Joco Opinion

Frustrated with politics? Don’t sit out the major parties

Greg Shelton, vice chair of the Johnson County Democratic Party
Greg Shelton, vice chair of the Johnson County Democratic Party

In November 2018, Democrats won at record levels in Johnson County, an event that was unimaginable to many just four years ago. Nonetheless, our community recognized the future of our county and state is better represented in the platform of the Kansas Democratic Party by backing Gov. Laura Kelly, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids and 10 state representatives now in the Kansas Legislature.

Similarly, Democrats increased the number of their registered voters in Johnson County by 14 percent between the 2016 and 2018 general elections, compared to a 1 percent increase for Republicans over this same period.

This growth isn’t just coming from unaffiliated voters either. Since 2016, unaffiliated voters in Johnson County have decreased by 4,372, which is a fraction of the nearly 14,000 newly registered Democrats. And these trends are just the beginning, the recent party affiliation changes by Kansas state Sens. Barbara Bollier and Dinah Sykes, as well as state Rep. Stephanie Clayton and former state Rep. Joy Koesten are further evidence that the values and ideals of Johnson County are best served by the Kansas Democratic Party.

Still, there is a pervasive misconception among moderates and progressives in Johnson County that suggests registering as a Republican is a “smart” strategy to counter the ultra-conservatives that solidly control the Kansas GOP. The fact of the matter is Johnson County’s influence and authority, as one of the state’s most prosperous and populated counties, has been severely weakened because of this misguided strategy.

This isn’t anecdotal either. We’ve seen dark money acolytes ascend in the Kansas GOP at the expense of moderate Johnson County Republicans. Whether it’s limiting the role of moderates on important committees or denying them opportunities in party leadership, the result is Johnson County’s constituents and their values are under-represented at the federal, state and local levels.

Likewise, skeptics have called this growth trend a “Trump bump” or a “Kobach-lash”, but those of us who have met voters on their doorsteps know better. Johnson Countians understand better than ever the

Republican National Committee and Kansas GOP have no tolerance for mainstream values. If you believe, like I do, that our country’s politics are distorted then we should agree that the way out of this problem isn’t around it, but through it.

If you are unaffiliated because you don’t believe any political party deserves your allegiance, then I urge you to consider the unintended consequences. This lack of engagement with a political party prevents new, different or better candidates from choosing to run for office because many would-be supporters exist outside established channels that cultivate and nurture a candidate early in their campaigns. When voters engage with political parties, then we are better able to recruit, support, and elect more diverse and qualified candidates.

Likewise, if you consider yourself to be a moderate or progressive, and are registered as a Republican, then you are contributing to a “black hole” in our political ecosystem that distorts everything from candidate recruitment to the allocation of resources from national and state level organizations for campaigns. This distortion contributes to the political dysfunction that we all agree needs to end.

So whether you are a moderate or progressive voter in Johnson County who is registered as a Republican or unaffiliated please do yourself, our community and our country a favor by going to www.ksvotes.org to check your party affiliation.

Then, in less than five minutes, you can join state Sens. Bollier and Sykes, and state Rep. Clayton and former state Rep. Koesten in changing your party affiliation to better reflect your values.

Greg Shelton of Prairie Village is vice chair of the Johnson County Democratic Party.

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