John Toplikar’s encouraging victory in the election for Johnson County Commission, part 1 of 2
Congratulations to Commissioner-elect John Toplikar. Out-raised 15 to 1 and out-endorsed, Toplikar beat the incumbent 67% to 33%.
The political action committee I chair in Kansas got involved in one race this cycle: the 6th district county commission race in Johnson County, Kansas. The race involved two functional incumbents, both Republican: a conservative former Commissioner John Toplikar, and liberal Commissioner Calvin Hayden, who beat Toplikar by 42 votes in 2008 out of 35,930 votes.
In 2010, zero out of seven commissioners were conservative. In November 2010, my PAC played a large role in electing two conservatives, who took office in January 2013. With John Toplikar’s addition in January 2013, three out of seven commissioners are conservative.
Johnson County is in the suburbs of Kansas City, MO, and has a population of about 550,000 or about 20% of Kansas, and has an annual budget approaching $1 billion. Six commissioners are elected by district, and there is one at-large chair.
To my knowledge, it is the only county out of 105 counties with non-partisan elections. Kansas liberal “Republicans” dominated state politics for decades (conservatives won’t control the entire legislature for the first time until next month), and as liberals saw conservatives slowly taking over the Republican party, they tried to make a sort of last-minute power grab in Johnson County, the economic engine of Greater Kansas City and the state’s largest county. During the 2000 election, Johnson County voters approved the state’s first county charter in a three-part vote, and changed elections to non-partisan.
- Question 1 approved the basic framework of the charter, and was required to pass in order for Questions 2 and 3 to pass. Question 1 also ended elections for three important positions: the County Clerk, the Register of Deeds, and the County Treasurer. Question 1 passed 55-45%. In order to change the Home Rule Charter in the future, the charter requires a very high bar of 80% of the elected county commission.
- Question 2 changed the county commission from five members to seven members. It passed 60%-40%.
- Question 3 changed elections of the county commissioners from partisan to non-partisan. It narrowly passed with 51.7% of the vote.
I think conservatives and Republicans often consider non-partisan elections to be a disadvantage, but I don’t think this, anymore. Conservatives can win almost anywhere, while the Republican brand can’t. Democratic voters often agree more with conservative Republican candidates on good-government issues, more than they do with “moderate” or establishment candidates of either major party — consider the issues of open government, property rights, the right to vote on property tax increases, and competitive bidding.
John Toplikar ran as a clear conservative, and crushed his opposition. Toplikar out-performed every Republican on the ballot except the one Republican who had no Democratic opponent.
Before John Toplikar lost in 2008, he had won over and over again, rarely losing. Since 1989 he had served on the Olathe City Council, was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives, was elected Majority Caucus Chairman in the House, was first elected to the County Commission in 2002, was re-elected in 2004, and had been elected Vice-Chairman of the seven-member Commission. In 2002, Toplikar won the county commission seat with 58% of the vote. In 2004, Toplikar won his first full term with 61% of the vote.
In 2008, shortly before the November election, then-incumbent Commissioner Toplikar received an Email from County Election Commissioner Brian Newby stating that a Toplikar yard sign had been placed too close to the election office (under state law, that’s illegal electioneering). To be fair to Toplikar, there were several candidates’ signs right next to his, and my understanding is that they also received a similar notification from the election office. His opponent Calvin Hayden’s sign was also illegally placed. Toplikar removed one Toplikar yard sign and one Hayden yard sign. To be clear, Toplikar shouldn’t have taken his opponent’s illegally placed sign, but neither should Calvin Hayden have put up an illegal sign. Hayden’s wife was hiding in a bush and video-taped Toplikar taking the sign. The news media then played that video everywhere and temporarily damaged Toplikar’s reputation, without reporting the fact that Calvin Hayden (a former sheriff’s deputy) was openly engaging in illegal electioneering. Toplikar won advance voting with 54%, but lost in election-day voting and lost overall by 42 votes.
What’s funny, and while this can’t be proven, I think Calvin Hayden went over-board in trying to portray Toplikar as a criminal and thief. By the time 2012 rolled around, I’ll bet that some people remembered Toplikar’s name, but couldn’t remember why they remembered it. This county race was the eighth question on the ballot, after all, and was by no means the main reason people were voting in November 2012.
During this 2012 election, the consensus everywhere was that Calvin Hayden was going to win re-election. He raised at least $26,000, which I expect to grow to $30,000 once final reports are in. Hayden hired at least two paid consultants. John Toplikar raised $2,200. That advantage is a massive 15:1 ratio, and $2,200 doesn’t go far in a district with 50,000 voters. A carpenter, Toplikar hand-made most of his larger signs out of wood, and painted them using a stencil.
Four mayors endorsed Calvin Hayden. Three Kansas Senate candidates (all who won) endorsed Hayden. A Kansas House candidate (who won) endorsed Hayden. The district attorney endorsed Hayden. The Kansas City Star endorsed Hayden.
In Toplikar’s favor — he received the endorsement of conservative former Kansas Senator named Kay O’Connor, who had repeatedly and unfairly been deemed a radical by the establishment. O’Connor was a vocal supporter of school vouchers before almost anyone else in Kansas City. One Kansas House member in the area also endorsed Toplikar. Toplikar did receive the lone endorsement from the most well-known pro-life group (which has lost a lot of support among pro-life voters — see Danedri Herbert’s op-ed, “Kansans for Life puts dollars and power over principle” in The Kansas City Star), but also endorsed by that “pro-life” group was the candidate who lost 57-43% in the neighboring county commission district that also is a conservative-voting district. (Disclosure: I ran in that other district in the August primary. I received 3rd place in a 29%-28%-22%-21% primary, needing top two to advance to the general. I stayed neutral in the general election).
Here are the November results in the sixth district county commission race in Johnson County, compared to some of the Republican candidates. Percentages of other candidates are based on the geographic areas shared with county commission district six:
- County Commission (non-partisan, two registered Republicans running):
- John Toplikar: 67%
- Calvin Hayden: 33%
- Republican Mitt Romney: 61%
- Democrat Barack Obama: 36%
- US Congress (shares entire district with county commission district):
- Republican Kevin Yoder: 71%
- Libertarian Joel Balam: 28%
- no Democratic opponent
- Kansas Senate, district 9 (shares a portion of the district, and Republican Julia Lynn endorsed Calvin Hayden)
- Republican Julia Lynn: 66%
- Democrat Merlin Ring: 34%
- Kansas Senate, district 23 (shares a portion of the district, and Republican Rob Olson endorsed Calvin Hayden)
- Republican Rob Olson: 62%
- Democrat Steve Wright: 38%
- Olathe Mayor Michael Copeland endorsed Hayden. Toplikar won 75% of the vote (Toplikar is from Olathe, as well).
- Gardner Mayor Dave Drovetta endorsed Hayden. Toplikar won with 65%.
- Edgerton Mayor Donald Roberts endorsed Hayden. Toplikar won with 64%.
- Hayden did win De Soto with 82% of the vote, but Hayden lives there. Mayor David Anderson did also endorse Hayden.
Congratulations to Commissioner John Toplikar, who ran as a conservative and out-performed Republican candidates. I hope it is an encouragement to conservatives who are considering running for office, or who have helped conservative candidates.
In my next post, I’ll put up a radio interview in which I discussed this race.
Connect with Benjamin Hodge at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Tumblr, mrcTV.org, YouTube, The Kansas Progress, and LibertyLinked. Hodge is President of the State and Local Reform Group of Kansas. He served as a member of the Kansas House of Representatives, an at-large trustee at Johnson County Community College, a delegate to the Kansas Republican Party, a Republican precinct committeeman in Johnson County, and was founder of the modern Overland Park Republican Party. His public policy record is recognized by Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Association of Broadcasters, the Kansas Press Association, the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, the NRA, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and Kansans for Life.