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Archive for Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Courage to lead

April 17, 2002

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Gov. Bill Graves is leaving the state and his own political party in disarray.

The Kansas Republican Party is a mess. In fact, it might be more accurate to say the Republican Parties in Kansas are a mess.

It appears there are three political parties in the Sunflower State: the Democratic Party and two parties, with distinctly different philosophies and priorities, under the GOP umbrella.

This situation primarily is the result of a lack of leadership and direction from Gov. Bill Graves' office. The former Salina trucking executive and soon-to-be director of a national trucking association is a good person. He gives every indication of overseeing a clean operation, and he makes a nice appearance. He reflects well on Kansas and enjoyed a high public approval rating after his first term in office. This was reflected in his large margin of victory over Democrat Tom Sawyer in the 1998 governor's race.

The election also brought him large majorities in both the House and Senate. He had every opportunity to make his last term in office truly memorable, one that could go down in Kansas political history as one of the best. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

Part of the problem has been the national economy, which was outside Graves' control. However, this fiscal crisis exists in most states. Another major handicap facing Graves has been the split within the Kansas Republican Party. This is illustrated by the fight within the 3rd Congressional District in which Democrat Dennis Moore has won two terms in office because of the bitter split between the moderate and conservative Republicans. If Republicans had been united in their efforts, Moore would have been defeated by a sizable margin!

This deep division has moderates or conservatives refusing to support and vote for any candidate who doesn't represent their particular faction. After the primaries, a conservative winner is not likely to get the support of moderates and vice versa. In fact, they often will either sit out the election and not vote or, in many cases, vote for the Democratic candidate rather than help a Republican from the other side of the fence get elected.

Kansas faces enough obstacles without having a bitter split within the state's major political party.

Granted, Graves is a lame duck governor, but that doesn't mean he couldn't have shown more leadership. How much better it would be to go out with his guns blazing rather than to leave the state in a weakened fiscal condition with little enthusiasm about the future and his political party split and almost nonfunctional? How great it would have been for all Kansans if Graves had led the state to such a successful record that other states and governors were trying to match the highly successful Kansas story.

The Carla Stovall mess is a disgrace, and it came about because GOP leaders were trying to play political games and execute a strategy that would banish the conservative wing of the party or put it in the back seat, with no political clout.

Why didn't Graves and other Republican leaders adopt a strong, aggressive plan of attack and select the best possible person to carry the GOP flag? Rather, they settled on the often-controversial Stovall because they thought she would be the least objectionable to the most voters within the Republican Party.

Now, look what has happened. Gone are the days when the Republican Party had many top-flight candidates, so many in fact that party leaders could, and did, pick the candidates who rose to the top of the list and "blessed" them to seek the governor's office. If he or she failed, there was another candidate waiting in line, ready to carry the party's banner in the next election.

Now, there seems to be an absence of able, enthusiastic and well-qualified candidates who merit the respect of voters. Many of the potentially good candidates do not want to run when there is such division within the party  and little leadership from the governor's office.

Although there have been exceptions over the years, the Republican Party, for the most part, has provided honest, sound leadership for the state. Unfortunately, Graves is not leaving the office with his party in a strong position. It is weakened and it has not provided the leadership Kansans have expected  or deserved.

The performance of Graves, along with the bitter civil war within the party, has left the state in a sad position. One side says if we can't win and be in the leader's seat, we don't want our political cousins to win. In fact, we'll vote for the Democratic candidate.

Where are the good, honest, talented and courageous leaders?

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