Gov., Sen. races rank as Kansas' top 2014 stories

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The heated re-election campaigns of conservative Republicans Gov. Sam Brownback and Sen. Pat Roberts were the top two stories of 2014, according to a survey of Associated Press reporters and editors.

Brownback was ranked the No. 1 story after he fended off a challenge from Paul Davis, who attempted to make the race a referendum on the incumbent's conservative fiscal experiment. Brownback argued that personal income tax cuts enacted by legislators at his urging are creating jobs and boosting the economy. Davis said the cuts wrecked the state's finances and endangered school funding.

Roberts also survived a challenge from independent Greg Orman as fellow Republicans looked to capture a Senate majority. The contest, which intensified when the Democratic candidate dropped out, received national attention because Roberts looked vulnerable. Republicans had always counted on him winning in a state in which the GOP has won every Senate race since 1932. Roberts won with 53 percent of the vote.

The tax cuts and budget shortfalls ranked as the No. 3 story. The state's nonpartisan Legislative Research Department estimates the state's shortfall for this fiscal year, which ends in June, will be $279 million, and it will grow by an additional $436 million in the following year. In December, Brownback proposed trimming spending and diverting funds for highway projects and public pensions to general government programs. The plan, which applies only to the current budget year, avoids reducing aid to the state's public schools, its Medicaid health care program for the needy, prison operations or state universities.

The rest of the top 10:

No. 4 — Gay couples began marrying legally in Kansas in October, despite the ban in the state constitution on same-sex marriage. The federal courts ruled that the state couldn't enforce its ban while a lawsuit against it proceeded. In a separate case, the Kansas Supreme Court cleared the way in November for gay marriages in the state's most populous county and deferred to the federal courts.

No. 5 — Three people were fatally shot in April at two Jewish community sites in suburban Kansas City, and an avowed white supremacist was charged in the killings.

No. 6 — Fred Phelps Sr., the founder of Kansas church known for anti-gay protests at funerals, died in March in the age of 84. He was known for his outrageous and hate-filled signs — "You're Going to Hell" was among the more benign.

No. 7 — The state Supreme Court ruled in March that past, recession driven cuts left unconstitutional gaps in state aid to poor school districts. Lawmakers responded by boosting that aid, but they also ended guaranteed tenure for public school teachers in their school funding legislation.

No. 8 — A small plane lost engine power after takeoff and crashed into a flight-training building at a Kansas airport in October, killing four people, injuring five others and igniting a fire that sent up towering plumes of black smoke that could be seen for miles.

No. 9 — A 36-year-old woman who had been sexually assaulted and set on fire died in November, just more than a week after she was found in a Wichita park with severe burns on more than half her body and cuts on her head. A 26-year-old man was charged in her killing.

No. 10 — A Kansas judge in March overturned the state medical board's revocation of a doctor's license over her referrals of young patients for late-term abortions. But the State Board of Healing Arts was continuing to consider keeping her from practicing medicine.

Other stories that drew attention in 2014:

— SPERM DONOR CASE: A Kansas judge ruled in January that a man who provided sperm to a lesbian couple in response to an online ad is the father of a child born to one of the women and must pay child support.

— OGALLALA AQUIFER: The administration of Gov. Sam Brownback was moving forward with a plan for the state's long-term water supply. The plan's more ambitious parts include dredging state lakes and possibly building an aqueduct from the Missouri River to western Kansas.

— KANSAS EARTHQUAKES: A series of earthquakes rattled Kansas, with the largest temblor measuring a magnitude of 4.8.

— HOT CAR DEATH-KANSAS: A foster dad pleaded guilty in November to involuntary manslaughter for leaving a 10-month-old girl inside a sweltering car outside of his house in July while he and his partner smoked marijuana.

— CORPORATE LAYOFFS: Sprint Corp. slashed 1,700 jobs companywide this fall to remain competitive. Among them, 910 jobs were cut in October and November in Overland Park, the company said in reports made to state officials. Earlier in the year, airplane-maker Bombardier announced in January that it planned a workforce reduction of about 1,700 employees and contractors at its facilities in the United States and Canada. That number includes 550 people in the company's Learjet facility in Wichita.

— NURSE ASSAULT: A former nurse was charged in October and November with sexually assaulting four Kansas City, Kansas, hospital patients. Meanwhile, police in two Johnson County cities said they were investigating similar allegations at hospitals where the nurse formerly worked.

— PIPELINE ACCIDENT-OLPE: Natural gas burst from a pipeline in April in eastern Kansas while crews were trying to perform maintenance. Shrubs, crops, trees and houses near Olpe were covered in a mist of the substance, which the Kansas Department of Health and Environment told The Associated Press was natural gas condensate, a mix of natural gas and hydrocarbons. The accident happened along a Panhandle Eastern pipeline.

— TOPEKA-OFFICER SHOT: Topeka Police Cpl. Jason Harwood, 40, a father of two children, was fatally shot in September after pulling over a car.

— PRAIRIE CHICKENS-KANSAS: Environmental groups filed a lawsuit in June seeking to force the federal government into more aggressive steps to preserve the lesser prairie chicken, but Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback decried the litigation as an attempt to shut down agriculture and energy production in his state.

— MILITARY FUGITIVE: Authorities say a military fugitive who escaped a federal prison in Fort Leavenworth more than three decades ago was captured in March in South Florida.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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