Melinda Henneberger

If Kansas and Missouri voters sent a message in the midterms, what was it?

Kris Kobach: ‘This one just wasn’t God’s will’

Kris Kobach thanks supporters after conceding to Democrat Laura Kelly in the Kansas governor’s race Tuesday.
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Kris Kobach thanks supporters after conceding to Democrat Laura Kelly in the Kansas governor’s race Tuesday.

When voters agree with us, they are Solomonic and sophisticated.

Wow, said a suddenly impressed friend from Illinois after Tuesday’s results came in, “No need to wonder about what’s wrong with Kansas anymore.”

And when they don’t see things our way? As Ann Coulter tweeted on election night, “Kansas, you are dead to me.

All that voters in Kansas, Missouri and beyond told me this week, though, was that we’re not just divided but conflicted and confused.

Kansas voters — the majority of whom are still conservative — said “no way” to Kris Kobach’s full-time nativism and obsession with mostly mythical voter fraud. Been here and done that, they said to the prospect of a new round of Sam Brownback-style tax cuts.

Yet those same Kansans chose as Kobach’s successor as secretary of state someone who said he’d continue Kobach’s legacy, only without all the drama.

Yes, they opted for Democrat Laura Kelly’s get-’er-done competence over Kobach’s record of bad lawyering, clownish stunts and simple failure to take care of business.

But they also rejected Brian “BAM” McClendon, a former Google Earth and Uber executive who was absurdly overqualified for the job he wanted. He ran unsuccessfully against Republican Scott Schwab for secretary of state, promising to make it easier for qualified Kansans to vote and access information. No sale, said Kansas, and that’s our loss.

It made national news that the state had supposedly repudiated Trump in electing an Obama-endorsed lesbian Native American lawyer, Sharice Davids, over Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder in the suburban and urban 3rd Congressional District.

But different Kansans hugged the president just as hard by electing Steve Watkins over former Kansas House minority leader Paul Davis in the 2nd District. They chose Watkins, who was bankrolled by his father, despite knowing that he had energetically exaggerated both his business and leisure experience and dreamed up some “heroic leadership.”

When they want to, voters have no trouble sussing out candidates who are unfit to serve. In ever-redder Missouri, they still picked CPA Nicole Galloway by six points in the race for state auditor over the much-sued Saundra McDowell, whose failure to pay her own bills sensibly mattered more than the ‘R’ after her name.

Yet by the same six points, Missourians declined to penalize Josh Hawley for not caring to do his job as Missouri attorney general. Instead, they’re sending him to the U.S. Senate.

Down ballot, the signals were just as mixed. Even with Galloway the sole Democratic survivor in statewide office in Missouri, voters also passed a bunch of the same progressive measures that Hawley had opposed, including a minimum wage increase and good-government “Clean Missouri” ethics reforms.

Nationally, the trend line is just as hard to plot. In some ways, we’re getting more enlightened, electing not just Davids and the first openly gay members of the Kansas House, but also the country’s first openly gay governor, Colorado’s Jared Polis, and our first two Muslim congresswomen, from Michigan and Minnesota.

Yet racism still played a prominent role in a slew of races. A robocall against African-American Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams featured an Oprah Winfrey imitator saying Abrams is “someone white women can be tricked into voting for, especially the fat ones.” One against Andrew Gillum, the African-American mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, said, “Well hello there. I is the negro Andrew Gillum, and I’ll be askin’ you to make me governor of this here state of Florida. My state opponent, who done call me monkey, is doin’ a lot of hollerin’ about how ‘spensive my plans for health care be.”

We’re so tribal that both some Republicans and Democrats would apparently rather elect a felon than a member of the other party: How else to explain Rep. Chris Collins, the New York Republican who won re-election despite being charged with felony insider trading? Or Rep. Duncan Hunter, the re-elected California Republican indicted on corruption charges? Or Sen. Bob Menendez, the re-elected New Jersey Democrat who survived a public corruption trial? If we expected better, we’d get it.

And “Year of the Woman,” please. Glad as I am that we’re upping our representation in Congress, I didn’t see a lot of signs that this was a post-#MeToo election. Democrat Keith Ellison was still elected attorney general in Minnesota, despite allegations he’d physically abused a former girlfriend.

The fact that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was accused by a woman who even the president initially called credible ultimately only made a martyr of him — and according to Republicans including Sen. Roy Blunt, it was his public suffering that energized GOP voters and made a winner of Hawley. Take that, victims.

It would be nice if all of the arrows pointed in the same direction, but elections, like the rest of life, are hardly ever like that, even if we’d rather pretend otherwise.

Melinda Henneberger

Melinda Henneberger is a columnist and member of The Star's editorial board.