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. 

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”

News Politics

Ohio Legislator: ‘Aggressive Attacks’ May Block Voters From the Polls

Ally Boguhn

Efforts to remove voters from state rolls and curb access to the polls could have an outsized impact in Ohio, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership.

Ohio Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) said she is worried about the impact of what she called “aggressive attacks” on voting rights in her state.

Ohio voters who have not engaged in voter activity in a fixed period of time, generally two years, are considered by the state to have moved, which then begins the process of removing them from their rolls through something called the “Supplemental Process.” If a voter fails to respond to a postcard mailed to them to confirm their address, they become “inactive voters.” If an inactive voter does not engage in voter activity for four years, they’re automatically unregistered to vote and must re-register to cast a ballot. 

Though other states routinely clean voting rolls, most don’t use failure to vote as a reason to remove someone.

“We have two million voters purged from the rolls in the last five years, many in the last four years since the last presidential election,” Clyde said during an interview with Rewire

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) dismissed concerns of the voter purges’ impact during an interview with Reuters. “If this is really important thing to you in your life, voting, you probably would have done so within a six-year period,” he said.

Ohio’s removal of voters through this process “is particularly problematic in the lead-up to the November 2016 federal election because voters who voted in the high-turnout 2008 federal election (but who did not vote in any subsequent elections) were removed from voter rolls in 2015,” according to an amicus curiae brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights division in support of those who filed suit against Ohio’s law. 

The DOJ has urged the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court’s ruling in favor of the state, writing that Ohio’s voter purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Since 2012, at least 144,000 voters have been removed from Ohio’s voter rolls in its three biggest counties, Reuters reported. The secretary of state’s office said 2 million registered voters had been taken off the rolls in the past five years, though many had been removed because they were deceased.

Husted contends that he is just enforcing the law. “Ohio manages its voter rolls in direct compliance of both federal and state laws, and is consistent with an agreement in this same federal court just four years ago,” Husted said in an April statement after the ACLU of Ohio and Demos, a voting rights organization, filed a lawsuit in the matter.

In predominantly Black neighborhoods near downtown Cincinnati, “more than 10 percent of registered voters have been removed due to inactivity since 2012,” reported Reuters. The outlet found that several places where more voters had cast ballots for President Obama in 2012 were the same locations experiencing higher percentages of purged voters.

“Some of the data is showing that African Americans voters and Democratic voters were much more likely affected,” Clyde said when discussing the state’s purge of registered voters. 

Clyde has requested data on those purged from the rolls, but has been turned down twice. “They’ve said no in two different ways and are referring me to the boards of elections, but there are 88 boards of election,” she told RewireWith limited staff resources to devote to data collection, Clyde is still searching for a way to get answers.

In the meantime, many otherwise eligible voters may have their votes thrown away and never know it.

“[P]eople that had been purged often don’t know that they’ve been purged, so they may show up to vote and find their name isn’t on the roll,” Clyde said. “Then, typically that voter is given a provisional ballot and … told that the board of elections will figure out the problem with their voter registration. And then they don’t really receive notice that that provisional ballot doesn’t eventually count.” 

Though the state’s voter purges could continue to disenfranchise voters across the state, it is hardly the only effort that may impact voting rights there.

“There have been a number of efforts undertaken by the GOP in Ohio to make voting more difficult,” Clyde said. “That includes fighting to shorten the number of early voting days available, that includes fighting to throw out people’s votes that have been cast—whether it be a provisional ballot or absentee ballot—and that includes purging more voters than any other state.” 

This could make a big difference for voters in the state, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership—including failed Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich.

“So aside from the terrible effect that has on the fundamental right to vote in Ohio, progressives who maybe are infrequent voters or are seeing what’s happening around [reproductive rights and health] issues and want to express that through their vote may experience problems in Ohio because of these aggressive attacks on voting rights,” Clyde said. 

“From our presidential candidates on down to our candidates for the state legislature, there is a lot at stake when it comes to reproductive health care and reproductive rights in this election,” Clyde added. “So I think that, if that is an issue that is important to any Ohioan, they need to have their voice heard in this election.” 


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