Sibling wars (3)

Valley Voice


At Hutchinson in January the Republican First District Committee censured Sen. Jerry Moran because he voted for spending bill supported by President Biden. (The bill contained $200 million for Kansas projects.)

Last month in Topeka, Republicans were at it again and when the dust settled Mike Brown, a hard-right election conspiracy promoter, had been elected state party chairman.
Last week, Attorney General Kris Kobach and Secretary of State Scott Schwab, both Republicans, argued over the widespread use of ballot drop boxes in Kansas elections. Kobach wants vise-grip voting restrictions. Schwab favors greater voting access.
Republican in-fighting in Kansas sharpens the split between moderates ‒ once seen as conservatives ‒ and an intolerant hard right. It extends the party’s long history of feuding, and of losing important elections because of it.
By the early 1950s, Kansans had elected a series of standout Republican governors ‒ Payne Ratner, Frank Carlson and Ed Arn among them. But Republican in-fighting would cost them the labor vote and lead to the Democrats’ Docking era of governors: George Docking (1957-’61) and his son, Robert (1967-’75).

In 1974 Republican Robert Bennett was elected to the state’s first 4-year term for governors but was seen as aloof, a friend of big money; on the hustings, he seemed diffident. He lost in 1978 to House Speaker John Carlin, a Democrat who worked with the legislature’s majority Republicans, was reelected in 1982, and became one of the state’s most accomplished and popular governors.

In 1986 Republican Mike Hayden survived a bitter 7-candidate Republican primary, was elected governor and mishandled a long list of issues, most involving taxation. His failure to manage a crisis in public school finance – triggered by horrendous property tax increases ‒ was a prime signal that his tenure would be limited to one term.

Democrats in 1988 and 1990 had gained 12 seats in the House for a 63-62 majority; in the Senate, Republicans held a narrow 22-18 margin. Hayden lost in 1990 to Joan Finney, a populist Democrat who had served four terms as state treasurer. Under a court deadline, Finney and legislators crafted historic, bi-partisan tax and school finance reforms.

For Kansans, the 1990s were a time of significant and compelling change: a new national model for school finance; powerful reforms of social welfare programs; development and funding of community mental health centers; a telecommunications act to match federal reforms; increased aid to higher education; a second, $14 billion highway improvements program, on completion of the $11 billion program approved a decade earlier.
In January 1992, angry Republican insurgents tried unsuccessfully to fire House Minority Leader R.H. Miller, a moderate. Here was reality, that shifts in sources of political power begin with struggles for leadership, inflamed through special interest groups growing in number and finance; cause lobbies, their academics, thinkers, economists and ruminant idea brokers have developed the look and feel of political parties.

In 1993 Republicans had regained a majority in the House, but beneath the veneer of party supremacy, rebels – they were actually called “rebels” – began to grow in number and voice. They were ardent, supply-side fiscal conservatives determined to cut taxes and re-shape state spending. Many were devout anti-abortionists.

Bill Graves, a moderate Republican and former secretary of state, was elected governor in 1994 and reelected in 1998, but conservatives advanced and in 2002 the party nominated House Speaker Tim Shallenburger for governor. Democrats nominated Kathleen Sebelius, the popular two-term insurance commissioner.

Sebelius won, was reelected in 2006 but left office two years later to join the Obama administration as Secretary of Health and Human Services. In her wake, a Democratic leadership vacuum.

Republicans pounced. Sen. Sam Brownback, a fierce conservative, became governor, but many Republicans resisted his hard-right agenda. Loyalty oaths began making the rounds. The governor’s chief of staff resigned in 2012 to organize primary election campaigns against eight incumbent Republican senators critical of the governor’s agenda.

Six of them, including the senate president, were unseated by Brownback loyalists, their campaigns heavily financed by conservative cause lobbies.

Brownback was reelected in 2014, although scores of former Republican legislators openly endorsed his Democratic opponent, Paul Davis. Brownback’s disastrous economic policies (the state was nearly bankrupt), his rigid social outlook and pious charisma had become repellant. He left office.

Republican estrangements continued during the 2018 and 2022 election cycles as legislators left office, switched parties or quietly supported the moderate Democrat, Laura Kelly.

Voters have elected Kelly twice. For now, Republicans are discordant, split between the Schwabs and the Kobachs ‒ conservatives who seek solutions to substantial problems and authoritarians with only a primal urge to prevail.




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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