Harry Houdini, the world-renowned escape artist and master illusionist from a century ago would be proud of Josh Svaty, Democratic candidate for Kansas governor. What Svaty has apparently accomplished is as impressive as anything Houdini pulled off, when the magician somehow wiggled out of locked chains and handcuffs and straitjackets in front of live audiences. Houdini, an illusionist, could also make elephants vanish from the stage while audiences looked on in bewilderment.
Svaty, 38, a former rural legislator for seven years from 2003-2010 who then was appointed Kansas Secretary of Agriculture, voted as a state representative to restrict abortions. As a Democratic candidate who leans pro-life, he is opposed by two other major Democratic candidates, both of whom are staunchly pro-choice.
Svaty has already demonstrated tremendous escape skills and even some illusionary talents by squirming out of an awkward position with many in his party. Given up for dead by Planned Parenthood and other influential Democratic-leaning organizations, Svaty has managed to create at least the appearance that he is not as pro-life as some may have believed.
He accomplished that by declaring that as governor, he would veto any new restrictions on a woman’s reproductive rights. Then Svaty really pulled off a shocker by naming as his running mate Katrina Lewison, a 40-year-old fervent supporter of abortion rights. Although a lieutenant governor usually has little say about major policy, the symbolic gesture of selecting Lewison seemed to put Svaty squarely down the middle, where he has said most Kansans are.
If those moves were not impressive enough, consider that after he selected Lewison, Svaty declared the two were adamantly in favor of “expanding women’s access to health care.” That likely was code for confirming that he would not mess around with support for Planned Parenthood, which provides women’s health care primarily for the poor, in addition to performing abortions.
I called the media representative for Svaty, whom I happen to have known for more than 20 years. I asked him point-blank whether he would confirm Svaty is pro-life. The response I got was that only Svaty himself would address that question and suggested Svaty and I get together soon to discuss that issue. That was more than a month ago, and I have heard nothing yet. Actually, that question was a softball inquiry, one which a spokesman should have had no problem answering. Svaty has said publicly he “voted his district” in the Legislature, and that his rural district was overwhelmingly pro-life.
Svaty must convince Democrats that if he is the nominee, he has a better chance of beating the Republican nominee, who undoubtedly will also be pro-life. He would hope to neutralize the hot-button abortion issue.
Svaty would have us believe that pro-choice candidates cannot win statewide, despite the reality that two recent former governors, Bill Graves and Kathleen Sebelius, were pro-choice and won.
Svaty, known as an outstanding orator, will be on a debate stage in Johnson County next month facing his Democratic opponents, state Sen. Laura Kelly and former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.
That a pro-life Houdini is still very much in this Democratic race is quite a feat unto itself.