Kansas state Sen. Barbara Bollier’s sudden decision this week to switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party may be a one-off.
Or, it could be the beginning of a trend.
In the wake of Bollier’s announcement, Sen. Dinah Sykes, another moderate Republican from Johnson County, is contemplating doing the same thing.
“It has crossed my mind,” Sykes said.
Also considering a switch: Rep. Stephanie Clayton of Overland Park. “I am looking at options,” she said Thursday. Also Thursday, Rep. Joy Koesten, a Leawood Republican, said she was switching. Earlier this year, it was Sen. John Doll of Garden City leaving the GOP to be independent Greg Orman’s running mate.
Other Republicans are also considering their futures.
So is this the beginning of a significant political realignment in the state that could lead to the eventual extinction of moderate Republicans? Or is this a mere blip on Kansas’ always evolving political radar screen?
There’s a lot to unpack here.
Democratic newcomer Rui Xu’s victory over moderate state Rep. Melissa Rooker of Fairway shook a lot of Republicans. Clayton contends that conservatives actively worked against Rooker “out of pure spite.” Rooker was left fighting a two-front war against newly resurgent Democrats and her own party.
Moderates are feeling increasingly isolated in a political no-man’s-land. That’s an ugly place for anybody.
“The question I have been asking myself is, what is the path forward for moderates in Kansas?” Sykes said. Right now, Republican leaders don’t want them, and Democratic voters aren’t pulling their levers.
Democratic Party leaders, though, have unfurled the welcome map. President Donald Trump, they point out, will be on the 2020 ballot and will be a focal point, just as he was this year. That alone should keep Democratic hopes high, particularly in suburban areas such as Johnson County.
Republican leaders apparently aren’t worried. Clayton said no one has reached out to her about remaining in the party. With a 30-10 advantage in the Kansas Senate and an 85-40 edge in the House, Republicans still have the overwhelming numbers on their side.
But no party likes to see defectors.
Party switching once was the kiss of death. But more recently, it’s proven to be a winning move around here. Paul Morrison became a Democrat in 2005 and defeated Phill Kline in the race for Kansas attorney general. Chris Koster once was a Republican state senator in Missouri who, as a Democrat, became a two-term attorney general. Mark Parkinson was chair of the Kansas GOP but switched to the Democrats to be Kathleen Sebelius’ running mate in 2006.
David Adkins, a former Republican state senator from Johnson County, lost to Phill Kline in the 2002 GOP race for attorney general. He now says he could have won if he had switched parties the way Koster did a few years later. Shortly before he died a few months ago, Adkins’ father announced to the family that he had become a Democrat.
Too many Trump lies. Too much misguided tax policy from Gov. Sam Brownback.
“I never thought I would say my dad died a Democrat,” Adkins said. “But he affirmed for me that values always trump party.”
These days, a lot of other Kansas Republicans agree.