A group of moderate Kansas Republicans led by a former United States senator plans to wage a war to take back the state GOP, even if it means endorsing a Democrat.
A group of more than 60 moderate Republicans, mostly former state legislators, formed Traditional Republicans for Common Sense in an effort to regain control of the state Republican Party. An ongoing Republican Party civil war in Kansas has pitted conservative Republicans against a moderate faction; conservative Republicans knocked out moderates from the state Senate during the 2012 primary, giving conservatives control of both legislative bodies and the governorship.
"In general, the group is not happy with the direction of the Republican Party in Kansas," former state Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton), who lost his reelection bid last year, told HuffPost. "We feel the party has been hijacked. We are trying to come up with a strategy to get traditional Republicans elected to public office."
Morris and former U.S. Sen. Sheila Frahm (R-Kan.), both leaders of the state's moderate Republican movement, told HuffPost that concern over the state's direction, particularly in the areas of education, transportation spending and rural health care, is driving the group. In 2012, Morris accused Gov. Sam Brownback (R) of trying to create an "ultraconservative utopia" in Kansas.
Frahm, who served four months as an appointed senator in 1996, said that policies pushed by Brownback and conservative Republican state legislators are upsetting Kansans.
"People in Kansas are frustrated, concerned and scared," she said of the conservative policies.
Frahm, a former lieutenant governor, was the first high-profile moderate unseated in the conservative rise. She was defeated in her bid to retain her Senate seat by Brownback in an August 1996 primary, just two months after her appointment. Frahm insists, though, that she is not out for revenge and is just a concerned "citizen of Kansas."
"Absolutely not," Frahm said. "I am not angry. I am not looking back to 1996."
But Morris made it clear that the group wants to defeat Brownback, either with a moderate Republican primary challenger or a Democrat.
"There would be an excellent chance a sizable number of traditional Republicans would back (presumptive Democratic nominee) Paul Davis" if Brownback was the GOP nominee, Morris said. "If there were a successful primary challenger, then we would return back to our party. "
University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis said that with conservatives enjoying access to deep-pocketed supporters, including the Koch brothers, the task of defeating Brownback is easier said than done. He said that moderates need to take a new approach.
"Moderate Republicans have been in denial here for 15 years," Loomis said. "They cannot do it anymore. They have to get a hell of a lot tougher."
Kansas Republican Party executive director Clayton Barker told HuffPost that he respects the members of the group and thanked them for their service, but said they are forgetting that Kansas voters have become more conservative. He noted that moderate Republicans, including former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Mary Jean Eisenhower, the granddaughter of former President Dwight Eisenhower, have endorsed Brownback. Dwight Eisenhower, a native Kansan, is a hero to moderate Kansas Republicans.
Barker predicted conservatives would prevail and that moderate support for Davis would not make a difference. "I don't see how they can have credibility if they endorse a Democrat, especially a fairly liberal one," he said.
State Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco), a conservative, told HuffPost that the conservative movement is not new, pointing to Frahm's 1996 defeat. He said it just took time for the movement to spread to state legislative districts. He also took issue with the "hijacked" argument.
"The 'hijacked' line is what the losers in elections always say when their message is rejected by the voters," Couture-Lovelady said.
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