Fade to purple?

State's political identity in flux

? Color Kansas purple.

In the battle between Republican red states and Democratic blue states, voters on Tuesday gave historically red Kansas a blue tinge.

Democrats Kathleen Sebelius easily won a second term as governor, Paul Morrison swamped conservative Republican Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, and Nancy Boyda upset a five-term incumbent GOP congressman who had received campaign help from President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Democrats also made gains in the Kansas House.

At a news conference Wednesday, Sebelius said the winners tackled issues important to voters.

“It’s important not to be red and blue states any longer, but really focus on issues that connect with citizens across this country,” Sebelius said.

Meanwhile, Republicans searched for a silver lining.

Ron Freeman, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, noted that three lower-profile statewide GOP candidates received more votes than Sebelius.

“I think it is clear that Kansas is still a red state,” Freeman said. “In a year when every external factor favored the Democrats, Republicans still were the top vote-getters.”

Democratic disadvantage

Of the state’s 1.66 million registered voters, 47 percent are Republican, 27 percent are unaffiliated and 26 percent are Democrat.

But even with that disadvantage in registered voters, Democrats won significant victories by luring moderate Republicans and independents.

“I give them credit for winning,” said Tim Shallenburger, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party. “I’m not trying to make excuses. (National Democratic Party Chairman) Howard Dean said he would focus on states like Kansas, and the Republican National Committee didn’t.”

Shallenburger said the war in Iraq hurt Republicans in congressional races, while in Kansas conservatives took a beating.

“Something I’ve been saying, if you are on the fringe on the left or fringe on the right, you have trouble winning,” he said.

Shallenburger declined to say whether he would seek to remain state party chairman, saying he would make an announcement later in the month.

Sebelius, who defeated Shallenburger in the governor’s race in 2002, said on the national level, voters were dissatisfied with Congress while supporting what was happening in state government.

“Voters really made some very specific choices about what was happening at the state or local level and what was happening nationally,” she said.

She said she hoped the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House would note how governors like herself work across party lines.

What’s on tap

While assessing the political landscape, officials also were planning their agendas for the next year.

Sebelius said health care, education and the economy will take top priority during her second term.

During her news conference, Sebelius also said she would not increase taxes, and planned to fulfill her four-year term.

On health care, Sebelius said, “I am very anxious to put that right back on the table.”

On public school education, Sebelius said she would seek to increase early childhood education and all-day kindergarten.

She also said she wants to work on higher education “which has kind of been a little bit on the back burner while we focused on K-12.”

“It’s clear that Kansas kids need post-secondary degrees. We need to make it easier for kids to attend college, we need to look at vocational education.”

On the economy, Sebelius said rural development, alternative energy and management of water resources will be key.

Abortion fight

Morrison said he intended to revamp the attorney general’s office to focus on helping victims and stopping violent crime and consumer fraud.

He said he hoped Kline would not file any charges related to the abortion records in Kline’s possession.

Kline, an ardent opponent of abortion, has the records of 90 women and girls, saying he is investigating allegations of child rape and illegal late-term abortions.

The clinics have said Kline has been on a fishing expedition, while Morrison charged during the campaign that Kline’s probe was an abuse of power and invasion of privacy.

When asked what he would do with the investigation when he takes office in January, Morrison said: “That is an open case now, and I have an obligation to look at all open cases up there, which we will do, and we’ll do that quickly. We will give that the attention that deserves. Whether that’s a lot or a little remains to be seen.”

The clinics have asked the Kansas Supreme Court to take possession of the records because they allege information from the records has been leaked.

Morrison said that would be OK with him.

“For the short term, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to have some third party that is truly neutral to look at those things,” Morrison said.

Morrison also said he intended to revamp the attorney general’s office.

“There’s a lot to be done,” he said.

He said Bryan Brown, a former anti-abortion protester and head of the attorney general’s consumer affairs division “won’t be heading the unit.”