Social issues may tear the fabric of one Kansas political party.
Ignore the scoldings of Thomas Frank, who, in 2004 wrote an entire book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas” about the death of the moderate Republican in red Kansas.
The biggest political catfights in 2014 won’t be among Republicans. They’ll be among the few remaining socially conservative Democrats and wild-eyed liberals, who want to see Democrats who don’t toe the party line on abortion and gay rights “punished.”
That’s not my word. Those are the words of a party activist during the Kansas Democrats’ statewide convention in Topeka. At the annual event, Washington Days, the Democrat faithful gather to discuss the state of the party, network and plot to take over the state of Kansas.
“I will not shut up,” an activist told Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon during an LGBT caucus meeting at Washington Days. “Deal with Jan Pauls, and we’re right behind you. Someone needs to punish her in leadership.”
Wagnon encouraged party activists to keep the focus on getting the Democrats’ message out, rather than on Pauls.
“If you want to punish Jan, let’s get her out of office,” Wagnon said. “If you want to punish the Democrat Party, then let’s attack Jan Paul in public and make that the issue instead of the Republicans.”
On a personal note, their little convention each year truly teaches us something about the human spirit. After holding every statewide office in 2008, having a Kansas Democrat in Congress — Dennis Moore — and a handy majority of left-leaning Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate — the party is down to just eight members in the state Senate, and only 33 of 125 members of the state House. Hope indeed springs eternal. Still, the Kansas Democrats meet. They plot.
The Dem plot for 2014 clearly includes exterminating one of its own caucus members — Jan Pauls, a Hutchinson Democrat. She notoriously advocated against gay rights in the Kansas House. Pauls did have a primary opponent in 2012. The 21-year veteran of the Kansas House faced a young, gay Hutchinson city maintenance worker in the 2012 Democratic primary. Pauls won by 8 votes.
It’s safe to assume there’s still a target on Pauls’ back.
Fortunately for the Democrats, the media isn’t likely to notice. They are too busy focusing on, as one Washington Post story headlined it, “The Death of the Kansas Moderate” via a more conservative Kansas Republican Party. The Post’s August 2012 story makes no mention of infighting within the Kansas Democratic Party.
Pauls isn’t the first Democrat to be targeted by the party because of stances on social issues.
Perhaps the most vicious campaign to take down a sitting Democrat was in 2008. That year, Democrats, including former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, worked particularly hard at ousting then-sitting Democrat Sen. Mark Gilstrap of Wyandotte County. Gilstrap has the audacity to be pro-life. And nothing enrages the Democratic faithful more than a Catholic who actually believes what the Church teaches — that all life begins at conception.
With Sebelius’ help, which included nasty postcard mailings and tons of fundraising, Kelly Kultula won the 2008 Democratic primary. Fortunately for the Democratic faithful, they were able to retain the Senate seat. Kultula won the general election, but the Democratic Party lost a member. The Democrats in Kansas can’t afford to lose many more of those!
“I am leaving the Democratic Party of Kansas today, a party that I have served my entire life, because the Democratic Party no longer tolerates dissenting points of view,” Gilstrap said in a statement in 2008. “…. Dissenting points of view are not allowed. Pro-life Democrats are particularly despised. There used to be such a thing as conservative Democrats in Kansas. But they are rapidly becoming extinct.”
The liberal sharks will be circling the waters around moderate Democrats again in 2014, but it’s a story most pundits don’t seem interested in telling. The next time a liberal pundit or Democrat bemoans that Republicans are killing “moderation” in this state, they should be reminded to take the plank out of their own party’s eye.
There’s a Kansas political party acquiescing to the fringiest of its members. And it isn’t the Kansas GOP.