Archive for Sunday, June 9, 1996

CANDIDATES MIX RELIGION WITH POLITICS

June 9, 1996

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Divisions on social issues in the Republican Party are surfacing in area congressional races.

A letter sent to some 3rd Congressional District voters last week highlights the division building in the Republican Party, area political observers say.

In its stripped-down form, the division is simple to understand -- old guard moderate Republicans are wary the new activist social conservative wing of the party will elect candidates who don't appeal to a majority of voters, thus letting Democrats win what are traditional GOP seats.

"It looks to me like three of the four congressional races are going to involve some elements of the Christian Right pitted against other elements of the Republican Party," said Allan Cigler, a Kansas University professor of political science and government.

Even Bob Dole is having trouble pulling together the various factions of the party on the abortion issue, said Russell Getter, a KU associate professor of political science and government.

"He's saying they should pull together like they did under Ronald Reagan, but that isn't good enough for people in the Christian Coalition," Getter said. "I think it poses a very, very large problem for people in the Republican leadership."

'Appeal to bigotry'

Last week, House Majority Leader Vince Snowbarger, one of five GOP candidates for the 3rd Congressional District, sent the news media copies of a mailing put out by Overland Park Mayor Ed Eilert, Snowbarger's chief rival for the nomination.

The 3rd District includes Johnson, Wyandotte and Miami counties and most of Douglas County.

The mailing, which was signed by 10 of Eilert's supporters, said Snowbarger's views "reflect the agenda of the radical right."

It said Snowbarger has an 83 percent approval rating from the Christian Coalition, that he wants prayer in schools and supports the use of only Christian closings at the end of the daily prayer in the Kansas House. It says Snowbarger "opposes a woman's right to choose and believes all abortions should be reported to the state."

The letter says Eilert opposes prayer in public schools, opposes sectarian prayers in the Kansas House, is pro-choice and is dedicated to the separation of church and state.

It also said Eilert "always has been a good and dependable friend of the Jewish Community, as well as a very strong supporter of the State of Israel."

Snowbarger called the Eilert letter an "appeal to bigotry ... laced with derogatory references to Snowbarger's Christian beliefs and appears designed to frighten Jewish voters."

Snowbarger wrote a letter to Eilert saying the mailing represents "an unconscionable attempt to inject religious differences into this campaign."

Eilert responded that he was "amazed by the assertions and claims" Snowbarger made.

"Vince, your religious beliefs are not and have never been in question," Eilert wrote. "It appears you are the one who is using religion to be divisive."

Uneasiness in the GOP

Cigler said Snowbarger may be making more out of the letter than was intended.

"But the mere fact that Jewish leaders would support Eilert the way they're supporting Eilert shows that a lot of people over there are uneasy of the Christian right," Cigler said.

Cigler said the division is not so much Jewish vs. Christian as it is those who who are assertive about their religious values vs. those who aren't.

Getter said Eilert was trying to activate the moderate wing of the GOP by pointing out the radical right didn't have their interests at heart.

"I just see this as one more skirmish in what is turning out to be a multiyear war between the moderates and the conservative right," Getter said.

Cigler said whoever wins the nomination is going to have trouble forming a coalition in the party.

"The whole incident is ugly. It does the party's candidate, whoever that might be, no good," he said. "It's a can of worms. How do you put together a coalition when you have to reconcile cultural conservative ideas?"

And in the 2nd ...

Getter and Cigler said divisions on religious and social values could also come up in the GOP primary race for the 2nd Congressional District seat.

That race features former Olympian Jim Ryun, who set two world record marks in the mile, and former Topeka Mayor Doug Wright.

A third candidate for the Republican nomination is Cheryl Brown Henderson of Topeka, president of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research.

The 2nd Congressional District includes most of eastern Kansas, including a northwest section of Douglas County.

Ryun, who has been outspoken in his conservative Christian beliefs, has been a strong opponent of abortion.

He has participated for several years in local pro-life rallies on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that gave women the right to abortion on demand.

"Wright is an attractive candidate and is cool under pressure," Getter said.

Cigler said Wright is the moderate Republicans' answer because they think Ryun's extreme right views could cost them the congressional seat to Democrats.

"It isn't so much religion or religious dogma," Cigler said. "There is an element in the Republican Party who is afraid the other element in the Republican Party is so aggressive on social issues, it endangers the party's chances of winning the election."

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