Republican rift may signal power shift

Shawnee race latest to feature party shake-up

In a state long known as rock-ribbed Republican, something big might be happening.

Come the general election Nov. 7, the mighty GOP might be knocked to its knees.

“I think a lot of moderate Republicans look at the social conservative agenda and say: ‘These people aren’t speaking for me,'” said Kansas University political science professor Burdett Loomis.

And when the dust settles after the 2006 election, Loomis said, Kansans may wake up to a new political landscape – one that includes a Democratic attorney general and governor and a moderate state board of education.

“We may end up in a very different place than we were a year or two ago,” he said.

Loomis was reacting Tuesday to news of the latest Republican defections.

Though not officially changing parties, two somewhat prominent Kansas Republicans joined an apparently growing trend by throwing their support to a Democratic candidate.

Retiring state Rep. Ray Cox, R-Bonner Springs, and Quentin Brewer, former Republican candidate for Cox’s 39th House District seat, endorsed Democratic candidate Corey Mohn of Shawnee as Cox’s replacement.

Other moderate Republicans recently have gone further and actually changed parties. Among them: former GOP state party chairman Mark Parkinson, who is on the ticket as lieutenant governor with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat seeking a second term; and Johnson County Dist. Atty. Paul Morrison, who became a Democrat to run against incumbent Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, a conservative Republican.

Be gone

Cox’s support of a Democrat to replace himself drew blunt comment from John Altevogt of Bonner Springs, former Wyandotte County Republican chairman and conservative activist.

“It doesn’t matter,” Altevogt said. “I’ve never had any use for Ray Cox. It would please me greatly if he would become a Democrat. I didn’t have any use for him when I was chair of the party up here. In fact, we tried to get him beat several times.”

Altevogt said it also helped the party that Morrison and Parkinson became Democrats.

“The right people are leaving. I’m delighted that Democrats have Mark Parkinson,” he said.

No surprise

Owen Donohoe, the Republican facing Mohn, also said it was no surprise that Cox and Brewer were backing a Democrat. That’s just them showing their true political colors, he said.

“I feel that people are coming out and admitting to what they really were,” Donohoe said. “I feel that the other two gentlemen rather misrepresented themselves to the constituents” by claiming to be Republicans.

Cox, who has represented the 39th District since 1993, is stepping down. He first endorsed Brewer, a moderate Republican, as his replacement. But in the April primary election Brewer lost to Donohoe, who also is from Shawnee.

Growing gap

Cox and Brewer said they endorsed Mohn because he works harder than Donohoe and is less partisan.

“You don’t run the state on a few little social issues,” Cox said. “This is what I’ve felt for 14 years, and Quentin felt the same way.”

Cox said he had watched the gap between Democrats and Republicans grow since 1993 with moderate Republicans often having to work with Democrats to combat right-wing Republicans.

Brewer said when he campaigned for the seat he found many people were tired of bitter partisanship.

“It’s not the Democrats, it’s not the Republicans, it’s the person and the ideas behind them that they’ll vote for,” Brewer said.

Donohoe said Mohn is trying to fool Cox, Brewer and the public by convincing them he is a moderate Democrat, though he actually is a “liberal.”

“I want to tell the people where I stand, I want to tell the issues where I stand and I want the people to make a decision based on that,” Donohoe said.

Good riddance

Political scientist Loomis, a former aide to Sebelius, said the GOP defections and possible electoral losses to Democrats ultimately could be good for the Republican Party, forcing it to put divisive social issues on a back burner and come together after long years of division between conservative and moderate camps.

Altevogt also said it could be beneficial for the GOP. But he said it differently: Republicans aren’t split two ways, but three.

“I don’t see it as a dual split,” he said. “There’s conservatives, moderates and then the ‘green’ party – guys in it for themselves and their own aggrandizement.

“Good riddance to bad rubbish. Sometimes you have to experience temporary losses to make long-term gains.”