Wednesday, October 19, 2016

State Politics

If what you've always wanted is my take on Kansas politics, well, this is your lucky day.

Context for those who don't live here: The Republican Party here is split in two: moderates in the traditional businessman mode (whom I'll call Mod Rs), and right-wing conservatives of the tea party variety (whom I will call UltraCons). They have always cohabited uneasily, usually with the Mods in charge, until the election of Sam Brownback in 2010. He took it as his business to purge the legislature of Mod Rs so that he could get the votes for his "experiment", and most of the Mod leadership, especially on the Senate side, was purged in 2012. This year, in the aftermath of the dismal failure of the Brownback experiment, many of the leading UltraCons were defeated in their primaries, leaving the fall campaign in those races as the Mod versus Democrat.

Being primarily an issue advocate and not very active on the electoral side, once the Cons were defeated in the primary I didn't much care what happened in those races. To me the difference between a Mod R and a Dem is pretty nominal. Both are likely to vote in favor of the positions that my allies and I would take. So I turned the limited attention I have to devote to electoral politics to races where the remaining UltraCons were facing Dems, figuring that the rest would take care of itself.

However, what has happened in these cases is that the Dem, who expected to run against a Con, has to differentiate themselves from the Mod that they are in fact facing - a task that, as I say, isn't always easy to do. Therefore, things tend to get a little personal. One of the favored approaches is to criticize the Mod as being "from the party of Trump and Brownback," which is true as far as it goes, but depends on the voter not knowing that the Mod actually opposed and defeated Brownback's candidate.

A lot of this is played out on social media. There was a fundraiser that some of the Mods attended with Congressional Representative Kevin Yoder, some pictures of which went around Facebook and Twitter with comments along the line of "You see! They are Republicans!" As election day gets closer the level of venom gets higher, which to some extent is par for the course, but is also unfortunate, for the following reasons:

First of all, it's only in the fevered imaginations of Democratic partisans that the label "Republican" is, in and of itself, disqualifying. Most Kansans who are registered to a party are Republicans, and I would venture to guess that there are very few districts in which the Democrat could win without at least unaffiliated voters, who are, almost by definition, not going to care that much about party affiliation. Also, as I say, the Mods who remain defeated UltraCons, and anybody who pays the least attention to politics will know that, so the Dem claiming the Mod is a Brownback lackey will mostly serve to make the Dem look manipulative and dishonest.

Then there is the matter of incumbents. Advocates have a category called "friendly incumbents," which means people who have supported our issues in the past. We all have lists of them, and for the most part we support them, against any opponent, no matter what the opponent's position on our issues. When the friendly incumbent is a Mod R, it tends to drive partisan Dems a little crazy, as they say, Why would you support a Republican when a Democrat would be a more reliable vote? Well, there's three reasons, the first two being that that's not always the case (I have issues I work on where some of the Mod Rs have been more reliable supporters than some of the Dems), and second, you always need Mod Rs to win any vote in the legislature.

But the third reason is that you have to understand the context these people have been working in. The leadership of their party made it clear that they weren't welcome. They got terrible committee assignments, and every one of them was working under the expectation that in any cycle they would get primaried by an UltraCon and that every reasonable vote they ever took would end up on a inflammatory postcard. Yet they continued to stand for what they believed in. They're a gotdam profile in courage, if you ask me.

I happen to live in a district where, in both the rep and the Senate race, a Dem is running against a Brownback stooge, so my choices are easy. If I lived in a district where that wasn't the case, I would probably make my decision based on who I thought was more qualified, based on their experience. In some races that would be the Dem, and in some it would be the Mod R. Whether they got their picture taken with Kevin Yoder would be a fairly insignificant data point. (Full disclosure: I have had my picture taken with Kevin Yoder.)

Ultimately, I'm concerned not so much with what happens in November as what happens in January, and throughout the 2017 session. Mod Rs and Dems are going to have to work together in some form or fashion to start to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, and all's-fair-in-politics aside, the more that happens between now and election day that makes that harder to arrange, the less I'm going to like it.

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