Primary Profile: Republicans Seeking Sedgwick County Commission 4th District Seat
Voters will elect three Sedgwick County commissioners this year to represent the 1st, 4th and 5th Districts. The 4th District is the only one with a primary next week.
In the Republican race, a political newcomer is trying to unseat an incumbent.
Hugh Nicks is a retired businessman from Maize. He worked as a teacher, financial advisor, business owner and marketing executive. He also coached high school sports and served on the boards of several civic organizations.
Last fall, this third-generation farmer decided it was time to enter politics, so he launched a campaign for the 4th District.
“I think my business experience coupled with the volunteer kind of work that I've done in the community — the mentoring I've done in the community — I think all of that has prepared me for a role as a county commissioner,” Nicks says.
Nicks is taking on current Commissioner Richard Ranzau in the Aug. 7 primary.
Ranzau is a former physician assistant who has represented the 4th District since 2010. He has name recognition and a list of accomplishments from serving two terms on the county commission.
“I do have the experience, and I think I have the track record of producing results that matter, that I can share with people, and they look at that and they can say, 'Yeah, I think I want more results like that,'” he says.
County commissioners earn about $90,000 a year and serve a four-year term. It’s a fulltime job that includes managing county property, awarding contracts and approving zoning policies. Commissioners also control the county’s finances, levy taxes and manage the county’s roads and bridges.
Ranzau is from Valley Center, so both candidates have deep roots in the 4th District. They agree that job creation and economic development are priorities. Nicks says improving the business climate will, in turn, improve the quality of life.
“The county is about providing services, but without the jobs and the tax base, I don't know how we can pay for all those services," he says. "So I think we could do a better job of trying to broaden job opportunities that we have in this community."
Ranzau is a constitutional and fiscal conservative. He supports controlling taxes and regulations to help small businesses. He says he led the effort to make agritourism and operating a small business out of a home easier in the unincorporated areas of the county.
“Now these are things that may not be glamorous and a lot of people don't hear about, but they affect the daily lives of small business people and homeowners on a daily basis,” Ranzau says.
Ranzau’s campaign literature lists a dozen examples of his work on behalf of the county. But in recent months, it is his demeanor during the weekly commission meetings that gets attention. Ranzau is outspoken and is not shy about sharing his difference of opinion.
“I would say the vast majority of my constituents are glad that I'm willing to take a stand. They know I do my research and I make my votes based upon the facts and the information that I have before me and they appreciate that,” he says.
Ranzau spoke out against his colleague, 2nd District Commissioner Michael O’Donnell, on several occasions. He called for O’Donnell’s resignation in May after federal prosecutors charged O’Donnell with money laundering, bank fraud and wire fraud related to his state Senate campaign.
Ranzau says O’Donnell’s pending trial and other issues going on behind the scenes are creating a toxic atmosphere within the commission.
“I continue to say that the biggest issue facing the county continues to be the ethical challenges that we face on a daily basis. Until that's resolved, there will continue to be a dark cloud hanging over this commission,” Ranzau says.
Ranzau’s opponent is campaigning on the idea that Sedgwick County needs a change of leadership in the 4th District. Nicks says voters are telling him that they are fed up with the lack of civility among the county commissioners.
“I think we can conduct ourselves in a much better and professional fashion, and show a little more leadership than we're doing now, particularly in the 4th district,” Nicks says.
Nicks would like to see county leaders improve relationships with city leaders and others to create new collaborations.
“Like any business, there are efficiencies that could be had but for that to happen, we have to build some trust and some relationships particularly with the city,” he says.
The 4th District is diverse and large. It covers the northwest part of Sedgwick County including areas of downtown, the Riverside neighborhood and west Wichita.
Nicks says he has learned a lot during this first campaign and is ready to take on the responsibility of running a complex county government.
“I'm in this to win. I'm an old athlete at heart. I don't really like losing very much,” Nicks says.
Ranzau says if he’s re-elected, he will follow through with a promise to only serve three terms on the Sedgwick County Commission.
“I've enjoyed serving the citizens but to be honest, the last year and a half or so has been very trying and difficult. And if I get re-elected, I'll have four more years and I'll be ready to be done then,” Ranzau says.
Next week, voters will decide the short-term future for both men. The winner of the August 7th Republican primary will begin a new round of campaigning against a Democratic challenger — either Michael Kinard or Lacey Cruse — in the November general election.
In 2016, two longtime commissioners, Tim Norton and Karl Peterjohn, lost their re-election bids. Voters elected Michael O’Donnell for the 2nd District and David Dennis for the 3rd District.