A new group of Republicans some have labeled as "religious right" or "extremist fundamendalists" is expected to take more control of the Douglas County Republican Party when it reorganizes this month.
The group, mostly noted for its strong stand against abortion, plans to propose new bylaws that could give it a firm hand on the county's GOP apparatus, says Chris Miller, GOP county chair.
And that worries some Republicans, who think the new group may encourage candidates who are too extreme in their views to be elected.
"We're at their mercy. They can do whatever they want," said Martha Parker, a GOP precinct committeewoman and 20-year party activist, who is pro-choice.
Parker upset Republican officials when she allowed her supporters to organize a write-in campaign in her behalf after she lost the GOP primary in the Kansas House 45th District race to Bob Skahan, a pro-life Republican.
Democrat Forrest Swall won in Tuesday's general election by about 300 votes over Skahan. Parker received 172 write-in votes.
Parker, who said she didn't initiate the write-in campaign, said her supporters were called militant feminists, abortionists and anti-Christian during the campaign.
"THERE ARE a lot of people who are upset about what is going on," Parker said. "I don't know what's going to happen."
She said Skahan's loss shows the county's Republicans are not willing to elect a right-to-life candidate.
"All it does is split the party. The Democrats love this," she said.
"I tried to remain moderate on this and I'm not going to be intimidated by the party or any special groups. Thank God, it's still a free country."
Despite the concerns of some Republicans, members of the more conservative GOP group say they don't see what all the fuss is about they say that liberal members of the news media and pro-choice GOP members are reading too much into their efforts.
The dispute in the GOP might come to a head during the Douglas County Central Republican Committee's reorganizational meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Lawrence Holidome, 200 McDonald Dr.
"It should be an interesting meeting," said Miller, who tentatively plans to run for re-election as chair of the central committee.
The GOP apparatus came under control of pro-life Republicans during the August primary.
John Watkins, a GOP precinct committeeman who is a member of Lawrence Kansans for Life, recruited pro-life Republicans to run for the county's 102 GOP precinct committee positions.
Pro-life Republicans in Johnson, Sedgwick and Shawnee counties made successful efforts to keep pro-choice members from removing the pro-life plank in the GOP platform.
MILLER said he has been told by Watkins and others that they would support him as chairman again, if he chooses to run.
He has tentatively decided to run again, "but I've still got a couple of weeks to think about it," Miller said.
Watkins had no comments last week on what the new precinct members he recruited planned to do. He has consistently said there is no effort to take control of the party and rejects notions that the new precinct members are anything but rank-and-file Republicans.
"Chris Miller has given us good leadership. I hope he runs again," Watkins said.
However, Miller said Watkins and David Miller, a former Eudora Republican legislator who is political action coordinator of Kansans for Life, and a precinct committeeman, have proposed some changes in the party's bylaws.
The proposed bylaws, if approved, Chris Miller said, would make "pretty significant changes in the structure of the hierarchy of the local Republican Party."
The proposed changes would increase the size and configuration of the party's executive committee, which runs the local party's day-to-day operations.
Currently, the executive committee consists of four members: the county chairman, vice chairman, secretary and treasurer. The proposed bylaws would expand it to an 11-member committee, with the seven new members elected at large from the central committee.
UNDER the proposal, the new 11-member executive committee would elect its own chair. That means the chair of the county's central committee might not head the executive committee as well, Chris Miller said.
"It gives you a vehicle to bypass the hierarchy," he said. "It shifts control from someone appointed by the central committee to someone elected by the executive committee."
David Miller downplayed the idea that the party's pro-life wing is seeking to control key party positions.
"I think some people are seeing things that really aren't there. The media slant on the entire issue is extraordinary," Miller said. "I don't read stories saying that the left is taking over the Democratic Party. Some people see a pro-life conspiracy, but frankly the party is and has been pro-life for a long time. I think this is a fun game for some people. But I think it's really much to do about nothing."