Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Center focus

It will be an uphill battle, but an effort to appeal to political centrists deserves to gain momentum.

January 2, 2018

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One of the interesting developments to watch in 2018 will be efforts to establish another major political party in Kansas.

The Party of the Center’s mission is to draw upon voters’ dissatisfaction with Republicans and Democrats. According to a Gallup Poll, 51 percent of Americans disapprove of the Democratic Party while 57 percent disapprove of the Republican Party.

The new party hopes to appeal to centrists, specifically those whose political philosophies are more liberal on social issues but more conservative on fiscal issues.

“What we’ve realized is that parties have fundamentally changed over the last 120 years,” Lawrence’s Scott Morgan, one of the organizers behind the Party of the Center, said recently. “And you see this throughout the economy, where things have been disrupted by technology, by the way we have changed regulatory schemes. Parties, the same thing. It just hasn’t reacted to it yet.”

Despite the dissatisfaction with the two major parties, third-party efforts have largely been unsuccessful on state and national levels. Even if a majority of voters identify more with the general philosophies of the center, most feel strongly about one or two issues that can drive alignment with one of the two major parties.

That creates an uphill battle for the Party of the Center.

Under Kansas law, in order for a new party to be recognized and have its candidates listed on the ballot, organizers must collect petition signatures equal to 2 percent of all the ballots cast in the last election for governor. That would be about 18,000 signatures, based on the turnout in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

Thereafter, it must nominate at least one candidate for a statewide office each gubernatorial election cycle, and its candidates must get at least 1 percent of the vote in order for the party to keep its recognition.

Independent Greg Orman, a wealthy Johnson County businessman who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2014, has indicated he will launch a run for governor this year as a centrist. Orman’s gubernatorial bid is supported by the national Centrist Project.

Morgan told the Topeka Capital-Journal that while Orman’s candidacy is a significant political moment, it isn’t enough to create a third party even if he wins.

“It does nothing to create sustainable change,” Morgan said. “It’s a one-off, personality-driven candidacy. You need something built around a philosophy. People want a label, a shortcut for picking people.”

Morgan is right. Long-term, a third-party breakthrough will require a slate of candidates at all levels, awareness of the party’s core philosophies and funding to compete with the major parties. It is a major challenge, but given the dissatisfaction with partisanship and the rise of political moderates in Kansas’ 2016 elections and 2017 legislative session, it’s a cause worth pursuing.

Comments

Ken Lassman 3 months, 2 weeks ago

At face value, a centrist party seems particularly vulnerable to having its base stolen from both directions.But right now, with the main political struggle in our state being between extreme right wing Republicans and moderate Republicans, the GOP would find itself being attacked from two sides if the Centrist party gains a significant following.

The historic dynamic at the state level of late has been a defacto coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats vs. the ultraconservative Republicans. Occasionally Republicans have bolted from the Republican party to actually become moderate Democrats, as in Parkinson's move to the Dems, much to the chagrin of many Republicans. While this temporarily strengthened the Democrats, with back-to-back governorships for the first time in state history, it also strengthened the conservative wing of the Republican Party, which produced two successive terms for Brownback.

The resulting economic malaise and decline in state services has produced a much more skeptical state electorate, with moderates in the Republican Party gaining enough strength to create a moderate coalition again to override Brownback's "glide to zero" economic policies that resulted in perennial fiscal operating shortages for the state with no economic bounce to show for it.

What will this Centrist effort add to the mix? Most people feel that the Orman candidacy will strengthen the hand of Kobach and/or other conservative heirs to the Brownback legacy, peeling off enough moderate votes from both parties to allow the ultraconservative to prevail. Only if enough moderate Democrats and Republicans jumped ship to support Orman could he overcome a strong Kobach run, but this seems pretty unlikely since the Democrats seem to be attracting stronger-than-usual candidates themselves.

So the devil's in the details. Do Kansans risk another term of ultraconservative governance by supporting a new party at this juncture, or do they strengthen the moderate wings of both parties to strengthen the dynamic that has worked in the past? To me, this seems like a further fracturing of the political process that cuts loose both existing parties from the middle, further polarizing them. Kansas has been a bellweather for the nation politically speaking recently; this latest trend, I fear, could provide the nation with yet another cautionary tale.

P Allen Macfarlane 3 months, 2 weeks ago

If the political makeup of the electorate was more balanced (Kansas is a very red state), I think a centrist party would stand a chance of succeeding. But considering the overwhelming Republican footprint, it will only insure that Republicans will remain in power.

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