Huffpost Politics

Conservatives Turn Against GOP Moderates In Effort To Achieve Policy Goals

Posted: Updated:

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Frustrated by their inability to achieve some policy goals, conservatives in Republican states are turning against moderate members of their own party, trying to drive them out of state legislatures to clear the way for reshaping government across a wide swath of mid-America controlled by the GOP.

Political groups are helping finance the efforts by supporting primary election challenges targeting several dozen moderate Republicans in the Midwest and South, especially prominent lawmakers who run key state committees.

Two years after Republicans swept into power in many state capitols, the challengers say it's time to adopt more conservative policies.

"If you don't believe in that playbook, then why are you on the team?" declared Greg Smith, a Kansas state representative who's running for the state Senate, with the goal of making it more conservative.

The push is most intense in Kansas, where conservatives are attempting to replace a dozen moderate Republican senators who bucked new Gov. Sam Brownback's move to slash state income taxes.

The Club for Growth, a major conservative interest group, is spending about $500,000 in Missouri this year. That's double the amount it invested two years ago. The anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity opened new chapters in Iowa, Minnesota and New Mexico. The conservative business group Texans for Lawsuit Reform spent $3.5 million on legislative candidates in the first half of 2012, more than double its total during the same period two years ago.

The primary strife reflects differences that were somewhat concealed in the party's triumphant victories in 2010, when, aided by public discontent about the economy, the GOP won its broadest control of state government since the Great Depression. After the vote, Republicans held governorships in 29 states and control of most of the legislatures from Michigan to Texas.

Conservatives, some aligned with the tea party movement, hoped to begin realizing their vision of smaller government and of a reformed education system that would give parents more alternatives to traditional public schools. But some of their initiatives were scaled back by GOP colleagues to soften the impact on public schools and other public services.

Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin's plan to begin phasing out the state income tax was blocked entirely, and Brownback and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman had to settle for a fraction of the tax cuts they wanted.

Conservative leaders say they are determined to seize a historic opportunity. Primary elections and runoffs are continuing in key states through August. The results so far have been mixed, with the overall effect this year likely to be incremental.

"It's no secret that there's kind of a battle for what the Republican Party will be into the future and, as a consequence, what this state will look like into the future," said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the largest teachers' union in Kansas.

The conservative push is being felt in states that are already solidly conservative, like Texas and Idaho, along with others, like Missouri, with a tradition of political moderation and divided power.

"Republican legislatures continue to move more and more to the right of center," said Alan Cobb, who's overseeing state-level operations for Americans for Prosperity. "You do have this tension everywhere."

The conflict in Kansas is heading toward a showdown in the Aug. 7 primary. Conservatives want to oust Senate President Steve Morris, Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler and the leaders of most of the important committees in the state Senate, which acted as a check on Brownback's move to make Kansas a laboratory of conservative fiscal and social policy.

"It is all about taking over the state in a conservative vein and eliminating as much as possible anybody who didn't agree with their philosophical ideas," said moderate GOP incumbent Sen. Tim Owens, one of the targets.

His opponent, conservative freshman state Rep. Jim Denning, said Owens has "lost his edge to lead, to negotiate, to stick to just Republican principles."

The governor is taking the unusual step of formally endorsing some challengers because the moderates, in resisting his proposals, "promote a Democrat agenda," he said.

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce raised $163,000 for the effort last year – a significant sum in a less populous state like Kansas – with more than $36,000 coming from Koch Industries Inc., the company led by Charles Koch, a prominent political donor.

So far this year, conservative challengers in Texas have unseated three state House committee chairmen who were accused by tea party adherents of cooperating with Democrats on legislation. A conservative opponent knocked off a moderate state senator in the Colorado primary.

In a key race in Missouri, David Pearce, the chairman of the Senate's Education Committee, faces a Republican primary challenge next month from a conservative opponent who has received $50,000 from a major anti-tax group.

In Kansas, conservatives hope to win enough races to spur the legislature to restrict how labor unions raise campaign money, to remake the state's appellate courts and to enact more conservative social policy. They've been disappointed that the state hasn't moved new public employees into a 401(k)-style pension plan, and there's been no serious consideration of school choice initiatives.

___

Associated Press writers Chris Blank in Jefferson City, Mo.; John Miller in Boise, Idaho; Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, and Kristen Wyatt in Denver contributed to this report.

___

Also on HuffPost:

Tea Party Casualties
of
Share
Tweet
Advertisement
Share this
close
Current Slide

Suggest a correction

Around the Web

Mitt Romney and the go-for-broke election

Conservatives work to cull moderate Republicans

Obama delays radical policies until after election

2012 Senate Primaries: Democrats Advertising In GOP Races

House candidates embrace role as sacrificial lambs

Two groups show money is what talks in election campaigns

Conservative Majority Fund PAC Airs Birther Campaign Ad Hitting All Obama ...

 
  Obama Romney
Obama Romney
332 206
Obama leading
Obama won
Romney leading
Romney won
Popular Vote
33 out of 100 seats are up for election. 51 are needed for a majority.
Democrat leading
Democrat won
Holdover
Republican leading
Republican won
Democrats* Republicans
Current Senate 53 47
Seats gained or lost +2 -2
New Total 55 45
* Includes two independent senators expected to caucus with the Democrats: Angus King (Maine) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
All 435 seats are up for election. 218 are needed for a majority.
Democrat leading
Democrat won
Republican leading
Republican won
Democrats Republicans
Seats won 201 234
Click for Full Results