PITTSBURG, Kan. — Republican precinct committee members representing Kansas Senate District 13 elected Tim Shallenburger on Sunday to replace Sen. Richard Hilderbrand at their convention in Columbus, following Hilderbrand’s recent announcement that he would resign.
A total of 130 votes were cast, mostly for Shallenburger or his main competitor, Dan Muter. There was one write-in vote. 66 votes were needed to win, and Shallenburger, who most recently has been serving as Baxter Springs mayor but has previously been speaker of the Kansas House, won on the first ballot with 87 votes.
“Thank all you who came today and voted,” Shallenburger said following the vote. “I appreciate the honor that you have bestowed on me. I promise to do you well.”
Hilderbrand also made an appearance at the convention, which was held at Columbus High School, and spoke about his reasons for stepping down.
“Even from the beginning, whenever I would leave my business, I would go to the People’s House, your house up in Topeka, joyfully. It cost me money to do that,” he said. “Inflation, Bidenomics, has made that much worse. So, you’re losing more money every time you go up there.”
He noted that family considerations also played a role in his decision.
“I have a situation with my mom. She’s had a lot of health issues. She recently fell and broke her femur. When she was young, she had polio. It affected her body and affected that leg quite a bit and she cannot bear weight on it so she cannot walk,” Hilderbrand said.
“I did not feel I would be able to represent you guys. I would not be a good business person. I would not be a good husband or would not be a good son being three-and-a-half hours away doing that job when there was so much back here that I needed to take care of.”
Before the convention, on Saturday evening, the Crawford County Republican Party hosted an event at Pallucas Event Hall in Frontenac that featured a candidate forum with Shallenburger and Muter, as well as a roundtable discussion with legislators including Rep. Chuck Smith (R-Pittsburg), Rep. Ken Collins (R-Mulberry), and Congressman Jake LaTurner (R-Kansas 2nd).
LaTurner said that over the past 15 years, the Crawford County Republican Party “has been at different levels of organization” but that he thinks “it’s in a really good place now.”
This is because, according to LaTurner, the Republican Party is the party that cares about social issues that are important to people in Southeast Kansas, such as taking a pro-life position on abortion, as well as being pro-2nd Amendment.
“It’s also the party that increasingly cares about the working man, and the Democrat party has become more and more Hollywood and more and more woke, and all of this,” he said.
Later, during the candidate forum, Shallenburger made a similar remark.
“I’ve been to Crawford County Republican events before, and they usually were two tables and they were at Crestwood Country Club and they were figuring out what kind of wine to drink. This is not the Republican Party of 15 years ago in Crawford County,” he said. The comment was followed by applause from the crowd.
Shallenburger noted that he is a retired banker and fourth generation Kansan who has lived in Baxter Springs his whole life, as well as pointing out that he has previously served in the legislature.
“I ran for the legislature back in the ‘80s and was elected in 1986. I served in the legislature for 12 years. The last six of those years I was either the speaker pro tem or speaker of the House. I was speaker of the House the last four. I then ran and became state treasurer. I then ran for governor and won the primary, was the Republican nominee for governor, and got beat by Kathleen Sebelius. And then I came home.”
Bringing up some of the same issues LaTurner highlighted, Shallenburger touted his “100 percent pro-life voting record” and “100 percent voting record with the NRA with no exceptions.”
He said that the Kansas Legislature has been passing good bills, but Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly keeps vetoing them.
“One of the things that she vetoed, and they tried to override and they couldn’t get it done, was to allow boys to play girls’ sports,” Shallenburger said. “That shouldn’t be allowed and we need to keep at that, because God determines your sex when you’re born, actually determines your sex in the womb, and I don’t believe that your guidance counselor at school or peer pressure from your 8-year-old should change that.”
Another issue mentioned at Saturday’s event, which Shallenburger’s opponent and fellow Republican Dan Muter talked about, was allegations of voter fraud and how they are presented in the media.
“You notice the wording that they always say, you hear this exact same line repeated over and over and over: ‘There’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud.’ Now there’s a lot of problems with that,” Muter said.
“Now, they may not have evidence, or we may not have done a very good job of finding evidence. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It doesn’t at all. And then they use that word ‘widespread.’ So are you saying there was fraud but we can’t prove it was widespread? So that stuff’s a mess, and the Democrats have exploited that terribly.”
Considering that the candidates at Saturday’s event were both Republicans and talking to an audience of Republicans, much of the discussion fell in line with familiar party talking points, but there were a few moments where those present seemed less concerned with appealing to their base.
One of these came from Rep. Smith, who seemed to be talking to any Democrats that hypothetically may have been in attendance when he brought up a slogan promoted by the United Methodist Church: “BE Just. Kind. Humble.”
“That’s where the difference between Republicans and Democrats comes in — the word ‘just.’ Because your idea of just and my idea of just are different. Your idea of kind and my idea of kind are the same,” Smith said.
Similarly, Rep. Collins at one point discussed the value of being able to calmly debate issues with people you disagree with.
“I’ve been chewed out by people on both sides, and really just chewing a person out, whether they’re your state representative or not, to stand there and insult them and scream and yell at them, I don’t think that’s — that doesn’t change my mind very much,” he said. “But, you know, if a person comes up and is nice about it and says ‘Hey, I really don’t agree with you on this and this is why,’ I mean I can really appreciate that.”
In response to a question from Pittsburg City Commissioner Chuck Munsell, Shallenburger and Muter also both weighed in on the issue of marijuana legalization, both medical and recreational.
“I have honestly more investigating about that to do to know where I would be,” said Muter. “Initially, I’m probably not a big fan of that, but I do have some personal experience with it.”
Muter said his mother passed away about four years ago after having had breast cancer for about four years before that, and that at the time she was living with his brother in another state where medical marijuana was legal.
“The gummies with CBD in them and so forth were very helpful to her,” he said, adding that “there’s good points to it, for sure.”
Still, Muter said, while he remains undecided on the issue, he is leaning away from supporting medical marijuana legalization, and would certainly not support recreational marijuana.
Shallenburger made similar comments, saying that legalizing medical marijuana simply for the tax revenue would be the wrong reason to do it, but if it does happen, that the tax revenue should stay local. He also said while he agreed with Muter that recreational marijuana should not be legalized, the “jury’s out” on medical marijuana.
“I have had people tell me — people that I would have never thought — say ‘By the way, I support medical marijuana because of my mother, my son, my aunt, my uncle...’ And I had no idea, I just had no idea,” Shallenburger said. He added that he thinks alcohol can cause bigger problems than marijuana.
“I’d rather have five potheads than five drunks on the street tonight,” he said, to some applause from the audience.
And in discussing privatized foster care toward the end of Saturday’s event, Shallenburger again briefly deviated from Republican orthodoxy.
“I think privatizing foster care was probably a mistake,” he said. “I think there’s some things — Republicans are all for private, but I think we made a mistake when we privatized foster care, and I think we made a mistake when we privatized prisons. There’s just certain things the government should take care of.”
Morning Sun Staff Writer Dustin Strong contributed to this report.
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