If we learn anything from the so-called “debates” among Republican candidates for Kansas governor, it’s that the party has tightened its tent.
The staged debates have featured four candidates seeking the nomination – Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Jim Selzer and Patrick Kucera.
Missing is candidate Jim Barnett, a former state senator who was the Republican nominee for governor in 2006. Barnett was excluded because he refused to sign a GOP contract that restricted debates to party-sanctioned events with questions screened or scripted in advance.
As Barnett suspected, these shows have amounted to little more than a Colyer-Kobach cage fight. Moderators from conservative cause lobbies toss out loaded, red-meat questions with the zeal of an animal trainer. Selzer and Kucera are off to the side like stunt men, dressing out the ring, chasing the scraps.
At one Johnson County event, Barnett was ordered to sit in the audience and say nothing. He did.
Barnett has been disinvited from the Republican cause because he is a former flame thrower himself, but one who has changed. He was far right as party conservatives went in 2006 and campaigned for governor that way. He earned his stripes in combat, but over the years has taken a more measured, at times centrist view.
Barnett is no longer welcome because he has dared to discuss slightly moderate views, such as finding balance in the state’s weakened revenue stream; or working across the aisle from time to time with those who may disagree; or, even, suggesting that compromise is not evil when it comes to the good of the state. His views on taxes, schools, the highway fund, even public health (he is a physician) seem to send the message that government is not some ogre, or adversary, but a mechanism to help citizens and communities be better.
Barnett talks of reason. This is why he has been barred from the conservatives’ cage fights. Republicans managing the show have no time for moderation, especially when the title bout is Colyer v. Kobach – Brownback Revised, in the red trunks, versus Kobach the Barbarian in even redder ones.
This is the blood sport Republicans seem to want, the candidates who most loathe the government they seek to lead; who despise any and all taxes, even those that go into their government paychecks; who would punish immigrants and immigrant students; who see no good in lifting aid to local schools or lightening the load on tuition-pressed college students; who are champions of ridicule for Medicare, welfare, even elder care.
Above all, this Kansas GOP seeks a nominee for governor who is most loyal to President Trump, who vows unquestioning devotion to the Party’s leader.
The Republican tent in Kansas, once touted as large and welcoming, has become a small plastic bag, airless, suffocating. Not even Jim Barnett, once the party’s nominee for governor, is welcome.
How sad for the party of Landon, Eisenhower and Huck Boyd. How tragic for the heritage of Frank Carlson, Bob Dole, Jim Pearson, Nancy Kassebaum.
Today for their nominee, Republicans agitate to glorify the bare-knuckle winner in their fight club. Is this what Kansas wants? Is this what we have become?