Topeka The political winds of moderation are starting to pick up force through conservative Kansas.
At least that's what a new bipartisan group of Kansans are hoping for as they organize themselves to launch an effort to unseat conservative State Board of Education members in the 2006 election.
"We think there is a portion of the State Board of Education whose philosophy is not in tune with mainstream Kansans," said Don Hineman, a rancher and farmer from Dighton.
Hineman is a lifelong Republican, longtime former commissioner in Lane County and a past president of the Kansas Livestock Assn.
He said he and other like-minded Republicans and Democrats were frustrated with the State Board of Education and planned to endorse moderate candidates, regardless of party affiliation.
The group, which as of yet is unnamed, will publicize its candidates' campaigns and get people involved in the races, he said.
Conservative Republicans hold a 6-4 majority on the board over moderate Republicans and Democrats.
With that majority, they have been able to approve science standards that criticize evolution after holding hearings that gained international attention as a showcase for intelligent design, the notion that some science can't be explained paving the way for a belief in a creator.
And one conservative member, Connie Morris, of St. Francis, has been a lightning rod for controversy by insulting fellow board members, making false accusations about a former mayor in her district and billing the state for a stay at an expensive hotel in Miami, which she later reimbursed the state.
Next year, five board members' seats are up for election, and four of those are held by conservatives: Morris, John Bacon, of Olathe; Kenneth Willard, of Hutchinson; and Iris Van Meter, of Thayer.
Former Garden City Mayor Tim Cruz, a Democrat, has already announced he intends to run for Morris' position.
Hineman said Cruz's political affiliation didn't bother him.
"I visited with him. We are encouraged by his candidacy and glad that he is running," he said.
He said if a moderate Republican defeated Morris in the GOP primary, the group would probably endorse both candidates.
"It would be a pleasant decision to make," he said.
The Kansas Republican Assembly, the conservative wing of the party that supported the conservative board candidates, did not return phone calls or an e-mail seeking response.
But Jim Mullins, of Lawrence, who has been a past leader of the assembly, said conservatives will have no problems in Education Board races because most Kansans share their views.
"In Lawrence, I'm a right-wing kook. But in the rest of Kansas, I'm mainstream," he said.
He predicted candidates such as Morris will prevail whether they face a moderate Republican in the primary or a Democrat in the general election or both.
"It'll be nice to see her get re-elected," he said.
Above the noise
Hineman said one thing he hoped the group of about 12 Kansans, which has started to meet weekly by telephone, will be able to accomplish is to get voters interested in the education board races.
The direction of the board, he said, is crucial to helping the Kansas school system and economy.
But it may be difficult to get voters focused on education board campaigns because all statewide posts, including the governor and attorney general, will be on the ballot next year, according to Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty.
"What they'll need is money to break through the noise," Beatty said. "As you go down the ballot, the less people pay attention."
Hineman said he hoped to launch the group publicly soon.
"It's important to get our organization in place and get public just as soon as possible. I know the conservatives are organizing and motivating and fundraising," he said.