Analysis Politics

The Koch Brothers and Kansans for Life: The Alliance That Killed the Kansas Moderate

Kari Ann Rinker

The energy behind a fundamentalist g-force in Kansas politics is being supplied by the Koch brothers, the Chamber of Commerce and, of course, the ever present influence and drive of the anti-choice groups within the state.

Kansas has long been known as a place where extreme anti-choice legislation, fierce anti-woman rhetoric, and overall insanity is produced by the bucketful and, believe it or not, that extremism is about to be taken to an unprecedented level.

In fact, the residents of Kansas should prepare to feel the g-force of the radical right’s strategized rush to bring to fruition their goal of becoming the most socially and fiscally regressive state in the nation. The energy behind this fundamentalist g-force is being supplied by the Koch brothers, the Chamber of Commerce and, of course, the ever present influence and drive of the anti-choice groups within the state.

The political decimation of the moderate Republican in Kansas has been getting a lot of national press. The showdown has been seen as inevitable since the election of Kansas’ first radically conservative Governor.  So how did the state of Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy Kassebaum turn into the state of Brownbackistan? It is hard to fathom, especially in light of Governor Brownback’s dismal polling.  The following is from Kansas political scientist Dr. H Edward Flentje.

Surveys show Brownback’s approval ratings to be low, most recently in the mid-30s among all registered voters with disapproval near 50 percent. His approval among independent voters is even less favorable. Independent voters, who number 500,000 in the state, have the potential to swing this referendum against Brownback and his allies.

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Voter turnout was 23 percent in this primary election. It appears that the independents stayed home or cast their votes in favor of the conservative candidates, but more significantly, the anti-choice and tea-publican factions of the party turned out in droves.  They nearly trampled over each other in their haste to cast their votes. The Christian right arrived at their polling places with their pro-life voting guides clutched in hand and the tea-publicans with their Chamber endorsement guide in their brief case. It was as if Mike Huckabee rang the Chick-Fil-A dinner bell.

It is worth noting that not every candidate targeted by the Koch/”Pro-Life” alliance has a pro-choice voting record. There were legislators that were included in hit list that had a 100 percent anti-choice voting record, such as Senate President Steve Morris. Like virtually all of the targeted Republicans, President Morris was defeated in the August 7th primary. Kansans for Life explains away the apparent disconnect in the following statement:

Senate President Morris came into his leadership position with a pro-life record, but then betrayed it by rigging Senate committees with pro-abortion majorities and working behind the scenes to hurt pro-life bills! But due to the pro-life routing of ‘moderates,’ there is a real possibility that after the November elections, as many as 32 out of 40 Kansas Senate seats could be filled by trusted pro-lifers!

Kansans for Life calls the primary election results a “pro-life power surge” and provides the following figures, “Kansans for Life’s endorsed candidates won handily: In the House, 74% (31 of 42 races) and in the Senate, 77% (24 of 31 races).”

It is apparent that both the Koch-funded Chamber and Kansans for Life are falling in line and stand in pursuit of the Governor’s demands for Republican state electeds that consist solely of an unwavering allegiance to his theocratic agenda. It is not merely enough to vote “pro-life” in order to garner “pro-life” favor, a legislator is required to check every free thinking brain cell at the door and march to the tune of Sammy’s big bass drum. It does cause a person to ponder whether the “pro-life” movement has successfully taken control of the Republican Party or vice-versa, with the tea-republicans having possibly taken control of the “pro-life” movement. Brownback’s former Chief of Staff resigned in order to assist the Kansans for Life PAC in this election cycle.      

The influence of Kansas’ anti-choice machine has been a formidable factor in at various levels of elected office. It plays into judicial elections, county DA elections and even Board of Health appointments. The concerted effort began with the Summer of Mercy anti-choice protests in Wichita. From the Wichita Eagle:

In some ways, the change was direct. Two future Kansas congressmen came out of those protests. One, Tim Huelskamp, got arrested and then later elected to the Kansas Senate, and in 2010 he took over now-Sen. Jerry Moran’s 1st Congressional District seat. The other, Todd Tiahrt, didn’t get arrested but hung around,

gathering signatures and supporters. Several other protesters ended up in the Legislature. There were dozens and dozens more, however, who ended up on local boards or as election commissioners, or playing bigger roles in their local GOP.

Those protests also drew a pro-choice call-to-action from then National Organization for Women president elect, Patricia Ireland. The following is an account of a 1991 pro-choice rally held to counter the Summer of Mercy protestors.   

A crowd of 6,000 had attended an abortion-rights rally in downtown Wichita on Saturday. Patricia Ireland, president-elect of the National Organization for Women, Saturday told her supporters to make Wichita a springboard for political action against those who would roll back abortion rights.

So why was the anti-choice call to action so successful and the pro-choice call to action ever stagnant? Could it be attributed to the politics of gender? After all, the people most likely to be motivated to run for office fueled by the issue of abortion rights are women, and women continue to be underrepresented within all levels of government.  This is true in the Kansas legislature.  From the Topeka Capital Journal:

The Kansas Legislature topped out at 55 women in 1999 and is now down to 45 (12 in the Senate and 33 in the House).  Other states have since passed Kansas, and the state’s 27.3 percent female representation now ranks 15th in the nation.

Another gender-influenced factor might be a hesitance by women to “play dirty” in politics.Senator Jean Schodorf a Republican, moderate, pro-choice candidate targeted by the alliance, asked her anti-choice male opponent to sign a clean campaign pledge. He refused.  He then proceeded to send out sexist mailers that distorted her image and depicted her as a queen. Senator Schodorf lost her seat in the August 7th primary.  When Rewire asked the Senator to comment on gender-based obstacles that she has faced during campaigning and in her career in the Senate this is what she had to say:

“Campaigning has become so negative.  I found that my opponent was continually demeaning and disrespectful to me.  They used rudeness as a campaign tactic.  It is hard for a woman to be elected to major leadership roles because the guys don’t realize that there should be women in those roles too, such as Majority leader, president or vice president.  Usually, women senators are referred to as girls.  “Hi girls” is common, or “how are you girls today?”

Another moderate, Republican, pro-choice senator, Vickie Schmidt, chose a different tack and sent out a deceptive mailer against her conservative Republican opponent, Representative Joe Patton. Representative Patton was the co-founder of Kansans for Life and was a leader in pushing the 2012 mega-abortion bill that would have caused KU Med School’s loss of accreditation for its ob/gyn program. Kansans for Life campaigned heavily for their champion. They even stood in front of Topeka churches on Sunday mornings, yelling and intimidating local churchgoers into “voting pro-life.” Senator Schmidt and her mailer defeated Rep. Patton making her just two of the moderates to survive Kansas’ primary election, perhaps proving that women need to learn to fight fire with fire in today’s mean-spirited political world. 

HB 2598 not only served as Representative Patton’s swan song in the Kansas legislature, it also spurred Liz Dickinson, a Democratic candidate for Kansas’ House District 30, to run for office for the first time. Liz is the epitome of what Kansas needs many more of…  a motivated, pro-choice candidate who is taking her passion for equality and trying to change the face of Kansas politics. Liz is 28 years old, a wife and a mother of two. Here Liz explains her motivation for running against incumbent anti-choice radical and author of HB 2598, Representative Lance Kinzer:

I was writing legislators and making calls and not hearing anything back.  Women are not being represented in our state.  I need to stand up for them.  I need to stand up for this large segment of the population that is being mistreated and ignored.  When I found out that Representative Kinzer was running unopposed, I felt that it was imperative that I do something.  I may not be the well-groomed candidate or career politician that people are used to, but I have a right to stand up and help insure that these women’s voices are heard.  We will no longer be ignored.  As a sister and a mother, and someone who values family, I hold them dear.  HB 2598 undermines family values by withholding information from women and their families. 

Liz is what Kansas needs right now in order to salvage its last remaining bits of political integrity. Unfortunately, there are not enough brave souls with this woman’s gumption to challenge the broken system. It is a system bought by big money, wrapped up in a pro-life bow and delivered to Kansas citizens by Governor Sam Brownback. 

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open the Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

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Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

Commentary Economic Justice

The Gender Wage Gap Is Not Women’s Fault, and Here’s the Report That Proves It

Kathleen Geier

The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work.

A new report confirms what millions of women already know: that women’s choices are not to blame for the gender wage gap. Instead, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the progressive think tank that issued the report, say that women’s unequal pay is driven by “discrimination, social norms, and other factors beyond women’s control.”

This finding—that the gender pay gap is caused by structural factors rather than women’s occupational choices—is surprisingly controversial. Indeed, in my years as a journalist covering women’s economic issues, the subject that has been most frustrating for me to write about has been the gender gap. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked as a consultant for EPI, though not on this particular report.) No other economic topic I’ve covered has been more widely misunderstood, or has been so outrageously distorted by misrepresentations, half-truths, and lies.

That’s because, for decades, conservatives have energetically promoted the myth that the gender pay gap does not exist. They’ve done such a bang-up job of it that denying the reality of the gap, like denying the reality of global warming, has become an article of faith on the right. Conservative think tanks like the Independent Women’s Forum and the American Enterprise Institute and right-wing writers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller have denounced the gender pay gap as “a lie,” “not the real story,” “a fairy tale,” “a statistical delusion,” and “the myth that won’t die.” Sadly, it is not only right-wing propagandists who are gender wage gap denialists. Far more moderate types like Slate’s Hanna Rosin and the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson have also claimed that the gender wage gap statistic is misleading and exaggerates disparities in earnings.

According to the most recent figures available from the Census Bureau, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 79 cents, a statistic that has barely budged in a decade. And that’s just the gap for women overall; for most women of color, it’s considerably larger. Black women earn only 61 percent of what non-Hispanic white men make, and Latinas earn only 55 percent as much. In a recent survey, U.S. women identified the pay gap as their biggest workplace concern. Yet gender wage gap denialists of a variety of political stripes contend that gender gap statistic—which measures the difference in median annual earnings between men and women who work full-time, year-round—is inaccurate because it does not compare the pay of men and women doing the same work. They argue that when researchers control for traits like experience, type of work, education, and the like, the gender gap evaporates like breath on a window. In short, the denialists frame the gender pay gap as the product not of sexist discrimination, but of women’s freely made choices.

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The EPI study’s co-author, economist Elise Gould, said in an interview with Rewire that she and her colleagues realized the need for the new report when an earlier paper generated controversy on social media. That study had uncovered an “unadjusted”—meaning that it did not control for differences in workplace and personal characteristics—$4 an hour gender wage gap among recent college graduates. Gould said she found this pay disparity “astounding”: “You’re looking at two groups of people, men and women, with virtually the same amount of experience, and yet their wages are so different.” But critics on Twitter, she said, claimed that the wage gap simply reflected the fact that women were choosing lower-paid jobs. “So we wanted to take out this one idea of occupational choice and look at that,” Gould said.

Gould and her co-author Jessica Schieder highlight two important findings in their EPI report. One is that, even within occupations, and even after controlling for observable factors such as education and work experience, the gender wage gap remains stubbornly persistent. As Gould told me, “If you take a man and a woman sitting side by side in a cubicle, doing the same exact job with the same amount of experience and the same amount of education, on average, the man is still going to be paid more than the woman.”

The EPI report cites the work of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who looked at the relative weight in the overall wage gap of gender-based pay differences within occupations versus those between occupations. She found that while gender pay disparities between different occupations explain 32 percent of the gap, pay differences within the same occupation account for far more—68 percent, or more than twice as much. In other words, even if we saw equal numbers of men and women in every profession, two-thirds of the gender wage gap would still remain.

And yes, female-dominated professions pay less, but the reasons why are difficult to untangle. It’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, the EPI report explains, raising the question: Are women disproportionately nudged into low-status, low-wage occupations, or do these occupations pay low wages simply because it is women who are doing the work?

Historically, “women’s work” has always paid poorly. As scholars such as Paula England have shown, occupations that involve care work, for example, are associated with a wage penalty, even after controlling for other factors. But it’s not only care work that is systematically devalued. So, too, is work in other fields where women workers are a majority—even professions that were not initially dominated by women. The EPI study notes that when more women became park rangers, for example, overall pay in that occupation declined. Conversely, as computer programming became increasingly male-dominated, wages in that sector began to soar.

The second major point that Gould and Schieder emphasize is that a woman’s occupational choice does not occur in a vacuum. It is powerfully shaped by forces like discrimination and social norms. “By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, parental expectations, hiring practices, and widespread norms and expectations about work/family balance,” Gould told Rewire. One study cited by Gould and Schieder found that in states where traditional attitudes about gender are more prevalent, girls tend to score higher in reading and lower in math, relative to boys. It’s one of many findings demonstrating that cultural attitudes wield a potent influence on women’s achievement. (Unfortunately, the EPI study does not address racism, xenophobia, or other types of bias that, like sexism, shape individuals’ work choices.)

Parental expectations also play a key role in shaping women’s occupational choices. Research reflected in the EPI study shows that parents are more likely to expect their sons to enter male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and math (often called STEM) fields, as opposed to their daughters. This expectation holds even when their daughters score just as well in math.

Another factor is the culture in male-dominated industries, which can be a huge turn-off to women, especially women of color. In one study of women working in science and technology, Latinas and Black women reported that they were often mistaken for janitors—something that none of the white women in the study had experienced. Another found that 52 percent of highly qualified women working in science and technology ended up leaving those fields, driven out by “hostile work environments and extreme job pressures.”

Among those pressures are excessively long hours, which make it difficult to balance careers with unpaid care work, for which women are disproportionately responsible. Goldin’s research, Gould said, shows that “in jobs that have more temporal flexibility instead of inflexibility and long hours, you do see a smaller gender wage gap.” Women pharmacists, for example, enjoy relatively high pay and a narrow wage gap, which Goldin has linked to flexible work schedules and a professional culture that enables work/life balance. By contrast, the gender pay gap is widest in highest-paying fields such as finance, which disproportionately reward those able to work brutally long hours and be on call 24/7.

Fortunately, remedies for the gender wage gap are at hand. Gould said that strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, greater wage transparency (which can be achieved through unions and collective bargaining), and more flexible workplace policies would all help to alleviate gender-based pay inequities. Additional solutions include raising the minimum wage, which would significantly boost the pay of the millions of women disproportionately concentrated in the low-wage sector, and enacting paid family leave, a policy that would be a boon for women struggling to combine work and family. All of these issues are looming increasingly large in our national politics.

But in order to advance these policies, it’s vital to debunk the right’s shameless, decades-long disinformation campaign about the gender gap. The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work. The right alleges that the official gender pay gap figure exaggerates the role of discrimination. But even statistics that adjust for occupation and other factors can, in the words of the EPI study, “radically understate the potential for gender discrimination to suppress women’s earnings.”

Contrary to conservatives’ claims, women did not choose to be paid consistently less than men for work that is every bit as valuable to society. But with the right set of policies, we can reverse the tide and bring about some measure of economic justice to the hard-working women of the United States.