A U.S. congressman might have been the biggest name at Thursday’s “Red Wave Gala” for the Ellis County Republican Party, but the night was all about the top local candidate, Barb Wasinger.
Due to the weather, the catered dinner was moved into the former C.S. Post building from the Downtown Pavilion.
U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall said he made a commitment to Wasinger to attend the event and stuck to that, even though at the same time, Vice President Mike Pence was in Wichita at a fundraiser for GOP gubernatorial candidate Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
“I think it’s real important if I give my word I’m going to be somewhere, that’s what I try to do. I don’t think I’ve ever reneged on any event I promised I would come to,” Marshall said.
Wasinger, who is running for the 111th District of the Kansas House of Representatives that includes Hays, Victoria, Munjor and southeast Ellis County, spoke for only a few minutes at the dinner to introduce Marshall, but others spoke about her.
Rep. Ken Rahjes, Agra, who is running to retain his seat for the 110th District of the remainder of Ellis County as well as Rooks, Phillips, Norton and part of Graham counties, said he spoke to Wasinger at an Ellis County Commission meeting about a year and a half ago about running.
“Folks, voting matters. Who you have representing you matters. Your neighbors and friends need to get out and vote, and vote for Barb,” he said, to whistles and applause.
State Sen. Rick Billinger of the 40th District, which encompasses Ellis, Trego, Gove, Logan Wallace, Graham, Sheridan, Thomas, Sherman, Cheyenne, Rawlins, Decatur, Norton and part of Phillips counties, said a Republican win in the 111th is important with redistricting coming up.
“The Republican party, we all think for ourselves and we all vote the way we believe our constituents in our district want us to vote,” Billinger, of Goodland, said.
“We need somebody in this district who has their own mind and can do what’s best for this district, and that’s Barb,” he said.
But they also acknowledged a win against the incumbent, Democrat Rep. Eber Phelps, won’t be easy.
“She’s in a tough race,” Ellis County Republican Chairman Dustin Roths said, noting the 111th has the highest percentage of Republicans in a district held by a Democrat in the state.
“It’s going to be neck-and-neck,” Rahjes said. “We can’t take anything for granted. Double, triple the numbers in this room. That will help take us over the top and put Barb in Topeka.”
Marshall said he could speak about Wasinger’s experience as a city and county commissioner or her platforms, but instead he talked about what drove her to run.
“What impressed me most about her was her genuine love for this community, for this state, for this country. And that’s why I’m here tonight, for her dedication,” he said.
He asked Wasinger, whom he had invited to sit on a stool next to him while he spoke, her reasons for running.
“This is just another extension of service to my community,” she said. “Ellis County and Kansas has given so much to my family as I know they have for you. It’s the best way to give back and I want to be your voice in Topeka.”
While some in the audience, like Chase Berg and Rich Dorzweiler, both of Hays, said they had purchased tickets hoping to see Kobach, they were glad for the opportunity to learn about the local candidates.
“That’s one of the reasons why I came to this as well, to understand. It’s good to put a face to a name,” Berg said.
“It’s been pretty informative and some good discussion,” Dorzweiler said.
Ruth Ruder, whose son Mason Ruder, is a precinct committeeman, said support of President Trump is important in the Legislature.
“I have nothing against Eber Phelps, it’s just the Republican support for our president is important. I think these people will help do the job,” she said.
Dylan Bryant, Hays, said his mother was a supporter of Wasinger, so he came to the gala to learn more about her. He said he was struck by the upbeat attitude of the candidates.
“The positive tone, the optimism for what’s to come was a very noticeable feel for what was out here,” he said.