Friday, October 20, 2006

Kansas Politics: Carla Stovall pounds what could be the final nail in Phill Kline's coffin

By Diane Silver

Dare I say it? Could we be watching the beginning of a political sea change? That phrase paints a picture of a cataclysmic transformation, and right now, folks, out here on the drought - plagued Great Plains such a wave might well be building.

And I do apologize for badly mixing my metaphors of tidal waves and coffins, but there is something wild and out of control about this moment in Kansas politics.

To the point...

When it comes to elections, it's never wise to declare victory before the votes are counted. I agree with Molly Ivins that we have a long way to go to Nov. 7. But in more than 20 years of watching and participating in Kansas politics, I never in my wildest dreams expected to see something like today's events.

On this sunny Friday, a former Republican attorney general, in this most Republican state of all, held a news conference to slam her Republican successor and endorse his Democratic opponent. This makes the second very Republican, former attorney general to attack Kline in one week.

Carla Stovall (Steckline), who held the attorney general's office from 1995 to 2002, attacked the current occupant of that post, Republican Phill Kline. Stovall told reporters she was endorsing Democrat Paul Morrison because "I care about the reputation of the office."

Stovall pointed to Morrison's "stellar record" of convicting criminals and noted that "the person is more important than the party."

The Wichita Eagle blog did the best job of capturing the emotion of the moment.
A visibly angry Stovall then proceeded to blast Kline on everything from his hiring of his legally challenged nephew as chauffeur (she said that neither she nor her predecessor, Bob Stephan, felt they were "important enough" to need drivers) to Kline's fishing expeditions of abortion records (showing his willingness to "violate privacy rights of Kansans to pursue a narrow personal agenda") to Kline's labeling of Senate Bill 323 as "Paul's policy" ("absolutely untrue") to the use of out-of-state attack ads ("despicable").
What makes Stovall's action even more incredible is its timing. It comes after her predecessor, Republican Bob Stephan, announced that he had recently quit his job as a special assistant to Kline. Stephan told reporters he had serious questions about the ethical nature of Kline's fundraising activities in churches.

Stephan did not come out and endorse Morrison, but there seems little doubt about who Stephan will support in the voting booth.

The Topeka Capital-Journal was so breathless about the open warfare between moderate Republicans and Kline -- the darling of the Religious Right -- that it left Morrison right out of it's headline -- "Ex-AG Stovall Endorses Kline's Opponent."

You do have to wonder. If the GOP can't hold itself together in Kansas, can it do so anywhere in the country?

Whatever today's events ultimately mean for the Republican Party in Kansas and in the nation one thing seems clear: If Kline happens to notice a tall guy in a black suit following him around with a measuring tape, our not-so-beloved attorney general might just want to run.


yossarian said...

While I am happier with the current political climate in the state than at any time during the past decade, I feel that there is still a looooooooong way to go. It's nice that the Kansas 2nd may go Boyda and throw out Ryun, all the other districts look to be firmly in the hands of the incumbent. Democratic "challengers" McGinn and Doll have supreme fundraising disadvantages in the 4th and 1st, respectively. Big 1st incumbent Moran is so threatened by Doll, he didn't even bother to open a campaign office. As for Dennis Moore in the 3rd, I'm not a big fan of torture advocates. Oh, and that heinous elimination of habeas corpus by Congress needs to be reversed, first bill of the new session. But I don't really see any of the incumbents taking a lead role in this.
Don't get me wrong. Phill Kline's election to AG was a black day in this state's history and the sooner that problem is corrected, the better. I'm just sayin' the sea change thing is a bit overstated. You can't really call this a Democratic tsunami when at best they'll have 2 of the 4 House seats and 0 Senators. I haven't seen polling for the State Legislature, but I doubt the Dems are going to takeover.
Anyway, sorry to be a killjoy, but the last thing anybody should be doing is getting smug (not that your are) about having the perceived upper hand. Look how well that worked for the Republicans.

Diane Silver said...

I guess I didn't say that very well. I'm honestly not expecting Kansas to turn totally Democrat. And yes, I completely agree with you about the sorry state of Dennis Moore's voting record and the non-challengers in the other Congressional districts.

So, I guess "sea change" is too far to go for Kansas, but the Sunflower State may be a sign of something happening in the larger nation. As "What's the Matter with Kansas" illustrated how Kansas was an example of how the Religious Right won nationally, this state may also be a sign of an impending change nationally.

The battle between moderate and ultra-conservative Republicans has been going on for a long time in Kansas. However, it most often erupts in the primary where they try to claw each other to death.

I don't remember ever seeing them do it in the general election, though. That's what's different. If the Religious Right has gotten it's traditional allies so angry in Kansas, what might happen nationally?

We'll just have to see. As I noted, I agree with Molly Ivins: It's way too early to declare victory.

As for Dennis Moore, I'm furious with his detainee vote. I keep meaning to post about it, but little time and the continuing zoo of the Kline campaign has kept me from that. Soon, though...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Great screen name.

yossarian said...

I agree, the general election infighting is new.

Nationally, winning both houses would be nice, but even if that happens, the majority will be thin. Hopefully, this is really the start of something big; but as you, me and Molly Ivins agree, cautious optimism is the watchword.

I guess I would like to see Kansas get a reputation as a progressive Midwestern state again (like Frank describes in his book) and I'm just a little impatient.

Diane Silver said...

I think we're all impatient, and rightly so. The damage that has been done to our country, particularly by the Bush Administration, is enormous. The damage that has been done to Kansas by the conservative state baord of ed and Legislature is enormous.

I will be pleased if Democrats can win even one house in Congress. At least then there will be some kind of check on Bush. If the D's could win the Senate, though, wouldn't that be grand? Perhaps, we could keep Bush from making a horrendous choice for the next Supreme Court seat, which may well come open soon.

I moved to kansas 20 years ago for a job, and much to my surprise, found myself staying. In those two decades, I've never seen any serious effort put into promoting a progressive message in this state. It may have been progressive in the turn of the century, but since the 1980s, no one has even talked about liberal ideas. That's why I'm so pleased to see what's happening now.

Moderate Republicans are finally not just talking about their anger, they're doing something about it. Without the moderates, the far right is dead in the water. There just aren't enough of them.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Must go to bed now!