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Politics

Primary Profile: Democrats Seeking Sedgwick County Commission 4th District Seat

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LaRissa Lawrie
/
KMUW
Democratic candidates Lacey Cruse and Mike Kinard are hoping to bring diversity to the Sedgwick County Commission.

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 Democratic race, two candidates are hoping to bring diversity to the county commission.  

Michael Kinard entered politics 32 years ago when he ran to represent Sedgwick County’s 1st District. He didn’t win that election, but the experience ignited a desire for public service that he’s been chasing ever since. This year’s campaign for the 4th District is his third attempt at becoming a county commissioner.

“Sedgwick County Commission lacks diversity," Kinard says. "And so I felt that I can get in here and present some things that are not being said — viewpoints that are not being expressed."

Kinard is the owner of a photography and video production company. This is his sixth political campaign. His only success came in 2001 when he won a seat on the Wichita Board of Education; he served four years.

Last fall, Kinard lost the general election for the District 1 seat on the Wichita City Council.

“After the city race, I was approached by some community leaders to look at running for the county," he says. "At first I said, 'No, I've had enough of this politics; I'm done.'" 

After some soul-searching, Kinard made the decision to run.

His Democratic opponent in the primary is Lacey Cruse. This is her first political campaign. She too received encouragement to run — from female lawmakers.

“Everybody has been so encouraging and they have just sort of guided me along the way — telling me what to do, what not to do, who to reach out to," Cruse says. "I do feel supported by our female legislators right now."

Like Kinard, Cruse thinks she can make a difference because she brings a different viewpoint to the county commission.

“I think Sedgwick County needs a fresh perspective. When I started researching what the county does and the services that they provide, I just didn’t feel there was a good representation of someone like me,” she says.

Cruse works for a hospice company and describes herself as an advocate for senior citizens. She gained civic experience by helping organize the two Women’s Marches in Wichita following the 2016 presidential election.

Winning a seat on the county commission is one more way for her to stay involved in the community. It has been eight years since the county had a female commissioner. Just five women have served throughout the commission’s 65-year history.

“We don't see ourselves in those positions," Cruse says. "If we don't imagine ourselves there, it's hard for us to really picture ourselves sitting in that seat. We have been conditioned to think that white male businessmen are the only people who can run our government, which just isn't the case."

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Credit sedgwickcounty.gov
The boundaries of the 4th District in Sedgwick County

The Sedgwick County Commission had three representatives from 1953 to 1986, after which it expanded to five districts.

Cruse and Kinard say workforce development, helping small businesses thrive and listening to constituents are their priorities in the 4th District. Both say investing in the community will improve opportunities and outcomes.

“We have to reach out to the community and the partners in our community," Kinard says, "so that we reinvest like we need to, so that we can attract a variety of industries to our community."

Cruse says the county needs to make small businesses and entrepreneurs "feel supported."

“They have to understand what resources are available,” she says.

For Kinard, winning a seat on the county commission means a chance to lead the discussion on the issue of mental health in the community.

“And what better platform than the government entity that really takes care of our health in our community, which is the county, with Comcare and our health departments,” he says.

Commissioners manage a county budget of more than $420 million each year. They make decisions on where funding goes based on a list of priorities. Both of the Democratic candidates would like the county to revisit the budget process.

“We need to re-evaluate how things are allocated," Cruse says. "I don't feel like people in all walks of life have been considered."

The 4th District covers the northwest portion of the county from downtown Wichita to Valley Center and Maize.

The last time a Democrat represented the 4th District was in the late 1990s. Tuesday’s primary election will decide whether it will be Michael Kinard or Lacey Cruse who takes a chance at reclaiming the seat in November.

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.