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Jean Schodorf, Kansas State Senator, Leaves Republican Party

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A Kansas state senator said she is leaving the GOP partially because of a 2009 dinner meeting attended by Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
A Kansas state senator said she is leaving the GOP partially because of a 2009 dinner meeting attended by Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.

A moderate Republican Kansas state senator said reports of a GOP planning meeting on the night of President Barack Obama's inauguration helped finalize her decision to leave the party this week.

Sen. Jean Schodorf (R-Wichita) said a report on Hardball last week about the meeting -- first reported in Robert Draper's April book, "Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives" -- combined with her recent experiences at the center of Kansas' bitter GOP civil war and concern over the national GOP platform, cemented her decision to leave. Schodorf was defeated in last month's Republican primary -- along with other moderate Republicans -- in a campaign steered by Gov. Sam Brownback (R) and conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity.

"When I heard that while people were suffering from the recession that Republican leaders were plotting to get even with the president, that was it," Schodorf told The Huffington Post.

Draper wrote in his book that over a dozen Republican leaders -- including GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) -- held a dinner meeting on Jan. 20, 2009, to plan how to block Obama's agenda and help defeat the president in 2012.

Schodorf said the reporting on Draper's book during Hardball's coverage of the Republican National Convention hit her as she was coming to terms with her defeat by Wichita Councilman Michael O'Donnell in last month's primary. O'Donnell defeated Schodorf, a three-term senator, 59 percent to 41 percent in the contest, which was considered one of the nastiest in the state. Schodorf was one of 17 moderate Republican state Senate candidates defeated last month, the culmination of a year-and-a-half long war between conservatives who control the Kansas governorship and state House of Representatives and moderates who controlled the Senate.

Schodorf found herself on the defensive this year for her partial support for the Affordable Care Act when she unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2010. During the congressional race, Schodorf said she favored allowing 20-somethings to stay on their parents' health insurance and the pre-existing condition clause, but expressed concern over the impact on the business community.

"They interpeted that as I was the president's best friend," Schodorf said, noting that 37 negative post cards were sent to voters in her race. "There were pictures of me with the president, me with a pig, me with a crown on my head. Why is the Republican Party crucifying other Republicans?"

Schodorf, the state Senate education committee chairwoman, noted that she and other moderates had a long history of working with Democrats within state government. Schodorf blamed Gov. Brownback for the change.

"When Sam Brownback came to Kansas he said he only wanted Republican votes for the budget," she said. "That was so foreign to me, we always worked together."

Much of Brownback's agenda -- including deep education cuts -- has been foiled by the Senate since he took office in 2011. State Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton) last month told HuffPost that the Koch brothers and other conservative groups plan to turn Kansas into an "ultraconservative utopia."

Schodorf said that she has long focused her Senate career on job creation and providing social services for the less fortunate, noting that her district is largely poor and elderly. Schodorf also chairs subcommittees dealing with economic development and hospital funding and a joint committee on arts and culture issues.

"I was working for basic Republican principles, low taxes, low spending, good education and good services for the elderly and disabled," Schodorf said. "As Republicans now we are expected to think the same way and talk the same way and not think for ourselves."

Kansas GOP spokesman Clayton Baker and the primary winner, O'Donnell, did not return messages left for comment.

Schodorf said she is likely to become an Independent for now and is considering becoming a Democrat, along with planning to try to get other moderates to leave the party. She noted her family has been Republican since Abraham Lincoln was the party's nominee in 1860. She is considering seeking office again, and said she does not plan to vote for current Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

"I am not going to say who I will vote for," she said. "I have great concern on what Republicans will do."

UPDATE: O'Donnell, who defeated Schodorf, said that her decision to leave the GOP has left him "shocked."

"At every forum and debate and anything I've heard her speak she's talked about her commitment to the Republican Party," O'Donnell told HuffPost Tuesday afternoon. "Her decision to leave, leaves me dumbfounded."

O'Donnell disagreed with Schodorf's assessment that moderates are not welcome in the Republican Party, nationally or in Kansas. He said he knows Republicans who have socially moderate viewpoints who are also fiscally conservative. He stressed that he does not believe Schodorf reflected that viewpoint.

"Senator Schodorf was not a moderate by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "There is plenty of room in the Republican Party for those who are ideologically moderate. We have very conservative individuals in the party, traditional Republicans and moderate Republicans. Personally I think Senator Schodorf is far left. Her decision to leave substantiates that."

Schodorf told HuffPost earlier on Tuesday that she did not understand the complaints about her fiscal record, saying "I've cut taxes."

O'Donnell, 27, was elected to the Wichita city council in 2011 and works in communications for the Hartman Groups of Companies, which operates oil refineries, restaurants, banks and a sports arena. He holds a degree in church administration from Baptist Bible College and a political science and history degree from Friends University. His father, Mike, is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and has been arrested for anti-abortion protests, and his mother, Peggy, is city council president in the Wichita suburb of Bel Aire. O'Donnell unsuccessfully sought the Bel Aire mayoralty when he was 20.

O'Donnell said he would have liked Schodorf's support in the general election and said he had not expected the negative tone of the campaign, blaming outside interests.

"I am disappointed with the negative nature of the campaign," he said. "However, politics can be aggressive. I think I ran a clean campaign. You can't control what outside groups do."

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