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Charlottesville Rally And Violence Prompt Heated Words In Kansas Politics

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Stephen Koranda
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KPR/File photo

The Kansas Democratic Party and the Democrat leader in the state Senate, Anthony Hensley, called out top Republican officials Wednesday for not condemning the white nationalist march and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. The events left one person dead and dozens injured. Two officers also died when a state police helicopter monitoring the rally crashed.

Hensley and the party aimed their messages at Gov. Sam Brownback, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

“Racism and bigotry have no place in this state or country,” Hensley said. “It is shocking that leaders of the Republican Party in our state have not denounced the vile behavior of white nationalists.”

The statements from Hensley and the Democratic Party appeared to be part of a coordinated effort, as they were issued in quick succession.

Hensley and Kobach traded especially sharp barbs.

“Kris Kobach, as a featured speaker for a white nationalist group, with connections to other hate groups, as a key architect of voter suppression laws, and a candidate for governor, the people of Kansas deserve to know whether your silence is indicative of your tolerance of such hate,” Hensley said.

Kobach said he hadn’t commented earlier because the issues weren’t directly related to Kansas.

“It goes without saying that white supremacist views and racism are reprehensible. I did not comment on the horrific attack in Charlottesville because I am running for governor of Kansas, not governor of Virginia,” Kobach said. “It is pathetic that a man with such poor logical thinking has been teaching public school kids in Kansas for so many years.”

Kobach said Hensley’s comments were untrue. He called the statement “slander” that has “no place in civil discourse.” He also noted Hensley originally supported the state’s voter ID requirement.

The other officials named by the Democrats also responded.

Brownback is slated to join President Trump’s administration as an ambassador for religious freedom. That’s expected later this year after Senate confirmation.

“Racism, hatred, and violence should have no place in American life," Brownback said. "Our state was born of the idea that all people are created equal, and that all people should be treated with respect and dignity. I, along with the people of Kansas, condemn any sentiment or demonstration against this fundamental truth."

Lt. Gov. Colyer drew on his past work overseas when discussing the issues.

“I have seen the evil extremes of racial and ethnic cleansing first hand in Rwanda and other places around the globe. We must stamp out these harmful ideologies and evil doers before they can take root here at home," he said. "Kansas has been and will continue to be a beacon of light and hope for those who fight for equality and justice for all."

Members of the Kansas delegation in Congress weighed in earlier in the week with statements posted on social media.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.