Schmidt: Population at forefront of issues
By MIKE CORN
Allen Schmidt knows he's bucking big odds taking on a sitting Republican incumbent in a district that, by and large, overwhelmingly is Republican.
"It started out as remote," Schmidt said of his chances to prevail.
He's an Ellis County Democrat who served two years representing the 36th Senate District.
That was before a panel of federal judges folded Ellis County into the 40th District, pitting Schmidt against the district's sitting senator, Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell.
As he's been able to get out into the communities in the 40th District, Schmidt said people have seen the independence he brings to the table.
"That resonates with people," Schmidt said. "I don't work for the governor. I don't care if he's Democrat or Republican. I don't work for the party. I work for the community and the issue."
That trait, he said, is something he carries over from his military career.
"We called that selfless service in the military," Schmidt said. "We take that same oath in the Senate."
With the time he's spent campaigning in the 40th District -- encompassing the 13 northwest Kansas counties of Ellis, Cheyenne, Rawlins, Decatur, Norton, Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, Graham, Wallace, Logan, Gove and Trego, as well as the western third of Phillips County -- Schmidt thinks his chances have improved.
"I think there's a pretty good possibility that I can pull this off," he said. "I didn't say probability.
"I'm fine with people deciding. I'm giving people a choice."
Successful or not, Schmidt said public service is in his future, perhaps working with seniors.
A 32-year veteran of active and reserve duty in the military, Schmidt grew up on a dairy farm northwest of Hays. He retired in 2009 as a colonel in the U.S. Army, returning to Hays a year later. Democrats in the 36th District in February 2011 selected Schmidt as a replacement for Janis Lee, who resigned to serve as chief hearing officer for the Kansas Court of Tax Appeals.
Overall, Schmidt said he's happy with the campaign.
"I can't get around as much as I need to go out," Schmidt said. "There's a lot of miles to travel. A lot of people to see."
But folding Ellis County into the 40th District connected him back into northwest Kansas, a position he was in when he served as the first president of the Kansas Dairy Association.
That's been giving him a chance to see the issues first-hand.
A declining population is the foremost issue to the area.
"And that means several things," he said, including keeping local schools, economic development and the development of suitable housing. "We don't have enough housing out there if a business wants to expand."
Schools, he said, are an attraction for people -- and businesses -- looking to move into the area.
Schmidt said his experience in the military bolsters his ability for strategic planning.
During his time in the Legislature, Schmidt said he worked to get extra money to the Housing Resources Corp., a way to provide help to communities wanting to address the issue of housing shortages.
"A developer is not going to come in to Jetmore, for example, or WaKeeney or Hill City for five units," he said of private developers building apartments. "But maybe if we band together."
Schools are paramount.
"We need to keep the schools funded out here," he said. "It might cost a little more for the schools out here."
Already, he said, three members of the Senate Education Committee are gone, losing to challengers in the state's primary election.
"If I don't make it, I'd be four," he said.
Schmidt worries about the climate of future legislative sessions because of the lopsided nature of conservative Republicans in control of the Senate, likely in the House as well.
"It's going to be very one-sided and driven by the governor's philosophy," he said.
Leadership in the Senate will have obvious changes.
"And it will change to a more conservative agenda," he said. "Some of that I'm OK with."
But there's a need for opposing views, Schmidt contends.
"It makes for more effective legislation," he said.
He's also concerned about the tax plan approved earlier this year.
"Too much, too fast," he said of the cuts, and worries the shift to higher property taxes will result.
Already in 2010, Schmidt said, Forbes Magazine put Kansas in the top 10 in terms of its business climate.
"That begs the question: Why do we have to go to such an extreme?" Schmidt asked.
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Candidate at a glance:
Name: Allen Schmidt
Education: Bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Kansas, a master's degree in school and clinical psychology from Fort Hays State University and a master's degree in strategic studies at the U.S. Army War College.
Family: Wife, Ellen; sons Brett, Samuel and Nicolas; and daughters Terra Schmidt, Amanda Clay, Alison Schmidt, Jessica Wallich, Franses Schmidt and Lydia Schmidt.