As a cancer survivor, Thea Perry no longer worries about enduring the scrutiny that comes with being a public figure.
After arriving at the secretary of state's office a couple of hours before the noon Friday filing deadline, the Tonganoxie Democrat became one of 232 primary candidates for Kansas House races this year.
Next year's Legislature is guaranteed to include some new faces after 14 incumbent Republicans chose not to seek re-election. Of the 125 districts statewide, 47 candidates are running unopposed.
Perry said it was time for her "to step up" and push for Medicaid expansion in Kansas. She said she was tired of watching Rep. Jim Karleskint, a Tonganoxie Republican, vote against expansion.
In the past year, Perry was diagnosed with cancer, which she ultimately beat. She said she was moved by testimony in legislative committees from grandparents who are raising young kids following the deaths of their own children, including some cancer victims who lack medical care.
"I'm going to get to be with my kids as they grow up, and for those people, it's not fair," she said.
Perry said she waited to file until the last day so her husband and kids could join her. She formerly worked as an outreach coordinator for a nonprofit and had interest in running for office but was concerned about the criticism that lawmakers face.
"I am no longer afraid at all," Perry said. "I don't know why. Something just changed. I think going through that process of thinking that you're going to orphan your kids -- something just changed in me when I went through that process, and I'm just not afraid anymore."
Another newcomer to launching a campaign -- Overland Park Republican Chris Croft -- said he was just looking for a way to continue serving after his retirement from 30 years in the military.
"I am an outsider all the way," Croft said. "I never considered running for politics. This is something, as I left, I was looking for ways to continue to serve."
Croft said he has lived in Kansas for the past five years and prefers the traffic here to Washington, D.C., where it might take a half-hour to drive eight miles. He also enjoys the people here. When he bought a house, he said, six neighbors came over to introduce themselves the day he moved in.
"As I was looking around," Croft said, "I was talking to some friends, and they said: 'Well, maybe you should consider running for office. It's something you can do. Provide your leadership.' "
He is bothered by too many regulations, and important issues for him are taxes, growing the economy and reducing the size of government.
After reviewing the list of candidates, House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said he is optimistic Democrats can increase their numbers. His party produced 99 candidates in 86 districts, and he anticipates all 40 incumbents will prevail. Of those, 21 Democrats are unopposed.
"I am always humbled by the quality of people who put their name on a ballot to put forward Democratic priorities in Kansas," Ward said. "There is a desire for change across this state, and I look forward to Democrats taking advantage of that energy."
Democrats also recruited Bryan Hoffman, a union carpenter from Mulberry, to enter the only Senate race on the ballot this year. He will face incumbent Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, a Republican from Galena.
"I'm here to fund roads and bridges," Hoffman said.
Stephanie Sharp, a former legislator who provides communications and campaign services, said she was still reviewing the list of candidates but was impressed by the overall number.
"I think it will be interesting to see how theses races are run in comparison to the statewide races, which are kind of overshadowing them," Sharp said.
She said more than a third of the House races are uncontested because it is difficult to recruit in areas more than two hours from the capitol, where leaving home to serve in the legislature places a burden on families. Additionally, she said, it shows that some lawmakers are serving their constituents so well, they don't need an opponent.
Sharp encouraged residents to take ownership of their votes in the face of outside influences and get in touch with candidates.
"I hope that voters will reach out, get involved and ask questions," she said, "because it is really easy for candidates to hide."