Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Kansas Republican Party isn't dead yet, despite what national observers say

By Diane Silver

I would love to declare that the November election swept progressives into power in Kansas and left the state GOP in "tatters" on the floor. I would love to shout that story from the rooftops. Unfortunately, it isn't true, at least not in the way people on the coasts appear to believe.

Despite the glee of national observers like, occasional commentators at Daily Kos and today's story in The Washington Post, I am sad to say that reports of the party's demise are a tad premature.

The view from Kansas is of a state where even in a watershed year for Democrats, Republicans held onto 78 seats in the Kansas House of Representatives, and Democrats won only 47. In the Kansas Senate, a mere 10 Democrats hold seats, while 30 are in the hands of Republicans.

It is true that Nov. 7 marked an important turning point in Kansas.

Moderates took over the state Board of Education and threw out the anti-evolution members who turned their back on science. However, moderates only hold a one-seat majority. If the past repeats itself, the majority on the board could swing back to the religious right in the next election.

Democrat Kathleen Sebelius won re-election as governor, and she is a talented politician and a good governor. However, the significance of her election remains to be seen.

Kansas has a history of staying thoroughly Republican while electing Democratic governors. In the last 20 years, Kansas has elected a total of five governors -- three Democrats, including Sebelius, and two Republicans.

The Kansas electorate's disgust at the rightwing antics of Attorney General Phill Kline and the fact that they booted him out of office is good news, as is the election of newly minted Democrat Paul Morrison. It is too early to tell, though, whether this was a vote against the Republican Party as much as a vote for an attorney general who will do the job he was elected to do.

The fact that Morrison and a handful of other Republican politicians switched parties is good news, but the number is still small and only a few of them won their campaigns.

For me the most heartening November victory was Democrat Nancy Boyda's win over Republican incumbent Jim Ryun. That came in a moderate to conservative district.

However, the meaning of the vote remains to be seen. Did voters turn their back on Ryun's social and political conservatism or simply get fed up with a Congressman who did a poor job of constituent service and ran a bad campaign?

The Washington Post story focused on the anger over the Johnson County Republican Party's recent election of Kline as county district attorney. He won the vote 316-291.

Here is the real money quote from the story.
"The moment Phill Kline got the nomination, half the room got up and walked out," said Scott Schwab, the county GOP chairman. "It wasn't so much yelling or cussing. They threw up their arms and said, 'What do we do now?' "
That quote, by the way, is from a Kline supporter, and it clearly shows the divide. But the true meaning of the moderates' anger won't be known until we see what else they do.

Reading tea leaves and telling the future is an uncertain task, but here are some signs that might show when a real change has occurred in Kansas.

  • The religious right and ultraconservative Republicans cannot win without the collusion of moderate Republicans. Look for more moderates to either switch parties or to take control of the state Republican Party. That isn't even close to happening yet.
  • Watch the next primary where precinct representatives are elected, particularly in Johnson County. If moderates can't take control of the precinct seats after the Kline debacle, then moderates will never have the power to succeed.
  • Watch the 2008 legislative elections in Kansas. If Democrats cannot win more seats in the Legislature, then the party will never be revived in this state.


Blue Girl, Red State said...

Excellent post. So excellent I linked to you on a Political Animal discussion thread.

Diane Silver said...

Many thanks!

zinger said...

Nice work indeed. I seldom agree with your political leanings, but your analysis here is well-founded. Your site is a rare breath of liberal fresh air in a blogosphere full of personality-driven authors who choose engage in boogeyman(person?) politics. It's good to see that someone on your side can have strong opinions and still be marginally objective.

Diane Silver said...

Thanks for the comment, zinger.

What I hope is that I can be fair and do the best job possible of seeing reality for what it really is. That is something I hope that folks on all sides of the political spectrum can do.

While I don't believe the GOP in Kansas is in tatters, I do believe that we might be edging toward a tipping point. We're not there yet, but this last election was one of the most interesting I've seen in Kansas.

Moderate Republicans really do hold the key. If more of them go the way of Mark Parkinson and Paul Morrison and jump to Democrats, Kansas politics will change. If more of them find a way to organize within the GOP and to finally retake the party, things will change.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to watch what happens in terms of the attitudes of the average voter in Kansas. The drop in George W. Bush's approval ratings in the state has been fascinating to watch. Ryun's defeat was also an interesting sign.

All I think that anyone can honestly say right now is stay tuned. We might well be on the edge of something, or then again, we might not.