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Johnson County lawmaker who fled GOP meets with Schumer on 2020 U.S. Senate run

Schumer: ‘I stand here confident in this great country for one reason’

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke of the importance of the American democracy and diversity in what he called “a challenging and tumultuous time" at the inauguration of Donald Trump.
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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke of the importance of the American democracy and diversity in what he called “a challenging and tumultuous time" at the inauguration of Donald Trump.

A Johnson County lawmaker who switched parties last year sat down with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer this week to discuss a possible run for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat.

State Sen. Barbara Bollier confirmed that she met with Schumer, D-New York, and Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto, D-Nevada, the chair of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Bollier discussed the open Senate seat, created by the retiring Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, during a trip to Washington, D.C., for a conference on Medicaid expansion, sponsored by the National Governors Association. Expansion of the health insurance program for low-income Americans has been one her top legislative priorities for years.

“I met with Cortez-Masto and Chuck Schumer. And we’re still talking. I’m considering it,” Bollier said. “I love Kansas and I love my country. And that’s my bottom line.”

A retired physician who lives in Mission Hills, Bollier was the first of three female Republican lawmakers to switch parties following the 2018 election.

She had been stripped of her committee assignments earlier that year after endorsing Democrat Laura Kelly in the race for governor over Republican Kris Kobach. She also backed one of incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder’s Democratic challengers in the Democratic primary.

Even before her party switch, Bollier has frequently clashed with Republican leadership since joining the Kansas Legislature in 2010.

She was an outspoken critic of former Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts and distinguished herself from GOP leaders in her support for abortion and LGBT rights.

“I do not believe it is ever on the right side of history to be allowed to discriminate against people. Enough said,” Bollier scolded Kansas House Republicans during a 2014 debate on a bill that would enable private and public employees to refuse to serve same-sex couples.

She isn’t the first candidate to discuss a campaign with the DSCC. Wichita author Sarah Smarsh and former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom have both had conversations about joining the race.

Bollier’s party switch, which spurred state Sen. Dinah Sykes and state Rep. Stephanie Clayton to follow, generated national attention. It presents an intriguing narrative as Democrats look to attract moderate Republicans frustrated with President Donald Trump in 2020.

Bollier said the Kansas Republican Party’s hostility toward LGBT rights and support for Trump’s policies as the reasons she became a Democrat

“I can’t call it leadership. I don’t even know what to call him. He is our president, but he is not representing my value system remotely,” Bollier said at the time.

A Democrat has not won a Senate race in Kansas since 1932, the longest-losing streak for either party in the Senate. But Democrats are hoping that they can find a candidate to make the state competitive following Kelly’s victory in the gubernatorial race and Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids’ win in Kansas’ 3rd congressional district.

Bollier’s suburban base went strongly for both Kelly and Davids in 2018. As a moderate with friends in both parties, she might be able to follow the same statewide playbook as Kelly, one of her closest allies, if Republicans nominate a hard right nominee like Kobach in 2018.

National progressive groups have also been eager to find a female standard-bearer for Kansas in 2020 following Kelly and Davids’ victories.

“With the election of candidates like Laura Kelly and Sharice Davids, voters in Kansas showed in 2018 that they want more women leading the way at decision-making tables, fighting for policies that are good for women and families,” a spokeswoman for EMILY’s List told The Star earlier this year.

Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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