Both District 93 candidates overcame money problems

  • The Wichita Eagle

Financial woes have led both Republican candidates in the District 93 primary for a state House seat to cut up their credit cards.

Rep. Joe Edwards, who is completing his first term, filed for bankruptcy in 2009. That action was prompted by his inability to pay more than $500,000 in medical bills, which were incurred a decade earlier in his disabled daughter’s surgery, he said.

John Whitmer, Edwards’ challenger in the Aug. 5 election, encountered financial trouble from a $28,000 medical bill after an auto accident and from the recession that sliced deep into his commissioned-based salary. He faced foreclosure of his house in 2010 before working out a deal with the mortgage company, he said.

Lessons learned from those experiences led both candidates to destroy their credit cards.

“If we don’t have cash to pay for something,” Edwards said, “we don’t do it.”

Of the bankruptcy, the 59-year-old Haysville resident added, “I’m embarrassed that I even had it. It was one of those things I couldn’t squeeze out.”

Whitmer said he and his wife keep a jar of their cut-up credit cards to remind them of mistakes they’ve made.

“The economy was brutal to us,” said Whitmer, 46.

At the time, he was sales director for Celebrations, a Wichita company that conducts picnics and parties for companies. Now he has his own company, KanCon, which brings in celebrities to conduct autograph shows around the Midwest.

“We didn’t file bankruptcy,” he said. “We chose to own up to our obligations. The experience has given me the ability to relate to folks who have been there.”

The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Sammy K. Flaharty in November.

Both GOP candidates consider themselves to be conservative.

“We pretty much come from the same perspective,” Whitmer said.

Edwards said, “I am very conservative.”

A retired pastor who also previously owned a towing company, Edwards said he still preaches “where I’m invited.”

Whitmer was critical of Edwards for voting against a bill that would have provided $750,000 in state funding to keep the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch open. The ranch, which is in District 93 in southwest Sedgwick County, was a county-operated facility for troubled boys that closed this summer.

Edwards said he wanted the ranch to stay open but voted against the bill because he couldn’t get a guarantee from the Sedgwick County Commission that the ranch would remain open if the county received the money.

The 93rd District race has been contentious.

Edwards filed an official objection to Whitmer being on the ballot, saying that Whitmer didn’t live in the district.

Whitmer had moved into a home under construction on April 22 in an effort to comply with election guidelines of living in the district. His wife lived in their previous home, which is out of the district.

Edwards said that didn’t meet the requirements and filed a complaint. The State Objections Boarddidn’t agree and gave Whitmer permission to stay on the ballot.

Endorsements also have been an issue.

Edwards says he has been endorsed by the Wichita Area Chamber of Commerce. That’s not so, said Jason Watkins, the Political Action Committee director for the chamber.

“We didn’t endorse anyone in that race,” Watkins said.

Edwards said he thought he had the Wichita Area Chamber’s support because he was endorsed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

“Usually one comes with the other,” he said.

A couple of incidents have become issues in the campaign.

In Topeka, Edwards reported being hit in the head and robbed while entering his hotel on Feb. 12, 2013. Video from hotel security couldn’t find any sign of an assault.

Police never determined what happened.

Edwards, who said he spent two years as a reserve Wichita police officer, told The Eagle at the time that he passed out after the robber told him to remain quiet and woke up at about 1 a.m. A hotel report said he called the front desk at 1:40 a.m. to report the incident.

A security officer questioned why Edwards hadn’t called 911.

When the guard asked Edwards whether he wanted to make a police report, he said Edwards responded that he was a legislator “and didn’t need that kind of publicity.”

Two earlier criminal cases are also unclear.

Items printed in The Eagle in March and August 1997 show that a George F. Edwards II, with the birthdate of Sept. 16, 1954, was convicted twice on charges related to hiring a prostitute.

Joe Edwards’ legal name is George F. Edwards II. His birthdate is Sept. 16, 1954.

Edwards said the man in the prostitution arrests was not him.

“I’ve never been arrested,” he said. “What are you talking about?”

The March 1997 item in The Eagle was from a Municipal Court case, showing a George F. Edwards II was convicted for loitering in or near a thoroughfare and hiring a prostitute in a prostitute emphasis area. He was given probation and fined $250.

The August 1997 item in The Eagle was from a Sedgwick County District Court case, which involved knowingly hiring a prostitute, prostitution in an emphasis area and loitering in or near a thoroughfare. The prostitution charges were dismissed, but the defendant was fined $200 and sentenced to three months in jail.

The Municipal Court case apparently has been expunged because the court no longer has a record of the case. Donte Martin, the court’s administrator, said laws prevent him from confirming whether a record has been expunged – a step that requires court approval.

A check with police records, however, confirmed that a George F. Edwards II with the same birthdate was arrested on South Broadway on the prostitution-related charges shortly after midnight on May 29, 1996.

“I don’t know anything about that,” Edwards said.

He said he’s heard about prostitution charges involving a man with his name and birthdate, “but I don’t know anything about it.”

In an interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal in the wake of the 2013 hotel incident, Edwards said another man previously lived in the Wichita area with the name of George F. Edwards II.

He told the Topeka paper that man was black and that person’s middle name was Franklin. Edwards, who is white, said his middle name is Frederick.

The George F. Edwards II with a 1954 birthdate who was arrested on May 29, 1996, was white, a police records clerk told The Eagle.

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