The finish line is in sight, and it seems as if the race for the Lawrence City Commission is about to kick into another gear.

Last weekend, Lawrence residents saw a pretty clear sign that the competition is about to heat up: Campaign spending by a new pro-business political action committee.

A new PAC, called Lawrence United, sent out a postcard mailing to residents during the weekend endorsing three of the six candidates for Lawrence City Commission — Rob Chestnut, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan.

The one campaign finance report the group has filed so far shows the PAC has some fundraising chops, thanks in large part to a sizable donation from one of the city’s larger construction companies.

Penny’s Concrete — the firm owned by longtime Lawrence businessman Bill Penny — gave $5,000 to the PAC during the Jan. 1 through Feb. 14 reporting period.

The Lawrence firm of Paul Werner Architects also gave $1,000 to the organization. Werner has been in the news recently as the lead architect for the Rock Chalk Park sports village proposed for northwest Lawrence. Werner has served as the architect for many of the projects proposed and built by Thomas Fritzel, who has been the driving force behind the public-private partnership to build the Rock Chalk Park and city-owned recreation center.

The postcard mailer sent out this weekend didn’t go into any specifics on any issue, including the recreation center. Its main message was it supports “candidates who support creating a sustainable, vibrant and growing economy.”

Penny’s Concrete is the type of business that benefits from a variety of development — everything from new streets to new building construction. For whatever it is worth, and as we previously have reported, Penny has been a business partner with Fritzel on past deals, including a struggling housing development in Junction City that created some headlines recently.

In total, the PAC raised $7,700 in the reporting period. It received donations from five others: $500 from Lawrence-based O’Malley Beverage; $500 from OSS Solutions Inc., a Lawrence-based wireless consulting company; $150 from Doug Gaumer, president of the Lawrence operations of Intrust Bank and also the current chair of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce; $150 from Kathy Gaumer, a Lawrence physician and wife of Doug; $200 from HKG Consulting, a medical consulting business that, based on the address of the business, appears to be run by the Gaumers.

According to paperwork at the Kansas Secretary of State’s office, United Lawrence set up a limited liability company to run the new organization. Casey Meek, a Lawrence attorney, is listed as resident agent of the company and also is listed as treasurer of the political action committee. The company’s articles of incorporation indicated the organization has a board of directors, but a document isn’t yet on file with the secretary of state’s office listing those directors. But I’ll give Meek a call today to see if he can disclose those members.

Political action committees aren’t unheard of in Lawrence City Commission politics. In the 1990s, a group called Progressive Lawrence actively campaigned for candidates that it thought would give neighborhoods more of a voice in the City Hall process. And candidates frequently receive donations from political organizations related to various building trades unions, police and firefighter organizations and other such groups.

Nonetheless, the mailing had candidates in the race talking. Political observers are now waiting to see if Chestnut, Farmer and Riordan start running more coordinated campaigns.

I’m not sure they will. The trio produces some interesting political mathematics to contemplate. Farmer finished second in the primary, Riordan finished third and Chestnut finished fourth. In this election, only the top three win a seat. So for all three of the Lawrence United candidates to win election, they’ll have to unseat the primary’s top finisher, multi-term incumbent Mike Amyx.

History shows that knocking the winner of the primary out of the top three spots in the general election is difficult to do. In the approximately 20 years I’ve covered City Commission elections, I remember it happening only once. If that trend holds true, the fight for the final spot may very well come down to a battle between two of the Lawrence United candidate, in which case coordinated campaigning doesn’t work too well.

And I suspect the three candidates who were not endorsed by the Lawrence United group — Amyx, Scott Criqui and Leslie Soden — will attempt to turn that into a political positive as well. Endorsements by business-oriented groups don’t always play well in some Lawrence voting circles.

But as they say on Wall Street, past results don’t guarantee future returns. And with such a light turnout for this year’s primary election, who know what may happen in the April 2 general election.

But it looks like it will be a spirited contest to the end. Officials at the Douglas County Clerk’s office told me Lawrence United is the only political action committee that has filed paperwork with the office, but such groups can form at any time.

Campaign finance reports for the period leading up to the April 2 general election aren’t due until next week. It will be interesting to see how active the group has been since then, and how much more campaigning Lawrence United will do in the closing days of the race.


By Chad Lawhorn

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