Hutch lawmaker faces challenge

A pair of Republicans filed at the last minute to challenge Democratic Rep. Jason Probst of Hutchinson. One had been a candidate in a separate district up, and the other has never lived in that legislative district before.

By

State News

June 7, 2024 - 2:21 PM

Hutchinson Democratic Rep, Jason Probst’s two Republican challengers for the 102nd District seat in the Kansas House appear to have engaged in “district shopping” to find a race they might be able to win in 2024. Photo by Sherman Smith / Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — Republicans Kyler Sweely and Tyson Thrall took circuitous routes to becoming candidates for the Kansas House district centered on Hutchinson.

The two candidates will go head-to-head in the Aug. 6 primary for the GOP nomination in the 102nd District, which is held by Democratic state Rep. Jason Probst. He is seeking reelection in the district he has represented for seven years.

Sweely, a 26-year-old veteran of the U.S. Army who deployed twice overseas, transferred his official voting address May 30 from Harvey County to Reno County. He submitted paperwork the next day to file as a GOP candidate in the 102nd District. Election records indicated he voted in Harvey County elections during 2020 and 2022.

During the 2024 legislative session, Sweely resided in Topeka while working as administrative assistant to the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee chaired by Rep. Avery Anderson, R-Newton.

Sweely said in an interview that he had been offered employment in Reno County, but hadn’t accepted a position so he could focus on his primary campaign.

“I always had a drive to serve,” said Sweely, who was intrigued by the possibility of defeating Probst in the November general election. “It felt there was a good chance we could flip that seat.”

Probst said in an interview at the Capitol that House Republicans engaged in “district shopping” to import Sweely, who had “no connection to our community.”

District flip-flop

Tyson Thrall, the second Republican candidate in the 102nd District primary, has ties to Reno County. Thrall voted in Reno County in 2020 and ran unsuccessfully for Hutchinson school board in 2021.

Candidate records indicate, however, Thrall asserted his home address was in Nickerson when he filed May 10 to be a candidate for the Kansas House in the 114th District. That seat is up for grabs because the district’s current representative, Republican Mike Murphy of Sylvia, chose to run for the Kansas Senate.

Less than one week after filing in the 114th District, Thrall withdrew from that House contest. On May 24, he declared his address for voting purposes was in Hutchinson — not Nickerson — and filed as a candidate for the 102nd District seat held by Probst.

It’s not clear Thrall has taken up residence at the 21st Avenue address in Hutchinson listed on documents filed with the Kansas secretary of state.

He didn’t respond to a request for comment about his decision to terminate his campaign for Murphy’s seat and enter the race for Probst’s spot in the House.

Probst said Thrall also appeared to have engaged in district shopping at the behest of supporters of outgoing Rep. Murphy and retiring Hutchinson Sen. Mark Steffen, both Republicans. Murphy is seeking Steffen’s seat in the Senate and has a primary battle of his own against GOP candidate Bob Fee of Hutchinson.

The supermajority

Probst, who has lived in Hutchinson for more than 20 years, was appointed in June 2017 to fill the unexpired term of the late Rep. Patsy Terrell. 

He faced no opposition in 2018 when he won election to a full term in the House. Probst survived close general election races against Republican nominee John Whitesel in 2020 and 2022.

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