Topeka When he learned of a recent panel discussion about the Electoral College, activist John Altevogt was so disgusted he began suggesting that fellow conservatives break with the Republican Party.
It wasn't anything the panelists said. Instead, it was the membership of the group appointed by Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, a moderate Republican.
None of the 12 members came from Altevogt's wing of the GOP.
For Altevogt, of Edwardsville, and some fellow conservatives, it was another sign that the party's moderate leadership, dominant since Gov. Bill Graves' re-election in 1998, has little interest in including conservatives in policy discussions.
It's also a sign that, however much Republican leaders and legislators talk about unity, tension remains between the GOP's two wings among rank-and-file party members.
In an e-mail to a network of conservatives, Altevogt said: "There is not one person on this panel that conservatives, or people of faith, would call a friend."
He said in an interview: "It's just a complete slap in the face. I was stunned to see the list."
The panel's moderator was former Secretary of State Jack Brier. Its members included former Reps. Jan Meyers and Democrat Bill Roy Sr.
The panel also included Emerson Lynn Jr., editor and publisher of the Iola Register, and Steve Rose, former publisher of Sun Newspapers in Johnson County. They've written editorials and columns critical of conservatives, and Altevogt saw their appointments as a definite message to his wing of the party.
Thornburgh said he appointed them because "they're two highly respected publishers."
And the secretary of state said he wasn't thinking of appointees' politics when he named them to the panel that met last Monday the same day Kansas electors voted for President-elect Bush.
"I was looking for great political minds who took a long-term view for structural changes," Thornburgh said.
That response bothered Altevogt. He said the implication is that "great political minds" don't include conservatives.
He argues that the Graves wing of the GOP is contemptuous of conservatives, particularly evangelical Christians. In an e-mail, he called the panel discussion a "daylong tribute to religious intolerance and political exclusion."
Altevogt, former chairman of the Wyandotte County Republican Party, views himself as a populist. He's been critical of Graves and his followers as elitists.
His message to fellow conservatives was that he was reconsidering his party affiliation.
"If we stand together, religious conservatives have the power to eliminate the Republican Party as a serious political institution, just as Ralph Nader dashed Al Gore's political aspirations," he said.
Told of those comments, Thornburgh said he wished Altevogt luck in pursuing a new organization.
Graves said: "It's a great, big, free country."
Lynn said he's not troubled by Altevogt's criticism and even agreed that Altevogt and other conservatives might be better off outside the Republican Party.
The first priority for "mainstream" GOP leaders, he said, is getting candidates elected and having them govern, rather than an ideological agenda.
"I think it'd be great, and more appropriate, and they'd sleep better at night," he said.
Altevogt is frustrated that moderate Republicans won't take his concerns more seriously.
Thornburgh replied to Altevogt's first e-mail by noting that the activist inadvertently dropped the "h" from the end of his name.
"I thought you should know if you are going to demonize me, you should at least spell my name correctly," Thornburgh wrote in an e-mail Altevogt forwarded to The AP. "Merry Christmas."
Altevogt e-mailed Thornburgh back, noting that the secretary of state hadn't addressed his concerns.
"Is this the point where I'm supposed to repent my uppityness?" Altevogt wrote. "Should I drop by and shine the great ruler's shoes? Or is it sufficient that I'm touched that you would condescend to commune with those of us who are absent your genius?"