Who to choose for county chair?
Six of one or a half dozen of the other – that’s what many voters in this part of the county think about the blurry distinctions between Johnson County Commission Chair candidates Ed Eilert and Annabeth Surbaugh.
Eilert currently represents the 4th District on the Board of County Commissioners. Surbaugh is a two-time incumbent hoping for a third term as county commission chair.
There’s little difference between the two, and both are consumate politicians, but we believe every vote in southwest Johnson County should belong to Annabeth Surbaugh.
Both candidates hail from Overland Park where Eilert served as that community’s mayor for more than 20 years. Surbaugh’s career in public service began with a term on a Johnson County water board in 1989. From there, Surbaugh became the third district commissioner to the Johnson County Board of Commissioners and finally, the county’s first chair in 2003.
Eilert began his political career as an Overland Park City Council member in 1971. He became mayor of Johnson County’s largest community in 1981, and he served through 2005.
As a county commissioner, Eilert’s district includes only Overland Park.
Much of his life in public service has been dedicated to representing Overland Park’s interests. That’s our fear – that an Eilert-led commission would put Overland Park’s interests above those of its neighbors – especially its rural neighbors to the south.
Overland Park has a long history – most notably under Eilert’s tutelage – as a beige machine chomping huge swaths of land through unilateral annexation (and spitting out subdivision after beige subdivision) without the say of the people.
Although both Surbaugh and Eilert agreed in an earlier debate that the current county annexation process is hunky-dory, we disagree. However, Surbaugh hasn’t been leading the charge to annex homes and land from people who would rather remain part of the county.
The same can not be said of Eilert.
While Eilert supporters charge that Surbaugh has been free-spending, Eilert has cast similar votes on almost every spending initiative before the commission. It’s unfair to accuse Surbaugh of overspending when he’s hardly been a voice of restraint on the commission himself.
In the meantime, under Surbaugh’s leadership, Johnson County has built significant reserves which are helping the county wade through these dark economic times. And Eilert’s political past isn’t exactly as pure as the fiscally-responsible driven snow.
Eilert continues to serve on a Bi-State commission that brought us the  Bi-State 1and Bi-State 2 sales tax initiatives. Johnson County voters declined to send more money to Missouri for misappropriation the second time around, however.
Especially this election year, we would normally argue that change is a good thing. However, when change amounts to more of the same, the devil you know is superior to the one you don’t.
We urge southwest Johnson County voters to support Annabeth Surbaugh for county chair on Nov. 2.

— The Gardner News Editorial Board