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Incumbent Ranzau Faces Newcomer Cruse In Sedgwick County Commission 4th District Race

LaRissa Lawrie

A Sedgwick County commissioner is counting on his proven experience and a strong base of support to win re-election for a third term.

Republican Richard Ranzau faces Democrat Lacey Cruse, a political newcomer, in the race to represent the county’s 4th District.

Ranzau gave up his dream job as a physician assistant in 2010 to be the 4th District county commissioner. It was his first political race. Now, after serving two terms, he has name recognition, a list of accomplishments and a reputation for being an outspoken member of the commission.

“My constituents actually appreciate when I take a stand. I do my research and if I have a difference of opinion, I say it," Ranzau says. "I think I work hard on behalf of the taxpayers, and they really appreciate it."

Ranzau won the Republican primary in August by just 75 votes. A recount requested by his opponent confirmed the close race. Wichita State University political scientist Neal Allen says Ranzau’s narrow victory shows some potential weakness.

“So there’s probably a lot of voters who will consider voting for the Democrat," Allen says. "Probably the bigger danger for Ranzau is voters who will vote Republican at the top of the ticket and then decide that they’re not going to vote further down [the ballot] because they don’t find someone that they’re comfortable voting for."

Ranzau’s opponent in the general election, Democrat Lacey Cruse, is a first-time candidate. She is campaigning on the idea that she would bring a fresh perspective to the county commission.

“I am a normal person. I’m a normal mom, working day in and day out to provide for my family, and I feel like I can connect with a lot of different types of people,” Cruse says.

Cruse works for a hospice company and is proud to be an advocate for seniors. She also has a passion for singing, performing at prominent campaign rallies this year. Cruse decided to run for office after helping with the two Women’s Marches held in Wichita.

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

The 4th Districtis large and diverse. It covers northwest Sedgwick County, including Valley Center and Maize, plus areas of downtown Wichita.

When it comes to priorities in the 4th District, Cruse and Ranzau agree that economic development is important. They both say they would work to empower small business owners.

“Community development means building a culture of people who can thrive," Cruse says. "I think we have to make sure our small businesses and entrepreneurs feel supported. They have to understand what resources are available."

Ranzau is a constitutional and fiscal conservative. He supports controlling taxes and regulations.

“We have a lot of hardworking, commonsense people out there who simply want the government to provide the core services and do it in a cost-effective manner so that their taxes don’t go up because they are struggling on a day-to-day basis, and they have to make tough decisions and they expect government to do the same,” Ranzau says.

So far, Ranzau’s conservative positions have paid off. He won his first two elections in tight races against female Democratic candidates who had political experience.

In the 2014 Republican primary and general election, Ranzau beat opponents who previously served as the 4th District county commissioner. This time, political scientist Neal Allen says, national factors could impact the race.

“Ranzau is high-profile. He has taken very conservative positions. He is more a national conservative working in a local context, and so that creates some vulnerabilities,” Allen says.

The 4th District has more women than men among the 55,737 registered voters. Unaffiliated voters outnumber Republicans and Democrats. The county election office says less than half of eligible voters cast ballots in 2014, the last time this 4th District seat was up for election.

For Cruse to win, it’s a matter of who shows up on Election Day. Allen says Cruse needs the Democratic base and possibly support from crossover Republicans and unaffiliated voters.

“She may have some trouble getting the turnout she needs in black and Latino communities in Wichita because she doesn’t have existing relationships and doesn’t have a history of running for office,” Allen says.

Ranzau says if he gets enough votes to win re-election, he will honor his term limit promise.

“I still think there’s plenty of work to do on behalf of the commissioners, and I’d like to continue to serve for one more term," he says. "That would be my last term."

It has been eight years since Sedgwick County had a female commissioner. Just five women have served throughout the commission’s 65-year history. The last time a Democrat represented the 4th District was in the late 1990s.

Cruse says she wants to be a voice for the voiceless in the community.

“The number one thing we need to do is listen to the people that live here. Listen to what they want, and try to support them as best we can,” Cruse says.

Voters in the 4th District will make it clear who they are listening to when they cast their ballots.

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

Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.