Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Red-State Politics: Taking Kansas away from the Religious Right

By Diane Silver

Kansas' Nov. 7 election offers a good chance to judge the political strength of the Religious Right -- not only in the state, but possibly in the nation.

As Thomas Frank showed in his book What's The Matter With Kansas, the Religious Right's toehold in this reddest of red states grew to a stranglehold in the 1990s. Frank argued that the events in Kansas provided a model for other states.

I agree. It's also important to watch Kansas because if the Religious Right can be defeated here, it can be defeated almost anywhere. That's why this year's election in Kansas is important for folks who have never done more than fly over the Plains.

Of course for those of us who actually live here, this election represents the "minor" matters of our future and our freedom.

The good news is that some interesting trends may well have been emerging in the last five years in Kansas politics. We've seen the first signs that the Religious Right's hold on Kansas could be slipping.

For example, voters ousted the anti-evolution majority on the Kansas Board of Education in the Aug. 1 primary. That vote marked the first chance voters had to change the makeup of the controversial board, and Kansans didn't hesitate to switch two seats from ultra-conservative to moderate.

Meanwhile, a handful of Republican leaders defected to the Democratic Party this year. They include a former state GOP chairman who has signed on as the running mate of popular Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

The fact that Sebelius was even elected to one term also shows the limits of the Religious Right's power. In 2002 her opponent was a darling of the ultra conservatives. Sebelius, meanwhile, has a 63 percent approval rating.

Over the next two months, In This Moment will be taking a close look at this year's key races for governor, attorney general and the state House of Representatives. We'll also be watching the four Congressional races in Kansas with particular attention to attempts to unseat the state's only Democratic incumbent, Dennis Moore, and to defeat Republican incumbents Jim Ryun and Todd Tiahrt. The two Republicans are to the right of Atilla the Hun.

Stay tuned. The fun is only beginning.

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