By John Celock
A Republican former young elected official in Kansas has announced that he is backing a young elected Democrat for reelection to highlight a point about local elections in the state.
Former Smith Center Mayor Trey Joy (R) told The Celock Report that is he endorsing Weir Councilman Taylor Gravett (D) for reelection in this spring’s nonpartisan local elections. Joy said that his support for Gravett is help highlight what he sees is a need to keep local election statewide nonpartisan affairs. Kansas lawmakers have been discussing legislation that could potentially make local races partisan affairs and move the local elections from the spring to November.
“In talking to him I found we shared similar thoughts, it goes along with this is a nonpartisan election and my support of keeping local elections nonpartisan,” Joy told The Celock Report. “We have the same goals for our communities. Our communities are worth more to us than a political party or partisan politics.”
Kansas lawmakers are considering a proposal that would move local elections from April to November in a bid to boost voter turnout. While an original proposal would have transformed the nonpartisan municipal and school board races into partisan elections, a current version of the bill passed by the state Senate would move the date but keep the elections nonpartisan. The legislation is now pending before the state House of Representatives. Joy has emerged as an opponent of moving the date and of making the races partisan. His position is different from the position of the state Republican Party, which has supported making local races a partisan election.
The Kansas Democratic Party has opposed making the races partisan, saying that local issues are not partisan in nature and that partisan races would hurt Democrats’ ability to elect local officials, noting that local government can be a training ground for future state legislators.
Joy stressed that he does not see the local issues as being partisan.
“There are no partisan issues on the local level,” Joy said. “You are not dealing with immigration, life or marriage. You are dealing with spending tax dollars and helping communities by helping an elderly couple or filling a pothole.”
Joy was Kansas’ youngest mayor during his five-year tenure as the mayor of Smith Center. He was an unsuccessful Republican primary candidate for the state House in 2012 and is currently running for an executive post with the Young Republican National Federation.
Gravett, 22, said that he agrees with Joy in terms of that local races should remain nonpartisan. He said that it is important for local officials to focus on the nuts and bolts of governing and economic development, which he described as nonpartisan in nature. Gravett was appointed to fill a vacant City Council seat in 2013 and is seeking his first full term unopposed this year.
“I think especially for local elections, Trey and I have the same mind set. In a smaller city and in rural Kansas, the issues are neighbor to neighbor,” Gravett told The Celock Report. “Trey understood that as mayor and I understand that on City Council. The issues transcend parties. The people are our neighbors and we’ve known them for all of our lives. To put a label on it is counter productive to what local government is supposed to be about.”
Gravett said one of the main issues facing Weir, a 661-person community in the southeastern part of the state near the borders with Oklahoma and Missouri, is economic development. He said that he wants to be able to recruit new businesses and population to the community.
“We have had people move out of the city and hard economic times. One things that the Council is looking to do is to raze the homes that people have abandoned,” Gravett said. “We are looking to bring in new businesses into the city. They are businesses that will drive economic indicators.”
Joy has talked about driving economic development in Smith Center, a 1600 person community in the north central part of the state near the border with Nebraska, during his administration.
Joy’s endorsement of Gravett follows a larger trend in Kansas of bipartisan splits. While Joy has endorsed Gravett as part of a larger push about nonpartisan local government, most of the previous party hopping has occurred in partisan affairs.
Last year, roughly 100 current and former moderate Republican elected officials endorsed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Paul Davis over Gov. Sam Brownback (R).
In 2014, state Sen. Laura Kelly (D-Topeka) announced on Facebook that she was willing to campaign on behalf of moderate Republican Fred Patton in his big to unseat then state Rep. Josh Powell (R-Topeka) in the GOP primary. Patton did defeat Powell that year and also defeated Democrat Chris Huntsman in the general election. Kelly had also donated to Huntsman’s campaign. She had said she wanted to elect a moderate over the conservative Powell.
Last year also saw Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon and Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Jill Docking donating money to Republicans running in contested GOP primaries. Wagnon told The Celock Report at the time that she is willing to back Republicans in primaries if there is no Democrat in the race.
In Salina last year, state Rep. Diana Dierks (R-Salina), a moderate Republican, found herself being attacked by her GOP primary opponent Tom Bell, after Saline County Democratic Chairman Phil Black urged people to vote for Dierks in the primary. Black said it was not an official endorsement of Dierks, who had unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 1994.
While Joy and Gravett find themselves on the same side this year in terms of nonpartisan local races, the two have been on opposite with partisan statewide races. Joy was a field director for U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts’ (R) reelection campaign last year while Gravett spent the year as a field organizer for the Kansas Democratic Party.
Joy stressed that his decision to back Gravett had to do with his desire to keep local races nonpartisan. He noted that in his conversations with Gravett he knew they both had the same goals for their communities that could benefit local governments statewide.
“In talking to Taylor I know we share the same goals,” he said. “We want to build up our communities and not fight amongst each other by making something partisan.”