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History lecture to revisit historic Boehr-Samuelson campaign

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- In November 1994, Ellen Samuelson, former state representative for Kansas’ 74th District, became the only incumbent legislator in Kansas political history to win a general election after losing in the primary. On Tuesday, Oct. 12, James Juhnke of North Newton will put that event into a larger context of Kansas Mennonites’ political involvement, in a lecture titled "The Boehr-Samuelson 1994 Contest in Kansas’ 74th District." The lecture will be at 7 p.m. in the Administration Building chapel at Bethel College.

Juhnke is currently doing research for a book on Kansas Mennonites in politics from World War II to the present. The Boehr-Samuelson contest is part of that story, since Juhnke is particularly interested in the role Mennonites played in that 1994 contest. Cedric Boehr was a Mennonite. Ellen (Banman) Samuelson was of Mennonite background and had many Mennonite connections.

In 1994, Samuelson was the incumbent Republican state representative in the 74th district, running for her fourth two-year term. She lost a very close race in the August Republican primary to a conservative evangelical challenger, Cedric Boehr. However, in the November general election, Samuelson ran as a write-in candidate against Boehr, and won with 54% of the vote.

The 74th District in 1994 included parts of Harvey, McPherson and Butler Counties. Although the city of Newton was not in the district, the Newton Kansan published an unprecedented number of letters to the editor in the hotly contested campaign.

Teachers and students in the Oral History Institute at Bethel College conducted tape-recorded interviews with people closely involved in the campaign. Juhnke’s Oct. 12 presentation will be based on those interviews, along with research in newspapers and other published records.

"The competition between moderates and conservatives in the Harvey County Republican Party has been going on for a long time," Juhnke noted. "In 2004, by just a few votes, the conservatives once again got control of the party."

James Juhnke taught American history at Bethel College from 1967 to 2002. He continues to work on campus as co-editor of the online quarterly journal Mennonite Life.

The Oct. 12 lecture is sponsored by the Friends of the Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel College, and is free and open to the public.

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