We interrupt our regularly scheduled stream of Kansas political stories to bring you a column about — wait for it — Missouri politics …
As soon as the Nov. 4 election results are tabulated in Kansas, the election spotlight will shift to Missouri and the state’s big 2016 race for governor.
But Democrat Chris Koster and Republican Catherine Hanaway apparently aren’t willing to wait.
In recent days, both made decisions that could have profound implications on their campaigns. As of now, the two rank as early favorites for their party’s nominations.
Koster, the two-term attorney general, was first out of the gate with his decision not to challenge the ruling of Jackson County Judge Dale Youngs, who said the state must recognize the marriages of same-sex couples wed in other states.
Republican leaders quickly called on Koster to defend the state constitution, which voters amended in 2004 to ban same-sex marriages with 71 percent support.
“His job is to uphold and defend our constitution,” House Speaker Tim Jones said, adding at another point “whether he personally agrees with it or not.”
Koster cited legal reasons to not weigh in. But conservatives smelled politics. They pointed to statements Koster made in June when he announced that he backs same-sex marriage. But he also acknowledged his obligation to “defend the laws of the state of Missouri,” including its gay marriage ban, no matter what.
Koster’s apparent pivot this month could be the result of the increasing pressure he’s under from leaders of his own party. This summer, Koster backed the controversial “right to farm” and “right to bear arms” amendments that voters decided this summer. Many Democrats opposed those ideas.
One result was hints from Sen. Claire McCaskill and former lieutenant governor Joe Maxwell that they might run for governor too.
The two could be sending Koster, who was a Republican until a few years ago, a signal to get back in line. Koster’s decision not to challenge Youngs’ ruling is one way of doing just that.
Hanaway, a former House speaker, this week accepted a whopping $750,000 donation from conservative kingpin Rex Sinquefield. That went a long way toward padding her campaign account. It also stamped her as the captain of Sinquefield’s team and made her unusually beholden to a man with an imposing conservative agenda.
Koster and Hanaway are making big calls, all right. Big enough to ignore Kansas for at least one week.