Topeka The legislator hoping to unseat Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger in this year's Republican primary said Friday that she should switch parties because her views are similar to those of prominent Democrats.
Praeger said she has no intention of doing so.
Rep. Eric Carter, of Overland Park, said there has long been talk of Praeger's switching parties. Carter has criticized her for not being pro-business enough, and as a legislator, she was considered a GOP moderate, while Carter is a conservative.
"It would be much healthier for the Republican Party if she would," Carter said. "It wouldn't be a defection. She'd be going home, where she belongs."
Praeger, of Lawrence, said the Republican platform doesn't require party members to agree on every issue, adding that she grew up in a GOP family.
"It would be like betraying my family roots," she said of switching parties. "I'm not going to do that."
Carter kicked off his campaign against Praeger with a Statehouse news conference, a speech in Wichita and a news conference at the Johnson County courthouse in Olathe. He surprised some Republicans by beginning the year with almost $94,000 in campaign funds compared with Praeger's $153,000.
He already has criticized Praeger for remarks she made in 2004 opposing a plan from President Bush to allow employer groups to create unregulated self-insurance plans and praising a proposal from Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry to expand the federal Medicaid program providing medical coverage to the poor and disabled.
Carter also has criticized Praeger for joining Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in asking legislators last year to increase tobacco taxes by $50 million annually to finance health care initiatives.
"I'm not alone in wondering why she's a Republican," Carter told reporters. "She's a Republican, historically, because that's the way you run in Kansas to be successful."
But Praeger said helping Kansans deal with health costs goes beyond partisan politics.
"I honestly believe what I'm doing is in the best interest of Kansans," she said.
Carter also said Kansas has a poor regulatory climate that has some insurance companies refusing to do business in the state. As an example of the lack of competition, he noted that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas dominates the health insurance market.
But Praeger said 70 more insurance companies are doing business now than when she took office in January 2003, bringing the total to more than 1,700. She said Blue Cross dominates the health insurance market because it has a strong reputation but, "The major companies are all doing business in Kansas."
Other Republicans aren't as eager as Carter to have Praeger switch parties.
"I'm a big-tent Republican," said House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka.
Prominent Democrats said they didn't expect Praeger to switch parties but would welcome her if she did.
"I am always anxious to have folks join the Democratic Party," Sebelius said during her own Statehouse news conference.