Lawrence businessman writes breakup letter to GOP, hopes to form new ‘centrist’ party in Kansas

Scott Morgan

Lawrence businessman Scott Morgan has had a difficult relationship with the modern Kansas Republican Party for many years. A self-described moderate, he has never fit in well with Gov. Sam Brownback’s conservative wing of the party, and in 2014 he tried unsuccessfully to unseat Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Now he is officially “breaking up” with the GOP and is launching a campaign to start a new party, the Party of the Center. In a tongue-in-cheek letter posted online this week, he spelled out the reasons why their political romance went south.

“This is hard to write but I think we shouldn’t hang out together anymore,” Morgan wrote. “I’d like to say it’s not you, it’s me. But I kind of think it is you. I know that’s harsh but you’ve changed and I just feel we’re going in different directions.”

The style of his letter was an obvious attempt at humor, but Morgan says his new project to launch a new, centrist party in Kansas is anything but a joke.

“What we’ve realized is that parties have fundamentally changed over the last 120 years,” he said during a phone interview Tuesday. “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.”

Morgan said he is working with a core group of people, mainly in Douglas and Johnson counties, who feel like the two major parties have polarized to the left and right fringes of the political spectrum, leaving behind a large group of centrists who no longer feel at home in either camp.

“We’re smart enough to know these haven’t worked in the past, but we think the past is the past, and with all the changes the time is right,” he said.

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.

Morgan said he hasn’t decided whether he will be a candidate for the new party, assuming it can achieve ballot access. But he said the party will recruit candidates for offices up and down the ballot, not just for the high-profile races. And he said that’s a major difference between the organization he wants to launch and “independent” candidates like Greg Orman, the unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate in 2014 who is said to be considering a bid for governor in 2018.

“My issue with an independent candidate is, that affects one, typically high-level office, the state’s governor or Senate, and it does nothing down-ballot,” Morgan said. “It does nothing for building a bench so you have a sustainable way to move forward.”

Currently, there are only three recognized parties in Kansas: the Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party and the Republican Party.

A recent CNN-SSRS poll found widespread public dissatisfaction with the two major parties, with 62 percent of Americans saying they had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party and 51 percent saying the same about the Democratic Party.

Those numbers might suggest there is room for a new organization to gain a foothold with the public, but University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller says that’s unlikely.

“Those disapproval numbers are relatively high, compared to recent years, but that is driven really by glowing hatred for the other party from your own side. The biggest driver is not that Americans across the board are coming to dislike both parties, although there has been an increase in that.”

“The biggest driver in those increasing negatives is Republicans hating Democrats more and Democrats hating Republicans,” Miller continued. “You don’t have a big margin of politically involved people who dislike both parties. You have an electorate that largely likes their side, hates the other, and the people who dislike both parties, and in theory might be open to supporting a third option, are also the least likely to participate or care that a third option exists.”