The Koch Brothers and Kansans for Life: The Alliance That Killed the Kansas Moderate

The energy behind a fundamentalist g-force in Kansas politics is being supplied by the Koch brothers, the Chamber of Commerce and, of course, the ever present influence and drive of the anti-choice groups within the state.

David and Charles Koch Robert Greenwald/Koch Brothers Exposed

Kansas has long been known as a place where extreme anti-choice legislation, fierce anti-woman rhetoric, and overall insanity is produced by the bucketful and, believe it or not, that extremism is about to be taken to an unprecedented level.

In fact, the residents of Kansas should prepare to feel the g-force of the radical right’s strategized rush to bring to fruition their goal of becoming the most socially and fiscally regressive state in the nation. The energy behind this fundamentalist g-force is being supplied by the Koch brothers, the Chamber of Commerce and, of course, the ever present influence and drive of the anti-choice groups within the state.

The political decimation of the moderate Republican in Kansas has been getting a lot of national press. The showdown has been seen as inevitable since the election of Kansas’ first radically conservative Governor.  So how did the state of Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy Kassebaum turn into the state of Brownbackistan? It is hard to fathom, especially in light of Governor Brownback’s dismal polling.  The following is from Kansas political scientist Dr. H Edward Flentje.

Surveys show Brownback’s approval ratings to be low, most recently in the mid-30s among all registered voters with disapproval near 50 percent. His approval among independent voters is even less favorable. Independent voters, who number 500,000 in the state, have the potential to swing this referendum against Brownback and his allies.

Voter turnout was 23 percent in this primary election. It appears that the independents stayed home or cast their votes in favor of the conservative candidates, but more significantly, the anti-choice and tea-publican factions of the party turned out in droves.  They nearly trampled over each other in their haste to cast their votes. The Christian right arrived at their polling places with their pro-life voting guides clutched in hand and the tea-publicans with their Chamber endorsement guide in their brief case. It was as if Mike Huckabee rang the Chick-Fil-A dinner bell.

It is worth noting that not every candidate targeted by the Koch/”Pro-Life” alliance has a pro-choice voting record. There were legislators that were included in hit list that had a 100 percent anti-choice voting record, such as Senate President Steve Morris. Like virtually all of the targeted Republicans, President Morris was defeated in the August 7th primary. Kansans for Life explains away the apparent disconnect in the following statement:

Senate President Morris came into his leadership position with a pro-life record, but then betrayed it by rigging Senate committees with pro-abortion majorities and working behind the scenes to hurt pro-life bills! But due to the pro-life routing of ‘moderates,’ there is a real possibility that after the November elections, as many as 32 out of 40 Kansas Senate seats could be filled by trusted pro-lifers!

Kansans for Life calls the primary election results a “pro-life power surge” and provides the following figures, “Kansans for Life’s endorsed candidates won handily: In the House, 74% (31 of 42 races) and in the Senate, 77% (24 of 31 races).”

It is apparent that both the Koch-funded Chamber and Kansans for Life are falling in line and stand in pursuit of the Governor’s demands for Republican state electeds that consist solely of an unwavering allegiance to his theocratic agenda. It is not merely enough to vote “pro-life” in order to garner “pro-life” favor, a legislator is required to check every free thinking brain cell at the door and march to the tune of Sammy’s big bass drum. It does cause a person to ponder whether the “pro-life” movement has successfully taken control of the Republican Party or vice-versa, with the tea-republicans having possibly taken control of the “pro-life” movement. Brownback’s former Chief of Staff resigned in order to assist the Kansans for Life PAC in this election cycle.      

The influence of Kansas’ anti-choice machine has been a formidable factor in at various levels of elected office. It plays into judicial elections, county DA elections and even Board of Health appointments. The concerted effort began with the Summer of Mercy anti-choice protests in Wichita. From the Wichita Eagle:

In some ways, the change was direct. Two future Kansas congressmen came out of those protests. One, Tim Huelskamp, got arrested and then later elected to the Kansas Senate, and in 2010 he took over now-Sen. Jerry Moran’s 1st Congressional District seat. The other, Todd Tiahrt, didn’t get arrested but hung around,

gathering signatures and supporters. Several other protesters ended up in the Legislature. There were dozens and dozens more, however, who ended up on local boards or as election commissioners, or playing bigger roles in their local GOP.

Those protests also drew a pro-choice call-to-action from then National Organization for Women president elect, Patricia Ireland. The following is an account of a 1991 pro-choice rally held to counter the Summer of Mercy protestors.   

A crowd of 6,000 had attended an abortion-rights rally in downtown Wichita on Saturday. Patricia Ireland, president-elect of the National Organization for Women, Saturday told her supporters to make Wichita a springboard for political action against those who would roll back abortion rights.

So why was the anti-choice call to action so successful and the pro-choice call to action ever stagnant? Could it be attributed to the politics of gender? After all, the people most likely to be motivated to run for office fueled by the issue of abortion rights are women, and women continue to be underrepresented within all levels of government.  This is true in the Kansas legislature.  From the Topeka Capital Journal:

The Kansas Legislature topped out at 55 women in 1999 and is now down to 45 (12 in the Senate and 33 in the House).  Other states have since passed Kansas, and the state’s 27.3 percent female representation now ranks 15th in the nation.

Another gender-influenced factor might be a hesitance by women to “play dirty” in politics.Senator Jean Schodorf a Republican, moderate, pro-choice candidate targeted by the alliance, asked her anti-choice male opponent to sign a clean campaign pledge. He refused.  He then proceeded to send out sexist mailers that distorted her image and depicted her as a queen. Senator Schodorf lost her seat in the August 7th primary.  When Rewire asked the Senator to comment on gender-based obstacles that she has faced during campaigning and in her career in the Senate this is what she had to say:

“Campaigning has become so negative.  I found that my opponent was continually demeaning and disrespectful to me.  They used rudeness as a campaign tactic.  It is hard for a woman to be elected to major leadership roles because the guys don’t realize that there should be women in those roles too, such as Majority leader, president or vice president.  Usually, women senators are referred to as girls.  “Hi girls” is common, or “how are you girls today?”

Another moderate, Republican, pro-choice senator, Vickie Schmidt, chose a different tack and sent out a deceptive mailer against her conservative Republican opponent, Representative Joe Patton. Representative Patton was the co-founder of Kansans for Life and was a leader in pushing the 2012 mega-abortion bill that would have caused KU Med School’s loss of accreditation for its ob/gyn program. Kansans for Life campaigned heavily for their champion. They even stood in front of Topeka churches on Sunday mornings, yelling and intimidating local churchgoers into “voting pro-life.” Senator Schmidt and her mailer defeated Rep. Patton making her just two of the moderates to survive Kansas’ primary election, perhaps proving that women need to learn to fight fire with fire in today’s mean-spirited political world. 

HB 2598 not only served as Representative Patton’s swan song in the Kansas legislature, it also spurred Liz Dickinson, a Democratic candidate for Kansas’ House District 30, to run for office for the first time. Liz is the epitome of what Kansas needs many more of…  a motivated, pro-choice candidate who is taking her passion for equality and trying to change the face of Kansas politics. Liz is 28 years old, a wife and a mother of two. Here Liz explains her motivation for running against incumbent anti-choice radical and author of HB 2598, Representative Lance Kinzer:

I was writing legislators and making calls and not hearing anything back.  Women are not being represented in our state.  I need to stand up for them.  I need to stand up for this large segment of the population that is being mistreated and ignored.  When I found out that Representative Kinzer was running unopposed, I felt that it was imperative that I do something.  I may not be the well-groomed candidate or career politician that people are used to, but I have a right to stand up and help insure that these women’s voices are heard.  We will no longer be ignored.  As a sister and a mother, and someone who values family, I hold them dear.  HB 2598 undermines family values by withholding information from women and their families. 

Liz is what Kansas needs right now in order to salvage its last remaining bits of political integrity. Unfortunately, there are not enough brave souls with this woman’s gumption to challenge the broken system. It is a system bought by big money, wrapped up in a pro-life bow and delivered to Kansas citizens by Governor Sam Brownback.