Steve Morris, Outgoing Kansas Senate President, Says Republicans Need To Embrace Moderates

12/08/2012 10:42 am ET

WASHINGTON -- The leader of Kansas' moderate Republican faction says that the GOP nationally needs to be more open to moderates, along with embracing Hispanic and women's issues in order to stay relevant.

Kansas Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton), who was ousted by a conservative Republican in a bitter August primary, told The Huffington Post that the Republican Party needs to change both in his state and nationally, and move away from the conservative end in order to win elections. Morris' defeat was the culmination of a bitter yearlong civil war between moderate and conservative Republicans in Kansas that saw the defeat of most moderate Republican state legislators.

"The Republican Party has to change," Morris said. "You have to include people with more than one voice. I just think they should be more tolerant of people who have other views on issues within the Republican Party."

Morris, in town for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said that in addition to embracing moderates, the GOP needs to start addressing issues of importance to women and Hispanics, including immigration and abortion rights. While Morris said he had a 100 percent anti-abortion voting record as a state legislator, he believes a conservative anti-abortion stance is costly to the GOP.

Morris tied GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's defeat to the rise of conservative dominance in the GOP.

"Look at the presidential election and to me that is a culmination of where the Republican Party is now," Morris said. "The Republican Party needs to look at Hispanic issues and issues affecting women. They need to be more tolerant of people their party who don't agree with the hard right."

Morris, the immediate past president of NCSL, pointed to his own state's Republican Party war as an example. The Kansas battle pitted the moderate Republican-controlled Senate against the state's conservative Republicans, including Gov. Sam Brownback (R), Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) and the state House of Representatives. The war included fierce battles over issues like education funding, tax cuts, abortion, judicial selection, strip club bans and redistricting.

The state's competitive Republican primaries, including Morris', saw conservative candidates aided by the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, who sent mailers out linking moderates to tax hikes and President Barack Obama. In August, Morris said the Kochs want to turn Kansas into an "ultraconservative utopia."

Morris said what happened in Kansas is indicative of the national GOP.

"In our state, Republicans vote together 98-percent of the time," he said. "If you are not with them a 100-percent of the time, you're gone."

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