We’ve nearly arrived at a pivotal moment — the election that will determine whether Kansas continues rightward, returns to its traditional center, or starts down a new path. My Fellow Kansans, a podcast from the Kansas News Service, has been charting how we got here and what’s at stake in Tuesday’s voting.
Nearly 30 years ago, the anti-abortion protests of the 1991 Summer of Mercy in Wichita energized conservatives and paved the way for the rise of Sam Brownback. As a U.S. senator, Brownback embodied the Christian right. But as governor, tax cuts headlined his red state agenda.
In 2018, the Republican nominee for governor, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has declared his anti-abortion convictions, promised to double down on tax cuts and added immigration control to his “full-throttle” conservative mantle.
“He’s like a Trump man. He’s strong, he’s courageous, he will do what he says he’s going to do,” said Kobach supporter Paula Carr.
Kobach calls the Democrat in the race, state Sen. Laura Kelly, a “liberal.” Kelly categorically rejects that label. Yes, she steadfastly supports abortion rights and Medicaid expansion. She voted to end Brownback’s tax cut experiment. But she’s also voted for tax cuts during her time in the statehouse. And she sees herself as a consensus builder like famous Kansas pragmatists of both parties.
Kelly is relying on crossover support, and she’s got that from former Republican Gov. Bill Graves, “I have a pretty good grasp of the type of person she is,” Graves said. “And, knowing what the job entails … she just undoubtedly to me is … the individual we ought to put in that position.”
“When anything is going to happen in this country, it happens first in Kansas.”
Independent Greg Orman often repeats that 1922 quote from William Allen White — the Emporia Gazette editor known in his day as the “Sage of the Heartland.”
Orman, along with another independent on the ballot, Rick Kloos, argues that the current political system is broken. He wants Kansans to reclaim the state’s pioneering reputation by diverting from their allegiance to Republicans and Democrats.
My Fellow Kansans is a production of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR in Kansas City, KMUW in Wichita, Kansas Public Radio in Lawrence, and High Plains Public Radio in Garden City. The podcast is written and reported by Jim McLean, edited by Amy Jeffries, and mixed by Matthew Long-Middleton.