Morrison vows focus on crime

Career prosecutor Paul Morrison on Tuesday unseated anti-abortion warrior Phill Kline and became Kansas attorney general in one of the most hard-hitting state campaigns in recent memory.

Morrison, a Democrat, was defeating Republican Kline 59 percent to 41 percent with all but a few hundred of the state’s precincts reporting results.

“I’m going to remain focused on fighting crime, making communities safer and protecting Kansans from fraud and abuse,” Morrison said. “Tonight is a victory for people that believe the attorney general of this state should above all else enforce the law in a fair and even-handed way.”

Kline pledged a smooth transition and offered his personal assistance.

“We’ve accomplished a lot,” said Kline, who defended the state’s death penalty law before the U.S. Supreme Court and was a proponent of tougher prison sentences for child sex offenders.

“Truth has its own power. That truth is not tested at the ballot box; it works its way through hearts and minds,” he said.

The Kline-Morrison contest was the main event in the statewide races. It featured Kline, a seasoned politician and leader of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, against Morrison, the Johnson County district attorney and recognized tough prosecutor.

Left the GOP

Last year, Morrison switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party to challenge Kline, knowing he couldn’t survive conservative voters in a GOP primary.

At the outset, the two blasted each other. And abortion was always front and center in the campaign.

After having run a failed campaign for Congress in 2000, Kline, a former state legislator, won a squeaker for attorney general in 2002 over a relatively unknown Democrat.

Shortly after taking office, Kline launched a secret inquisition, seeking medical records of 90 women and girls from abortion clinics run by Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, who specializes in late-term abortions, and Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

The investigation became public when the clinics asked the Kansas Supreme Court to block the subpoenas for records. The court allowed the records search, but only after ordering that the patients’ privacy would be protected.

Kline said he was investigating allegations of child rape and illegal late-term abortions. The clinics said Kline was on a fishing expedition. Morrison said Kline’s inquisition was an abuse of power to satisfy his political agenda.

Morrison also criticized Kline’s hiring of Bryan Brown to head the attorney general’s consumer protection division. Brown, an active anti-abortion protester in the late 1980s and early 1990s, had been arrested a dozen times. Kline defended Brown, comparing his civil disobedience to that of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.

Campaign accusations

Under Kline, collections of restitution for consumers plummeted.

Former Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall, also a Republican but never a fan of Kline’s, endorsed Morrison in part because of the performance of Kline’s consumer division.

In September, Kline came under fire after a campaign memo that he wrote surfaced and showed in blunt terms how Kline raised campaign funds through preaching at churches. Concern about the church fundraising activities caused former Atty. Gen. Bob Stephan, also a Republican, to quit his work as a special assistant to Kline and seek an ethics investigation into several aspects of Kline’s campaign contributions.

As Kline’s campaign seemed to fall behind, he lashed out, publicizing a 15-year-old sexual harassment accusation against Morrison.

The woman had worked for Morrison, who fired her for what he said was poor job performance. She alleged she was fired because she rebuffed Morrison’s drunken advances. Her accusations were dismissed from court and never proven.

The contest also was underpinned by floods of cash from out-of-state organizations and shadowy groups that formed quickly and didn’t have to report their finances.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, a pro-business group, spent $1.5 million on ads accusing Morrison of being soft on crime. Meanwhile, Tiller-funded organizations worked on mailings and ads criticizing Kline for snooping into medical records while the crime rate increased.