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Sanders easily wins bid to remain prosecutor

Aug. 04, 2004

By JOE LAMBE and GLENN E. RICE

Incumbent Jackson County Prosecutor Mike Sanders easily won re-election Tuesday, beating two challengers in the Democratic primary. No Republican filed, leaving Sanders unopposed in the November general election.

Elsewhere in Jackson County, Sheriff Tom Phillips defeated challenger John Bullard by more than 7,000 votes.

In Platte County, voters ousted incumbent county commissioners Michael Short and Steve Wegner in favor of two political newcomers — Tom Pryor and Jim Plunkett — in the Republican primary.

Sanders, an Independence lawyer, became prosecutor two years ago, after the Jackson County Democratic Committee chose him to run for election to an unexpired term. He succeeded Bob Beaird, who had resigned to become a judge.

This time around, Sanders faced spirited campaigns from his two challengers. But he won endorsements from all major county political groups and raised far more campaign money than his opponents.

Sanders polled 62,173 votes out of more than 108,000 cast.

He attributed his win to a lack of negative campaigning and satisfaction with the job done by his assistants and his office.

“The public is more than satisfied with what they do each day,” he said of his staff.

Sanders fulfilled a pledge from two years ago to make better use of DNA evidence. In his campaign, Sanders stressed that he had helped write and lobby for a new state law that requires DNA samples from all felons and misdemeanor sex offenders so that they could be compared with evidence left at crime scenes. Before, only murderers, rapists and some other violent criminals had to surrender DNA.

Recently, Sanders has taken fire from the county executive, legislators and his opponents for seeking a detailed audit of COMBAT, the community-backed anti-drug tax. He also started an investigation into possible conflicts of interest in COMBAT contracts. That investigation passed to federal officials.

Sanders campaigned on integrity and said he had done the right thing in putting his role as a prosecutor before that as a politician.

Former assistant prosecutor Kathy Finnell, who had 22,115 votes, attacked Sanders' integrity and said his office improperly changed a police statement in a high-profile murder case, an allegation Sanders denied. Finnell also pledged to implement more innovative approaches to fighting crime.

Kansas City attorney Cynthia Clark Campbell received 24,406 votes. The former assistant U.S. attorney campaigned on the pledge to lead by example and instill professionalism in an office that she said had become too big and political. Campbell's image, however, was damaged late in the campaign after she was videotaped tearing down some of Sanders' yard signs.

In the sheriff's race, Phillips won with 54,183 votes to 46,808 votes for Bullard.

“I think we got out a positive message,” Phillips said. “We wanted to show everybody: The last four years, we got quality law enforcement; the next four years will be the same.”

Bullard, an Independence police sergeant, mustered huge endorsements from labor organizations and public leaders. During his campaign, he said one of his priorities was to raise morale among deputies, who had complained of preferential treatment at the sheriff's office. Bullard also promised to raise the office's profile to become a law enforcement leader in Jackson County.

Phillips had significantly fewer endorsements but tried to woo voters with his experience and education. Phillips said initiatives, such as the crisis intervention team, were examples of his leadership. Phillips dismissed complaints of favoritism, saying he ran his office professionally. Phillips said he was the only candidate with a bachelor's degree.

The winner faces no Republican challenger in November.

Clay County

In the race for two seats on the Clay County Commission, incumbents Tom Brown and Craig Porter were both victorious in their re-election bids.

Brown, who represents the western portion of the county, defeated Mary Danaher, the wife of former Kansas City Councilman Paul Danaher. Brown garnered 4,860 votes, while Danaher received 4,203 votes in the Republican primary.

Brown will face Larry Larson, who defeated David Peironnet in the Democratic primary. Larson received 7,922 votes; Peironnet garnered 4,301 votes.

For the eastern district county commission seat, Porter edged out Linda Miller Littleton. Porter, a strong proponent of the proposed county charter reform, received 6,475 votes. Littleton captured 4,143 votes. The winner will face Thomas E. Clifton, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Democrat Sheila Snell Ernzen soundly defeated former presiding commissioner Tom Brandom in the race for Clay County treasurer. Ernzen received 15,520 votes to 11,463 for Brandom. Ernzen was appointed treasurer two years ago by Gov. Bob Holden. She said her background as a certified public accountant qualified her for the position. Brandom, who lost his old job as presiding commissioner to Carol McCaslin, said he also had an accounting background and had more experience in county government.

Ernzen will face Republican Cindy Maples in the November general election. Maples was unopposed in the primary.

In the race for Clay County sheriff, Ed Enderson defeated Ray Thompson in the Democratic primary Tuesday. The winner will face current Sheriff Paul Vescovo in November. Vescovo, the former Smithville police chief, was unopposed in the Republican primary.

Final returns showed Enderson receiving 13,624 votes, while Thompson received 11,044 votes.

Platte County

In the 1st District, Michael Short, a nine-year incumbent, lost to Tom Pryor, a commercial and residential real estate appraiser. No Democrats competed in the primary, so Pryor will be unchallenged in November. Pryor received 52 percent of the vote.

Short, 44, a lawyer, said he sought re-election to build on the progress that has been made on parks, trails, roads and bridges, and to further increase government efficiency. He said capital projects have been built on time and on budget.

During his time on the commission, Platte County experienced rapid population growth and became a bigger political player in Kansas City. In his re-election bid, Short said Platte County was viewed as a progressive, well-managed community by other jurisdictions.

Pryor, 40, has been a member of the Platte County Republican Central Committee for six years. He ran on a fiscal responsibility platform. He opposed using tax-increment financing to reimburse developers but would consider it if a project would encourage growth.

In the 2nd District, Plunkett, a business owner, won with 57 percent of the vote. As with the 1st District race, no Democrats ran, so Plunkett will be unopposed in November.

Plunkett, 47, campaigned on the need to bring fiscal responsibility back to the county. He was critical of a transportation development tax that Kansas City leaders approved for the Zona Rosa retail complex at Barry Road and Interstate 29.

He also contended that tax dollars earmarked for two community centers have nearly doubled from their original amounts.

Wegner, 54, who was seeking his second term, said he wanted to work more on the policies and programs he had helped start, including the roads master plan funded by a sales tax approved by voters in 2003.

Under that plan, Green Hills Road already has been widened between Missouri 152 and Barry Road, and North Congress Avenue is being widened south of Barry Road.

In the race for Platte County assessor, Lisa Pope won the Republican nomination. Pope will replace Christine McQuitty, who did not seek re-election. No Democratic candidate was on the ballot.

Pope, 48, has been the chief deputy assessor at the Platte County assessor's office for 13 years and has worked for an assessor's office since 1975. She said she would concentrate on making the office more Internet accessible.

Her opponent, Paul Gross, a retired Army artillery officer and senior civil service manager, has served as president of the Parkville Rotary Club and on the steering committee for the Platte County community centers.

In the Republican primary for Platte County sheriff, incumbent Richard Anderson easily defeated challenger Steve Burton. Anderson, who is seeking his third term, received 7,262 votes while Burton, a former Parkville police officer, garnered 2,959 votes, according to unofficial election returns.

Anderson faces no challenger in the November general election.

Cass County

In the race for the 1st County Commission district seat, incumbent Jon H. Seabaugh won Tuesday's Democratic primary over rival James W. Barnard.

He will face Ron Johnson, who defeated Herschel L. Young in the Republican primary.

Seabaugh, serving in his eighth year as commissioner, touted his experience during his campaign. A former AT&T software instructor, he also says he has used his expertise to save the county money by helping install software that tracks the county's assets, and he helped create the county's Web site — free of charge.Johnson criticizes the county commission for spending $37.5 million on the Cass County Justice Center, $12.5 million more than the $25 million approved by county voters in 1999. He also prefers having professionals produce a blueprint for road maintenance in place of the county's task force of volunteer citizens looking into ways to improve county roads.In the race for Cass County sheriff, incumbent Dwight E. Diehl defeated Republican challenger Donald E. Bass and will face Democrat Randy Scott in the November general election.

Diehl, first elected in 1996, said he had transformed the sheriff's office, making it fully computerized.

Bass, a senior detective and hostage crisis negotiator for the Grandview Police Department, said a county growing as quickly as Cass County needed a sheriff who was ready for that growth.

Staff writers Eyobong Ita, Linda Man and Mike Rice contributed to this report.