Government & Politics

Republicans want to oust moderate senator for endorsing a Democrat over Kevin Yoder

Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, speaks with a colleague in the Kansas Senate chamber. Bollier was removed from a leadership position and targeted in comments in a Republican Facebook group for endorsing a Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder.
Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, speaks with a colleague in the Kansas Senate chamber. Bollier was removed from a leadership position and targeted in comments in a Republican Facebook group for endorsing a Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Sen. Barbara Bollier’s own party began formulating a plan to oust her from the Kansas Senate on Wednesday after she sided against Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder in the congressman’s 2018 re-election bid.

The moderate Republican from Mission Hills also was removed from her leadership role on the Senate Health and Public Welfare Committee after she endorsed Democrat Tom Niermann in his effort to challenge Yoder. Bollier also has said she plans to support state Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, if she advances to the general election in her run for governor.

“It’s always fun to find out you got fired from your job for exercising your First Amendment right,” Bollier said.

Niermann, a longtime teacher who lives in Johnson County, is among six major Democratic candidates in the Aug. 7 primary who hope to run against Yoder.

In an interview Wednesday, Bollier said she voted for Dennis Moore, the Democrat who held the congressional seat before Yoder, “for many years.”

It’s not about party, she said, it’s about the state and the country.

“We need someone electable who will represent the district and actually talk to the people in the district,” Bollier said. “I think Tom would be a great uniter of different ideas.”

Bollier’s endorsement sparked a social media fury from local Republicans.

In an open Facebook group called Conservative Republicans of Western Johnson County, Kansas GOP Executive Director Jim Joice was already strategizing to oust Bollier if she runs for re-election in 2020.

Commenting numerous times on a thread in the group, Joice said: “The senator has completely exposed herself and we will get her in 2020,” and “we will most certainly not be giving anyone who does this shit financial support.”

Before Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, announced Bollier would lose her leadership role, Joice said in the Facebook group that “Topeka leadership is going to be taking away her roles.”

“This will sink her in 2020,” Joice said.

In one post, Joice told fellow Republicans work was being done to make sure the party took the right approach.

“What we want to make sure we don’t do is invite all of her supporters to also not support the congressman,” Joice said.

He added: “We will invite the senator to leave the party but in the middle of one of the most important election cycles in the state in a while might not be the best time. That’s not to say it might not happen now. It’s to say we need to think about this and move forward strategically.“

Reached by phone later, Joice said he thought the Facebook group was private.

“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s unfortunate.”

In a follow-up text to The Star, Joice said: “personal comments not made as executive director.”

Later, in an email statement, Joice said he had a “fiduciary responsibility to the members and donors” of the Kansas GOP.

“Clearly someone who endorsed two Democrats before our primaries are even over will not be getting our financial support,” Joice said.

Another critic of Bollier’s in the group who posted was Eric Teetsel, former Gov. Sam Brownback’s son-in-law and president of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas.

“(Bollier) should be barred from caucus, too,” he posted.

Bollier is a vocal moderate in the Kansas Senate who made expanding Medicaid a key part of her first two years in the chamber.

Before being elected to the Senate, Bollier served in the House.

“Kevin (Yoder) is a good man, but he has not, in my opinion, represented our district,” Bollier said. “And I am frustrated as a citizen of not being able to have a public town hall meeting where my congressman was present.”

Yoder’s campaign did not comment on the endorsement.

Wagle and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning issued a statement Wednesday afternoon criticizing Bollier’s endorsements of Democats.

“After Senator Bollier’s embarrassing endorsements, I have no choice but to remove her from her leadership position, effective immediately,” Wagle said. “While we respect differing opinions in our caucus, it is unacceptable to betray members of your own party by publicly endorsing leftist Democrats.”

Niermann is one of a host of candidates looking to challenge Yoder in the suburban Kansas City district, which HIllary Clinton won when she ran for president in 2016. Yoder beat his Democratic challenger by roughly 11 points.

Other Democrats in the race include Sharice Davids, Mike McCamon, Jay Sidie, Brent Welder and Sylvia Williams. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and newly minted progressive Democratic sensation Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are set to campaign for Welder on Friday in Kansas City, Kan.

Bollier said she remained undeterred about her support for Niermann.

“Nothing changes in my attitude about trying to do what’s best for my constituents and for me to function as a citizen in this good United States,” Bollier said. “We need people to stand up, speak out and take stands.”

These six districts will help to determine whether the Democrats can engineer a wave election to regain control of the House of Representatives in 2018.

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