Sibling wars (1)

Valley Voice


Last month in Hutchinson, the Republicans’ First District Congressional Committee voted to censure Jerry Moran because he voted for a federal spending bill endorsed by President Biden.
This month in Topeka, Republicans heated a bitter feud by narrowly electing a new state chairman, Mike Brown, who promotes election conspiracies and promises to shake up the party establishment. His opponent was Helen Van Etten, of Topeka, a former Republican national committeewoman and member of the state Board of Regents.
Discord is not new to Republicans, especially in Kansas. But in recent years, sharp separation opened between moderates ‒ once seen as conservatives ‒ and the hard right, an authoritarian wing of intolerance, illliberalism and an apocalyptic mind-set.
Disruption has reached a point at which even long-standing conservatives such as Moran come into the cross-hairs of hardened flanks. Moran was whipped for favoring Biden’s $1.7 million spending bill, which included nearly $200 million for various Kansas projects.
The Democrats aren’t without their own disruptions, left and center. But they are weak beyond the metropolitan precincts and their numbers as a minority in the legislature remain puny. They cannot afford to fight among themselves.
Moments after Brown’s narrow election (90-88), the GOP state committee considered a resolution that Congress impeach President Biden for “tyranny”, but tabled the measure for now. Brown, a former Johnson County commissioner has lashed at the party’s “Country Club Republicanism,” and wants to put a cutting edge on the party.
Van Etten, of Topeka, said Republicans must unify. Division between moderates and conservatives, she said, has cost Republicans the loss of two gubernatorial elections and the state’s 3rd district seat in congress.
Moran’s censure heightens the party’s division. He is the state’s senior U.S. Senator and the party’s most popular elected official. He was elected from Hays to the Kansas Senate in 1988 where he served, including as majority leader, through 1996. Moran, 68, served seven 2-year terms in the U.S. House (1997–2011) and this year is beginning his third 6-year term in to U.S. Senate, where he is a seasoned member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He now lives in Manhattan.
The $200 million for Kansas included $40 million for the University of Kansas Medical Center. Nonetheless, John Pyle, an Ellis County delegate, said the district committee had asked Moran to vote against the spending bill endorsed by Biden. Moran’s vote in favor, said Pyle, was “in deep contrast to all of the values of the First District.”
As Moran may have seen it, $200 million was not contrary to Kansas interests.
Former Kansas Secretary of State Jack Brier, a dedicated Republican, was fond of saying that Republicans were “famous for their fratricide, their circular firing squads.”
The party’s infighting stretches back nearly 70years, to the 1950s, when Warren Shaw, a Topeka businessman, defeated incumbent Gov. Fred Hall in a bitter, often libelous, primary election campaign. Republicans lost the next two elections for governor ( two-year terms until 1974).
In the 11 primary elections from 1964 to 1994, there were 53 Republican candidates for governor, including four incumbents; Democrats won seven of the 11 general elections.
Republican feuding was especially vicious in 1976. Don Concannon, former state party chairman, defied the party establishment to support Ronald Reagan for president. Gov. Robert Bennett, a Republican, was pledged to President Gerald Ford.
Concannon, a Hugoton attorney, had lost a GOP primary to Bennett two years earlier by a thin 300 votes. Concannon worked to secure a Reagan commitment at the state Republican convention at Topeka in May.
Reagan, the former two-term California governor (1965-73), had won primaries in the south, in Indiana and Texas and led Ford in committed national delegates. He would address the Kansas convention where Ford held only a 29-vote edge among 979 convention delegates.
But Bennett’s grip on the party was unbreakable; 125 of 127 Johnson County delegates at first were for Reagan but switched to Ford. The Shawnee County delegation, sprinkled with members of the governor’s staff, pledged to Ford.
Ford carried the state convention and Kansas in the following election, but bitterness among Republicans lingered. Democrats sensed Republican weakness in rural townships, in city wards and suburban precincts. They discovered a sense of disenchantment, of concern a that things were too set among Republicans.
In 1976 Democrats won in 34 rural and 31 urban legislative districts and for the first time in 64 years the party held a majority of the Kansas House of Representatives,65-60. In January, 1977, John Carlin became Speaker of the House.
(Next: More feuds)

SOURCEJohn Marshall
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John Marshall is the retired editor-owner of the Lindsborg (Kan.) News-Record (2001-2012), and for 27 years (1970-1997) was a reporter, editor and publisher for publications of the Hutchinson-based Harris Newspaper Group. He has been writing about Kansas people, government and culture for more than 40 years, and currently writes a column for the News-Record and The Rural Messenger. He lives in Lindsborg with his wife, Rebecca, and their 21 year-old African-Grey parrot, Themis.


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