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Archive for Monday, September 20, 2004

Republicans to face inner battles

GOP candidates’ struggle for power won’t end after general election

September 20, 2004

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— In state legislative races, Republicans expect to increase their already huge advantage over Democrats, but the real battle will be between warring factions of the GOP after the general election.

Assuming Republicans remain in control of the Legislature after Nov. 2, conservative and moderate Republicans will elect House and Senate leaders before the January start of the 2005 legislative session.

"There will be some new Republicans who come to Topeka who we will not be able to peg until we see those leadership races," said Scott Poor, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party.

Generally, conservative Republicans oppose abortion and state tax increases for schools, while moderate Republicans support abortion rights and tax increases for schools.

At this point, Poor said, it appears House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, a conservative, will remain leader of the House, while a moderate will probably fill the Senate presidency.

"So, it's a push," Poor concluded.

Mary Kay Culp, executive director for the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life, said whether conservative or moderate Republicans are elected to lead the Senate "is a complex question at this point."

She said her organization, which endorses both Republicans and Democrats, has taken a much greater interest in the leadership race in the Senate because it has seen some of its initiatives squelched by back-room parliamentary maneuvering.

"The thing is, when you have the votes you need to pass a bill, but you can't get the bill on the floor for a vote, then leadership becomes an important issue," she said.

Currently, Republicans outnumber Democrats 80-45 in the House and 30-10 in the Senate.

And the GOP expects to increase that dominance, in part because of some retirements by Democratic legislators and the fact that President Bush will be at the top of the national ticket. Bush, a Republican, led Democrat John Kerry by 25 percentage points in a recent Kansas poll.

In fact, Republicans are so confident of increasing their numbers, they have been scouting out extra office space in the Capitol.

But Democrats aren't throwing in the towel.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Bush's coattail effect would be neutralized by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat. Though Sebelius is not on the ballot, her high favorable ratings in polls make her "the equalizer," Hensley said.

Also, Democrats hope that the nasty Republican Party primary, in which conservatives ousted several incumbent moderate Republican legislators, will persuade some Republicans to vote for a Democrat.

"There are a lot of bitter, angry Republicans out there," said Tess Banion, chief of staff to House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, of Greensburg.

Hot races

The balance of power in the Legislature may depend upon a handful of races, including some in Lawrence and the surrounding area.

Sen. Mark Buhler, a moderate Republican from Lawrence, faces Democrat Marci Francisco, also of Lawrence. The wild card, however, in that race is Jim Mullins of Lawrence, a longtime leader of the conservative Kansas Republican Assembly, who is running as a Reform Party candidate because he is unhappy with Buhler's politics. He is expected to siphon votes from Buhler.

In the House district that includes southern Lawrence and Baldwin, Rep. Tom Holland, a Democrat, faces a tough challenge from Republican Rich Lorenzo. Holland defeated a longtime Republican two years ago to win that seat.

Other competitive Senate races in the area are in District 3, between Republican Roger Pine of Lawrence and Democrat Jan Justice of Bonner Springs for an open seat, and District 18 between Sen. Dave Jackson, R-Topeka, and Democrat Laura Kelly, also of Topeka.

Across the state in western Kansas, two incumbents, Sen. Janis Lee, D-Kensington, and Sen. Larry Salmons, R-Hanston, are battling one another for a district whose boundaries were redrawn.

In southeast Kansas, Sen. Jim Barone, D-Frontenac, is fighting for re-election against Republican Lynda Wilkinson, and in the Wichita area there are several closely contested races.

Poor, the Republican Party executive director, said he expects the GOP will pick up a few House seats and one or two in the Senate.

But Hensley and Banion say it is too early to tell.

"These local campaigns for the Legislature don't kick into high gear until the last month of the campaign when yard signs go up and mailings go out," Hensley said.

Banion said, "We're going to beat some of their people and we'll probably lose one or two."

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