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Editor’s note: We updated this story on June 14 to clarify that Jackson County legislators only have zoning authority in unincorporated areas.
The midterm elections are coming up in November 2022, and voters will soon be swarmed with campaign ads, voter registration drives and a hyperfocus on high-profile state and national races. More under the radar, but no less significant to candidates and constituents, are dozens of local offices awaiting the voters’ voices.
Among these is the Jackson County Legislature, with a county executive and all county legislators up for election this year. While Kansas City Council members and the mayor are often known to the public, the role of elected county officials is less understood. So what exactly is the Jackson County Legislature, and what are its members responsible for once elected? And how can voters get information about whom to vote for in the Aug. 2 primary election?
Ten out of twelve Jackson County positions up for election in 2022
All positions in the legislature will be filled this fall in the Nov. 8 Jackson County election. However, two of these positions have no Republican candidates, meaning that whoever wins the Democratic primary in August will run unopposed in November as the de-facto winner.
This is the case for the 2nd and 4th legislative districts, which cover northeastern and southeastern Kansas City, respectively.
No Libertarian or Constitution Party candidates are running for the legislature in Jackson County. The filing and withdrawal deadlines for the August primary have passed, so the candidate list is final.
The county sheriff and county prosecutor are not up for election in 2022.
List of Jackson County election candidates in 2022
Incumbents are italicized.
Preston Smith (R)
Jason Pearson (R)
Theresa Cass Galvin (R)
Frank White, Jr. (D)
Stacy Lake (D)
Christina McDonough Hunt (R)
Geoff Gerling (D)
Justice Horn (D)
Manuel “Manny” Abarca IV (D)
Lorenzo Johnson (D)
Mitchell W. Sudduth (D)
Venessa Huskey (D)
April LaJune McGill (R)
Charlie Franklin (D)
DaRon McGee (D)
Michael Ricardo Brown (D)
Jeanie Lauer (R)
Sean Smith (R)
Phyllis Edson (R)
Trish Carlyle (R)
Roberta Gough (R)
Amanda Toomey (D)
1st District At-Large
Bill E. Kidd (R)
Brenda Allen (R)
Jalen Anderson (D)
2nd District At-Large
Bob Stringfield (R)
John J. Murphy (R)
Zac Sweets (D)
Donna Peyton (D)
Ryan Meyer (D)
3rd District At-Large
Lance Dillenschneider (R)
Megan Marshall (D)
Tony Miller (D)
Delmira Quarles (D)
Missouri has open primary elections, meaning voters may choose any party’s ballot at the polls. Voters can only vote in one party’s primary, however.
If anyone is unsure of which legislative district they reside in, the Jackson County clerk has a map available online with the district boundaries.
The Jackson County legislature’s duties
One of the primary tasks of the Jackson County Legislature is to pass the yearly budget, said former Kansas City Manager Robert Collins. Since leaving his role in City Hall, Collins has taught local government classes at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and is vice president of Collins Noteis & Associates, a firm that assists in urban planning and government projects.
Through the budget, which in 2022 amounts to $452.8 million, the legislature is able to exert some control over what the county departments do. For example, legislators have allotted $4.4 million in funding for a new county jail, and they have approved where it will be built and by whom.
The county executive, who is up for reelection this fall, leads the legislature and appoints an administrator who oversees the county departments. There are about two dozen departments, including the sheriff’s office, parks and recreation, public works and corrections. A key department is assessments, which sets property valuations in the county and determines what owners will be billed in annual property taxes.
The current county executive is Frank White Jr., who is running for reelection.
Jackson County runs the third largest county parks system in the country, with an operations budget of about $26 million. The Department of Corrections is another large recipient of county funds — its budget is $32 million. The county also funds improvements like road maintenance, which will cost about $8 million in 2022.
Over the next four years, county legislators will make key decisions
Construction for the new county jail has already been approved, and the legislature has already made the decision to purchase the property where it will be built. Whoever is elected in November will be tasked with staffing and contract decisions, as well as continuing budget allotments.
“They’ll have to continue to fund it,” Collins said. “They’ll have to develop the staffing for the jail and provide the services and agreements with any other entity that they would choose to house their clients.”
With the cost of living increasing in the Kansas City area, Collins said that county legislators will also likely be making some decisions about where to build housing developments in unincorporated Jackson County.
Both Jackson County and the many municipal governments within its boundaries handle housing development, but Jackson County has access to its own federal block grant funds. These funds can be used to build low-income housing, particularly in urban areas. However, Jackson County legislators only have control over zoning and housing in unincorporated areas. They do not have the authority to manage zoning within municipality boundaries.
“(County legislature) will plan for housing and they will approve zoning for housing,” Collins said. “There will be more and more pressure for housing because of what’s going on around them, so I think that will be an issue that comes up.”
How to pick a county legislature candidate
When it comes to a candidate’s political platform, certain positions are more relevant than others for a county legislator. For example, a county legislator is likely to make decisions that affect corrections and infrastructure, but they are relatively powerless when it comes to departments managed by City Hall.
One of the more important elements to consider is a county legislature candidate’s views on fiscal policy. If a candidate has strong views on whether to limit or expand government spending, that will likely influence the decisions they make about the size of the budget and whether they want to increase or decrease taxes.
Beyond that, Collins said that a candidate’s transparency and accessibility are important factors to consider. If a legislator has a history of hosting regular meetings with constituents, that’s a good indicator of whether they will accurately represent your community in decision-making or whether they will prioritize businesses and interest groups.
“There’s bridges within the county that need to be replaced, and roads and sewers that need to be dealt with, so how have (they) acted on those in the past?” Collins said.
For casual voters who don’t have the time for a deep dive on each candidate, some neighborhood and political groups conduct forums and distribute information on candidate positions.