Douglas County's Republican Party apparatus may take on a decidedly pro-life look, thanks to a grass-roots effort by anti-abortion advocates to get their people in rank-and-file party positions.
And statewide pro-life advocates say the local effort is part of a grass-roots effort to get their people in the party machinery to ensure that the pro-life plank stays in the national GOP platform.
The main effort locally was organized by John Watkins, a Lawrence Republican who has been active in Lawrence Kansans for Life.
Watkins said he took the names of 63 Republicans to the county clerk's office to file for GOP precinct positions shortly before Wednesday's noon filing deadline.
Watkins said he has been gathering names for several months and Wednesday's group was the third batch of names he submitted.
The result of Watkins' efforts is that out of the 102 Republican precinct positions in the county, only three precinct spots will not list candidates on the Aug. 4 ballot. The filings will mean 23 contests for precinct positions.
"IT'S A LITTLE unusual, particularly to have races," Douglas County Clerk Patty Jaimes said. Those positions often remain vacant and are sometimes filled by the county party chairman's appointees.
Each of the county's 51 voting precincts is represented by a committeeman and a committeewoman from each party.
On the Democratic side, 34 candidates have filed for the 102 precinct positions, and only one precinct will have a contested race, Jaimes said.
Watkins said he began collecting names for precinct positions several months ago after he heard a speech by David Miller, a former GOP legislator from Eudora.
Miller is now political action director of Kansans for Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group, and has been actively recruiting pro-life candidates for office.
However, he said today that during his trips around the state he has also been trying to recruit more pro-life people to run for precinct committee posts.
Miller said his efforts are a response to abortion advocates in the GOP.
"THE ABORTION advocates in the party have announced that they're trying to take over," he said. "And those of us who care about that issue and family values in general had two choices: We could turn tail and run or stand up for what we believe. And I've been encouraging people to stand up for what they beleive in. And that requires getting involved."
Miller said he thinks he has been successful throughout the state in getting precinct positions filled.
"It was my job to go out and plant the seeds. . . . I know there's also been a good effort in other counties around the state."
Chris Miller, who chairs the county's GOP Central Committee, said he was surprised by the precinct filings Wednesday.
"I would imagine that since there were a great deal of names turned in, it was a concerted effort to accomplish something," Miller said. "I would assume also, that based on the timing, what they have in mind is establishing control over the local Republican Party."
Miller said the party will reorganize in August or November and elect officers.
Watkins downplayed the significance of filling the positions.
"I DON'T like the characterization that this is a power grab," Watkins said. "I don't have any beefs with Chris. Our agenda is we want to uphold the Republican Party platform. If that's a conspiracy, it's happening all over the nation. . . . There's no agenda for throwing people out."
Rep. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, who is also the county GOP vice chairman and a strong pro-choice advocate, could not be reached today for comment on the filings.
Patrick Moriarty, a local dentist who is president of Lawrence Kansans for Life, is currently a GOP precinct committeeman and has filed to run for another two-year term.
Moriarty said the effort to sign up pro-life people for rank-and-file positions was not orchestrated by the Lawrence Kansans for Life.
"We're just all very interested in the Republican Party and want to do all we can to get more Republicans elected," Moriarty said.
Meanwhile, the local GOP central committee is scheduled to gather at 7 p.m. July 9 at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., to meet with local Republican candidates.