GOP group pledges to disempower far right

? The split among Kansas Republicans widened Wednesday as a GOP group vowed to defeat “extremists” within the party, including several elected officials.

The Kansas Traditional Republican Majority said it would try to steer the GOP away from “the politics of hate and intolerance” and toward a more moderate agenda, chairman Andy Wollen said.

“We will no longer concede the good Republican name to extremist Republicans who push a narrow social agenda but lack any real solutions to the problems facing Kansas,” Wollen said.

But Charlotte Esau, executive director of the Kansas Republican Assembly, a conservative group, blasted the new organization.

“Based on what I’ve seen so far, this is not a Republican group. It’s a liberal front group for Democrats who want to pretend they are Republicans so they can hoodwink the voters into electing candidates who will talk Republican before the election and vote Democrat once in office,” Esau said.

But the KTRM said it represented the core values of the Republican Party and would focus on limited government, individual freedoms, lower taxes, strong schools and responsible spending.

KTRM said it would try to elect like-minded Republicans next year over four GOP members of the State Board of Education: John Bacon, Connie Morris, Iris Van Meter and Ken Willard.

The four were part of a six-member board majority that approved science standards critical of evolution, and hired Education Commissioner Bob Corkins, an opponent of increased funding to public schools and supporter of using tax dollars to send students to private schools.

The announcement by KTRM has come amid increasing public dissension within the GOP.

Recently, state Republican Party Chairman Tim Shallenburger, widely regarded as a conservative, reportedly considered quitting his post after he was criticized by Mark Gietzen, an ant-abortion activist, for welcoming GOP candidates and officeholders who support a woman’s right to an abortion.

“If Tim Shallenburger is not considered conservative enough, where does that leave everyday Kansans?” asked Ryan Wright, the executive director of KTRM. Before joining the group, Wright served as press secretary for First District Congressman Jerry Moran, a Republican from Hays.

“The extreme elements that influence our party today have lost sight of fundamental Republican principles,” Wright said. “Instead, they are choosing litmus tests on candidates and members, expanded government, deficit spending and social policies that divide Americans.”

Members of the KTRM board include, among others, former Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer, former Senate President Dick Bond, former Senate Majority Leader Tim Emert, former state Sen. Mark Buhler, of Lawrence, former State GOP Chairman Dennis Jones, former U.S. Rep. Jan Meyers and Bruce Ney, also of Lawrence.

Buhler said he joined the group because he wanted the state Republican Party to return to its main tenets, “smaller government, self-reliance, progressive education.”

“It has gotten difficult to get that message across,” he said.

Shallenburger, the state GOP chairman, said he would prefer if the group hadn’t formed.

“It isn’t necessarily helpful,” he said. Shallenburger said instead of different factions forming groups, “we want them to show up to our meetings and tell us what they think.”

He said he was concerned the warring groups would get so angry at each other before the August primary they would have trouble making up to defeat Democrats in November.

Wright said the KTRM would try to counter the efforts of a number of what he called “radical” groups that were active in campaigning in the last Republican Party primary.

Two of those he mentioned were the Kansas Club for Growth, which worked to defeat legislators who voted for tax increases, and the Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which supports a budget and tax limit amendment.

Officials with those groups disagreed with Wright’s description of their organizations.

“Our group is for economic growth and lower taxes. That’s pretty mainstream,” said Alan Cobb, of AFP.

David Kensinger, a spokesman for Club for Growth, said his group also was for lower taxes. The emergence of KTRM, Kensinger said, shows that Republicans “take issues seriously and have serious discussions.”