Lee Kinch says his new post as chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party is not, actually, the loneliest job in politics.
The longtime political activist and Wichita-area lawyer has plenty of help, he says. But he admits he’ll need lots more for what will be a gargantuan task — getting a meaningful number of Democrats elected to office in one of the country’s reddest states.
“I’m not working the kind of hours I worked as a younger lawyer,” said Kinch, 76, after his selection at a party meeting over the weekend in Salina. “And I’ll need the time to do this.”
No Democrats hold statewide office, and their numbers in the state Legislature are tiny, just eight out of 40 senators and 28 out of 120 House members.
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Kinch said the objectives are no mystery: Engage the public, register Democrats to vote, recruit candidates and help them raise campaign funds. And it starts now for the 2016 elections, he said.
A daunting challenge, but political tides do turn, he said.
History shows Democrats can be competitive in Kansas. Kinch would like eventually to replicate the Democratic success of 1990, when the party won a majority in the House with 63 seats and were a large minority in the Senate.
“We appreciate the fact that it is a long-term goal, but we’re optimistic about gaining seats in both the House and Senate next year,” he said. “We believe 2016 will be a good year for Democrats.”
Optimistic, Kinch said, because the task to “engage the public” already has begun.
“People are realizing that (Gov. Sam) Brownback and his allies have done incalculable damage to the state,” said Kinch, noting that Democrats will need to form coalitions with moderate Republicans to alter policies in Topeka. “People are really exercised about what’s going on.”
The public is dismayed with the Republicans’ 2012 income tax cuts, which resulted in more than 300,000 businesses paying no taxes, he said. Plus the ensuing budget crisis, the heated fight over school funding, the Legislature’s battle with Kansas courts and a Republican offensive against the safety net for the disabled and disadvantaged, Kinch said.
Brownback’s assurances that his tax policy would be “a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy” — that it would result in big job gains — have fallen flat, Kinch said.
“Instead, the tax cuts feel like a massive dose of beta blockers to the heart of the economy,” he said.
Kinch, a party vice chairman for several years, was asked by Democratic leaders to take on the job after Larry Meeker of Lake Quivira resigned in August. Party activists complained about Meeker’s idea to rebrand the state party for a more conservative audience.
Kinch told party members in Salina that conservative Republicans in the state should be called out for venturing far afield from the policies of a host of revered Kansas Republicans, including Dwight Eisenhower.
Eisenhower embraced the New Deal, strengthened Social Security, signed legislation to increase the minimum wage and created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Kinch said.
“These people in control in Kansas would never vote for someone like Dwight Eisenhower,” Kinch said. “He was much too liberal for them.”