It’s a clash of youth versus experience in the race between Krista Blaisdell and Chris Biggs. In roughly two weeks one of them will be the Geary County Attorney. The current incumbent, Steven Opat, has chosen not to run for re-election, but Biggs won’t be a newcomer to the position if he is elected — he served four terms as County Attorney, from 1989 until 2003, when he was appointed Kansas Securities Commissioner. Biggs once ran for Attorney General and served as Secretary of State for about seven months before being ousted by Kris Kobach.
He’s campaigning largely on experience — not simply as County Attorney but as a prosecutor.
“This is not just my career — it’s been my calling,” Biggs said at a candidate forum earlier this week.
Biggs has prosecuted murder trials in his time and won convictions, something he said his opponent has never done.
Blaisdell counters that things have changed since Biggs last served as County Attorney.
“The criminal of 2016 is not the criminal of the 1990s,” Blaisdell said.
Blaisdell is currently the City Prosecutor for the City of Junction City and has been for the past four years.
She believes she’s qualified to deal with Geary County’s diverse transient population. This can create challenges, which Blaisdell feels she can overcome.
“We have to create multidisciplinary teams to address the needs of all the offenders that come through that office,” she said. “You can’t take the same approach with a sex offender as you do with a drug addict as you do with a juvenile offender.”
Geary County has had a very high crime rate over the years and limited funds, according to Biggs.
“We also are a community that has limited funds, and we’ve been able to do the amount of that we’ve done with experienced prosecutors in the office,” he said. “We’re able to be very efficient about the cases we handle and get good results.”
Geary County’s cost per case within the County Attorney’s office has generally been lower than surrounding communities.
This said, Biggs and Blaisdell would both be willing to think about hiring an assistant for the County Attorney’s office if needed.
“I will look at what’s working, what needs to change, and whether we could utilize those additional attorneys,” Blaisdell said.
Biggs is in favor of rehabilitation, he said, but prefers to look at cases on an individual basis.
If elected, he would like to focus on removing violent offenders from the community.
Though they differ on many issues, they do have some similar ideas. They’re both willing to use plea bargains as tools, when they need to. Biggs and Blaisdell are in favor of taking violent offenders away from people they might harm.
“In a perfect world, we would be able to surround every individual that comes through the court system with all kinds of resources and all kinds of opportunities and chances,” Biggs said. “Quite frankly, by the time they get to our office, we are not able to fix them.”
One area where he and Blaisdell diverge is the subject of mental health courts. He feels the community lacks the money for them, at this time, though he believes funding for mental health facilities need to increase.
“We have (mentally ill) people that are arrested right now and in jail because they are dangerous, and there is no place to put them because of the lack of resources,” he said. “We need to get mentally ill people away from the courts.”
He believes not every problem can be solved through the courts.
Though Blaisdell lacks some of Biggs’ experience trying cases, she isn’t new to the field by any means.
“I’m not a stranger to large case loads,” she said. “I have the experience handling large case loads. I am willing to jump on board and as the County Attorney I will manage an entire case load just like the rest of the attorneys in that office.”
During her time with the City of Junction City, Blaisdell has worked closely with police officers. Her office is situated above the police station.
“I’ve forged great relationships and working relationships with the law enforcement community,” Blaisdell said.
Biggs suggested Blaisdell’s close relationship with law enforcement could prove something of a conflict of interests. The County Attorney has to work with law enforcement, but they’re not the same department and are, to some extent, expected to hold law enforcement accountable.
“We want to work with law enforcement, but we don’t want to work for law enforcement,” Biggs said.
Blaisdell insisted she wasn’t influenced by the police, despite her close relationships with them.