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Corie Whalen
Corie Whalen

Record Number of State Level Incumbents Defeated in Kansas

Corie Whalen

On Tuesday, August 8th, both congressional and state level primaries were held in Kansas, Missouri, Michigan and Washington. While nothing of drastic note happened on a congressional level, the story was definitely different in some of the state legislatures. In Michigan, 5 state legislative incumbents lost, and in Missouri, 8 were defeated. In Washington, the vote-by-mail system means results are still unavailable at this time. Ultimately, though, what happened in Kansas completely exceeded expectations, and broke records in a way that represents a positive paradigm shift.

As Geoff Pallay wrote at Ballotpedia:

Kansas voters sent an overwhelming message to incumbents last night, knocking off 18 current sitting members of the state legislature in primaries. To put that figure in context, in 2010, the most incumbents defeated in a state legislative primary was in Rhode Island, where 10 incumbents lost to challengers. The 18 incumbents defeated is by far the most of any state so far during the 2012 legislative season.

The great thing about what happened in Kansas this week is that it speaks to a level of citizen engagement that has been lacking in prior election cycles. Voters in Kansas who were frustrated with their State Representatives and Senators decided to take action, and were savvy enough to realize that historically low-turnout primaries were the perfect vehicle for making their voices heard.

Perhaps the most remarkable occurrence in Kansas is the fact that Stephen Morris, the Senate President, was defeated. This is particularly fascinating, because he was unopposed during the 2008 primary AND general election, and raised $184,420 for his campaign.

Typically, legislative leaders are well armed with plenty of money in their coffers, and have enough name recognition that they’re difficult to defeat. However, as motivated voters in Kansas have proven, citizen engagement can trump the natural advantages of incumbency; it just takes hard work and dedication to the cause of holding elected officials accountable.

We salute the engaged Kansas voters who are making a difference, and hope that the model of working to defeat incumbents in primaries is more widely used in future election cycles. As activists have seen, it’s a system that can not only yield victory, but forces politicians to answer to the people – not just special interests.


UPDATE: The number of state legislative candidates defeated in Kansas rose from 18 to 20 after all information was finally processed. Additionally, in Washington, the top-two system makes it very difficult to defeat incumbents, and none lost this cycle.