Court rules for Democrats; It’s Roberts vs. Orman for U.S. Senate

? A three-judge panel in Shawnee County ruled Wednesday that the Kansas Democratic Party is not required to replace Chad Taylor on the ballot for U.S. Senate.

That leaves independent candidate Greg Orman as the only significant challenger to three-term incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, a situation that many believe makes Roberts more vulnerable to defeat this year.

Libertarian candidate Randall Batson is also a candidate in the Senate race.

In a 22-page opinion, the judges said that Democratic voter David Orel had no standing to bring a suit seeking to force the Democrats to name another candidate. And even if he had standing, the judges said Kansas statutes do not require the party to name a replacement.

The decision will likely be the final word in the fiercely fought battle over the Senate ballot because county election officers need to begin printing ballots later this week so they can be mailed out to absentee voters by Oct. 15.

In addition, Orel would likely have little grounds for an appeal since he failed to show up at the evidentiary hearing earlier this week. And the court earlier denied a motion by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to intervene.

Kobach said he will not appeal the ruling. And Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said his office will be ready to meet the Oct. 15 deadline.

“We are currently printing and assembling the ballots for the Oct. 15th mailing and will have ballots ready for in-person voting to open in the Courthouse at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, October 15th,” Shew said.

Taylor, the Shawnee County district attorney, won the Democratic nomination in the Aug. 5 primary over Lawrence attorney Patrick Wiesner. But he had been unable to raise much money for his campaign, especially compared with Orman, an independently wealthy businessman, and so came under pressure from some Democrats and independents to withdraw from the race.

Before Taylor’s withdrawal on Sept. 3, polls showed Roberts getting less than 40 percent of the vote, but he was still slightly ahead as Orman and Taylor were splitting about 50 percent of the vote. Since the withdrawal, polls show most of Taylor’s support has gone to Orman, who now leads Roberts by an average of about 8 percentage points.

The decision leaves the Democratic Party in the awkward position of not having its own candidate on the ballot and not being sure whether to endorse the independent who is running against the incumbent Republican.

“We’re going to have a call with our county chairs and talk about this,” state party chairwoman Joan Wagnon said. “Because I’m getting lots of calls (asking) ‘Can I invite him to the bean feed? What should I do?’ And I’m not sure that Mr. Orman wants my endorsement, and I’m not sure I want to give him my endorsement.”

“What I don’t want to happen is, I don’t want Pat Roberts to win,” Wagnon added.

Meanwhile, Kansas GOP executive director Clay Barker said the ruling appeared to play into the Democrats’ hands.

“It looks like the Democrats’ corrupt bargain will be allowed to stand,” Barker said. “We could not find a single time in Kansas history where a primary winner withdrew, especially under these circumstances, and the party did not replace him.”

The legal battle began immediately after Taylor’s withdrawal when Kobach refused to accept it, saying Taylor had not met the requirements of Kansas law by declaring that, if elected, he would be incapable of fulfilling the duties of the office.

Taylor appealed that decision directly to the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled Sept. 18 that he had met the requirement when he referenced that statute in his withdrawal letter.

Within minutes of that decision, Orel, a private citizen who had filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court, filed a motion to invoke another statute that says under such circumstances the political party “shall” name a replacement.

The Supreme Court declined to hear that motion, however, and instead referred it to Shawnee County District Court, where a three-judge panel heard evidence in the case Monday.

Among its findings, the trial court said that the word “shall” in the statute is vague at best, noting that Black’s Law Dictionary provides five different definitions of the word, ranging from “has a duty to” or “is required to” to “may,” or even “is entitled to.”

But the panel seemed especially annoyed by the fact that Orel, who initiated the suit, didn’t even show up at the hearing Monday, writing in part that, “if the duty opined by (Orel) had existed, then deeper inquiry into (his) asserted grounds for standing would be warranted, had he not frustrated that opportunity by his nonappearance.”