Kansas's three-party system died this week as moderate Republicans faced devastating losses
For more than a decade, the state of Kansas has operated under a unique system. There were, effectively, three parties. The Democratic Party, The Republican Party (Conservative), and the Moderate Republican party. Moderate Republicans worked to form their own organizations geared at “taking back their own party”, and frequently advised Democratic registered voters to “switch registration before primary day” in order to avoid crazy conservatives winning seats. The pitch was simple: if more moderate Republicans would win seats, they could take back their party and elect leadership that was less conservative. The reality, however, was that moderate Republicans found themselves feeling as though they had been sent to outer Siberia once they appeared in the state house, as the conservative majority boxed them out.
The coalition between Democratic elected and moderate Republicans was often enough, however, to push forward some legislation. Over the last ten years, however, even the moderate Republicans found themselves looking over their shoulder, facing brutal battles in primaries, and having their arms twisted to stay with their party or risk retribution. On Tuesday, August 4, 2020, retribution day came, and the moderate Republican wing of the party found itself decimated. In 2014, Paul Davis could summon together 104 Republicans to endorse him. On July 24, 2020, Former Senate President Dick Bond, one of the Republicans who played a role in leading a moderate coalition passes away, and shortly thereafter, the idea of this coalition passes away as well.
Six Moderate Kansas State Senators, who supported Medicaid expansion, lost to conservative opponents on Tuesday night. John Skubal in Overland Park lost to Kellie Warren, a former Republican house conservative. Michael Fagg defeated Bruce Givens El Dorado, JR Claeys — Kris Kobach’s campaign manager and house representative — defeated Randall Hardy in Salina, Mark Steffen upended Ed Berger in Hutchinson, Virgil Peck, a man once famous for saying we should shoot immigrants with a gun from a helicopter defeated Dan Goddard and Alicia Straub defeated Mary Jo Taylor.
In districts where moderates challenged conservatives, they were flatly defeated. Tom Cox, challenging Mike Thompson, a climate change denying firebrand conservative in Johnson County found himself getting shellacked. The House also offered no reprieve for moderates, with several losing.
Several moderate Republicans in the statehouse spoke up in ways that were difficult for them, pressed them hard, made them feel unwelcome. For far less than any sort of living wage — a fee per day that results in less than $20,000 a year, they were often forced to endure things that simply should not be a part of the government.
In 2015, I wrote a piece regarding Brownback’s treatment of moderates, and the late-night sessions that pinned them in, forcing votes. The story it tells reminds me every time why I and so many others remain committed to a better future for Kansas.
What has become clear, though, is that there will be far fewer moderates in the statehouse next year. Endorsements by organizations that branded themselves as moderate were used to castigate Republicans, and the conservatives ran the table. What will the next two years look like for Governor Kelly? That will be an interesting question. A big part of that question will be determined by how many — or if — Democratic Senate and House candidates can pick up seats across the state.