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Taylor facing heat from women's group
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Chad Taylor is facing heat from a Democratic women's group stemming from a controversy three years ago over prosecuting domestic battery cases in Shawnee County. But Taylor says the issue is being misconstrued, and he insists he still has strong support from women voters.
Women for Kansas is a group that formed last year, mainly for the purpose of unseating Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, both Republicans. Leaders of the group are mainly professional women from the Wichita area, but they expect about 480 women from throughout the state to attend their convention in Wichita this weekend.
Taylor, the Shawnee County district attorney, is challenging three-term incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican. The race also includes independent candidate Greg Orman and Libertarian candidate Randall Batson.
Taylor said he was not invited to speak at the convention. And when, at the urging of some members of the group, he asked to be included in the program, he was told there was no room for him. But Lynn Stephan, co-chairwoman of the group, denied that Taylor had ever called to ask. She also said the candidates speaking are only those who've been endorsed by the group.
Stephan said they decided to endorse Orman because they think he's the best candidate. But she also said, “Taylor has problems.”
Those problems, she said, stem from Taylor's decision in 2011 to stop prosecuting misdemeanor cases from the city of Topeka, about half of which involved domestic battery complaints. The intent, he said, was to send those cases to the city's municipal court.
Taylor said he made that decision after the Shawnee County Commission imposed across-the-board budget cuts of about 10 percent on all county agencies for the following year. Advocates for domestic violence victims complained loudly, as did the city of Topeka, which said its municipal court system could not handle the increased caseload.
The controversy soon mushroomed into national news when the Topeka City Council voted to repeal its ordinance against domestic battery. That was meant to force those cases back to the district attorney's office so they could be prosecuted in state court. But newspaper headlines and cable news talk shows suggested Topeka and Shawnee County had just "legalized" domestic battery.
Taylor said he learned a lot from that controversy and the media attention it drew.
"It sounded good (but) the factual recital at the time was inaccurate," he said. "It was an issue of budgets and who had the capacity in their system."
Under pressure from victims advocates, Taylor's office soon resumed prosecuting misdemeanors. And earlier this year, Topeka reinstated the ordinance against domestic battery.
Polls so far do not show Taylor suffering from a measurable gender gap. His support is split fairly evenly between men and women. He also says the controversy did not hurt him in 2012 when he was elected to a second term as DA.
“I think that the local citizens in Topeka and Shawnee County had a much clearer grasp of what was going on with the situation,” Taylor said. “If it was truly how it was made out to be in the national media, there ain't no way in hell I ever would have been elected to a second term.”
Still, the controversy haunts him on social media where an online petition appeared this week to urge the Kansas Democratic Party to remove Taylor from the ballot. The petition states that it's sponsored by "Kansas Women," but Stephan said it did not originate from her group, Women for Kansas. As of Tuesday, the petition had gained only six signatures.
Jason Perkey, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, said the party stands behind Taylor.
"Chad Taylor is the Kansas Democratic Party's nominee; Kansas Democrats made that decision three weeks ago in our primary," Perkey said.