350 turn out to ‘Take Back Kansas’

At best, organizers of the MAINstream Coalition’s Thursday evening forum, “Take Back Kansas: How We Can Move Kansas Back to the Middle, and Why It Matters,” hoped for 25 people.

At least 350 showed up, packing a large room at Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.

“I brought 50 brochures, thinking I’d have twice many as I’d need,” said Brad Kemp, a member of the Kansas Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, a group that stands ready to defend stem cell research in the state.

“Now, I’m completely out,” Kemp said.

MAINstream Coalition is dedicated to upholding the separation of church and state and preserving public schools.

MAIN is an acronym for Moderate Alliance of Informed Neighbors.

The forum was aimed at rallying support for moderate candidates running for the State Board of Education, five of whom – Janet Waugh, Harry McDonald, Don Weiss, Kent Runyan and Jana Shaver – were present.

Shaver, who lives in Independence, announced that she had filed earlier in the day to run against Iris Van Meter, a conservative Republican from Thayer.

Currently, conservatives control six seats on the 10-member board. Four of the six are up for re-election in the fall.

In recent months, the board has been wrapped in controversy after voting to de-emphasize the teaching of evolution and, in October, hiring conservative lobbyist Bob Corkins to preside over the education department.

Corkins did not have a background in education, and he had criticized school spending and supported vouchers.

“I still believe (Corkins’ hiring) was a major error,” said state board member Sue Gamble, a moderate Republican from Shawnee, prompting a round of applause.

But Gamble was quick to stress she is committed to making Corkins’ tenure successful.

“You didn’t send me to Topeka to pick fights with the commissioner,” she said, reminding the audience that attacking the “radicals on the board” was a misuse of energy.

A much better use, she said, is to focus on this fall’s GOP primaries.

“We’ve had primaries where fewer than 10 percent of the eligible voters turn out,” Gamble said. “We’ve got to get the message out that primaries are important. That’s how the radicals have taken over; they know.”

Much of the meeting was spent encouraging involvement in the political processes.

A show of hands revealed that about one-third of the standing-room-only crowd had come from Johnson County.

“We came because we feel like we don’t have a voice over there,” said Kathi Bjerg, who lives in Lake Quivira.