run for District Judge. Robert Anderson Jr. is the Republican candidate running unopposed for the position. He graduated from Washburn Law School in 2014 and has been practicing in Ellis County and the surrounding areas for five years. He beat Chris Lyon in the primary.

Ellis County Register of Deeds

Rebecca Herzog is the incumbent Ellis County Register of Deeds. She is the Republican candidate for the office and is running unopposed. The Register of Deeds is responsible for appointing representatives to administer defendants’ estates, to ensure they are carried out and to keep records of those proceedings.

Ellis County Clerk

For the position of Ellis County Clerk, Republican candidate Bobbi Dreiling is running unopposed. The former county clerk, Donna Maskus, is retiring after 41 years of service in Ellis County. Dreiling was the deputy county clerk for seven and a half years before running.

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