Carolyn Marie Fugit is working on assignment for Rewire to cover the trial of Scott Roeder, and Kansas politics more broadly.
Last week, the Kansas City Star reported that Kansas state Senator Tom Holland is looking at a run for Kansas Governor against United States Senator Sam Brownback. Brownback is known for staunch anti-choice politics, and as governor, much anti-abortion legislation that has died by veto the last 7 years will sail into law. Holland has a strong pro-choice record though is not well-known outside his area of northeast Kansas.
What chance do Kansas women have to hold our ground?
Holland was first elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 2002 where he served until he moved to the Senate after the 2008 election. He is known as great campaigner, excelling at raising money and reaching out to his constituents. He unseated two Republican incumbents. Should he decide to run, he will enter the race at least a year after Brownback.
During the summer of 2009, it was widely rumored Kansas Democratic Party chair Larry Gates would run for governor, but he backed out in November. Tom Wiggans, a Kansan by birth who lived in California for many years, formed an exploratory committee the same month only to decide against running in December. With both these men running, others interested in running held back.
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It remains to be seen if Holland will ultimately run, but he is one of our best options to defeat Brownback.
Kansas essentially has three unofficial political parties: the ultra-conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans, and Democrats. When now-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius won her first gubernatorial election in 2002, the Republican party splintered between the conservatives and moderates with a conservative candidate taking the party nomination. She won with 53% of the vote.
2002 was also the year Kansans elected Republican Phill Kline as Attorney General. The election was close: Kline beat unknown Chris Biggs with only 50.3% of the vote.
When Sebelius ran for re-election in 2006, she chose for her running mate a former chair of the Kansas Republican Party, Mark Parkinson, who had switched parties to run. That same year, another high profile Republican, Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison, switched parties to run against Kline. Both Sebelius and Morrison handily defeated their conservative opponents in landslide victories.
Statewide, Kansans generally vote for moderate Democrats over conservative Republicans.
Holland’s biggest advantage is Brownback’s very conservative politics. However, Brownback has spent the last year shoring up support among moderate Republican politicians, including four-term Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh who originally filed to run against Brownback in the Republican gubernatorial race but backed out in June only to join Brownback’s campaign.
Also working against Holland is that he’s a Democrat. He is also pro-choice. While his record is not 100%, he has supported important pro-choice legislation. With at least three choice-related bills coming up this session in the Kansas Legislature – abstinence-plus sexual education, another attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, and tougher restrictions on late abortions even though the only clinic in the state to provide them closed after Dr. George Tiller was murdered – Holland’s votes will undoubtedly play a role in the next election.
Though one of Kansas’s three abortion clinics is now closed, Kansas conservatives are still on the move to restrict abortion out of existence by making it too difficult for women seek an abortion. Defunding Planned Parenthood – passed in 2009 but vetoed by Governor Parkinson – will dramatically impact access to reproductive health care, including contraception. And while Kansas does not require schools to teach abstinence-only sex ed, there is no policy for a more comprehensive approach.
It looks bleak for Kansas women right now. If Holland does run against Brownback, he starts considerably later. Brownback has been making efforts to unite the conservative and moderate factions of the Kansas Republican Party. But Holland runs a good campaign, has many supporters in his district, and is a moderate. It will be difficult, but there is hope, however slight, that Kansans will continue to stand behind a moderate governor. Kansans should find that hope in Tom Holland.