There’s no doubt Kansas is a Republican state, but for much of our history, the Republicans who rose to our top elective offices were moderates who worked across party lines for the betterment of Kansas. They tolerated many viewpoints and were willing to compromise with those who disagreed with them.
Now, the Kansas GOP has shifted significantly to the right and, rather than work with their moderate colleagues, conservative Kansas Republicans are more interested in simply getting rid of them.
An Associated Press story published in Tuesday’s Journal-World focused on efforts of conservative Republicans to defeat legislators — particularly state senators — whom they considered too moderate. The 2010 election swept many conservatives into state offices, but Kansas Senate seats were not on the ballot that year. All 40 of those seats will be up for grabs in 2012, and Democratic senators aren’t the only ones being targeted by conservative Republicans. They also want to oust moderate Republicans from their seats. Top-ranking senators like Senate President Steve Morris of Hugoton, Senate Vice President John Vratil of Leawood and Budget Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick already have opponents in the August Republican primary, and more challenges are likely.
“There are many out there who believe the Senate is the final step,” said Derrick Sontag, state director of Americans for Prosperity. “What it would do for Governor Brownback is that it would push him to the right. It would make his agenda even more conservative.”
Is that what Kansans, even registered Republican Kansans, want?
Money from conservative, anti-tax groups like Americans for Prosperity likely will play a big role in this year’s elections. Perhaps even bigger than in 2004, when the organization spent more than $100,000 on a postcard campaign to oust Kansas legislators who had voted in favor of a tax increase to fund public schools. Among the incumbents beaten in Republican primaries that year were Rep. Cindy Neighbor of Shawnee and Rep. Bill Kassebaum, son of former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, of Burdick.
Would respected moderate Republicans like Nancy Kassebaum or Bob Dole even have a chance of being elected in the current political climate? Is U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts conservative enough to hang onto his seat? When U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran served in the U.S. House, he was widely considered a moderate voice for Kansas, but when he ran for the Senate two years ago, his campaign rhetoric seemed to make a decided shift to the right.
The question here is whether the conservative leaders in the Kansas Republican Party truly represent the majority of Kansas Republicans. Although history would tell us otherwise, perhaps the political winds have shifted enough in the last decade or so to justify the party’s current conservative focus. If such a shift has occurred, then the chances are good that Kansas will indeed take what Sonntag called “the final step” to elect a conservative majority in both the House and Senate, clearing the way for a more conservative agenda in the governor’s office.
So is Kansas a conservative Republican state or a moderate Republican state? Is a majority of the party moving to the right or are election results skewed because conservative voters are more likely to turn out, especially in primary elections, than their moderate counterparts? Those are questions voters will have an opportunity to answer in August primaries and the November general election.