Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Running on Principle vs. Running to Run

The general election is just a little over two months away and as area campaigns take shape, strategies are developing as to the best pathway to victory. As the election season heats up, we at Kaw & Border will be observing what strategies conservative candidates and their hired consultants employ -- and in the end, which of these strategies are most successful.

This is particularly important because conservative candidates have long been uncertain of whether to run on a conservative platform when the mainstream media tells us that conservativsm is unpopular. This conventional wisdom leads to a mix of stealth candidacies or "show" campaigns where candidates run on more innocuous themes like biography or experience instead of the issues that the voters claim to -- and do -- care about.

It is our opinion that too often well-intentioned conservative candidates get caught up in this so-called "wisdom", often echoed by their consultants, and find themselves in a mindset of "running to run", rather than running on a real agenda that will motivate supports and inspire the electorate to vote for you. When too many candidates run to run, you end up with a political system that frustrates the electorate -- one where the next election is always paramount over standing up for what is right, and when standing up for what is right is perceived as politically risky or, as we have heard some legislators put it, "not in line with what my district wants."

Other candidates, however, employ a different strategy -- one based on the idea that issues win elections and that the purpose of campaigns is to sell those issues to the voters. These issues, of course, must be defined, marketed, and re-marketed, because of the dedication of the liberal mainstream media to misrepresent conservative principles -- but in the end, in most cases, running effectively on issues will win the day and be more successful in the long run. This has proven itself in elections over the past decade, demonstrated by the victories of known conservatives like Mary Pilcher Cook, Lance Kinzer, Kay O'Connor, and others -- all of whom are known as conservatives and some of whom have won very competitive races where the opposition was quite aggressive.

One particular area where this divergence in campaign philosophy plays out is in campaign literature. Conventional wisdom dictates that these pieces be thin on issues with basic, nondescript phrases like "efficient government" and "quality education" and a "vibrant economy". The alternative view argues for delving more in depth and proclaiming specific issue positions, even on perceived controversial topics such as abortion and gun control. It is our view that the latter strategy is, while possibly more difficult to employ, is more beneficial in the long run.

First, as mentioned before, it helps motivate core supporters. The fact is that most people get involved in the political process because they were motivated by an issue, a candidate, or both. There are extremely few who just get involved for the political game. This is particularly true with conservative voters and activists. While one's biography may play a role in inspiring devotion and support, that support is likely to be deeper when coupled with a set of issues which the person believes in.

Secondly, when campaigning on an agenda, one becomes less susceptible to political winds. When one runs on general themes, they are more likely to be swept up in political transitions. On the flip side, when one runs on specific core principles and their respective electorates are aware of them, they are less likely to be swept up because voters will separate that person from the party as a whole. This is most evident in the mere fact that most legislative districts, both at the state level and nationally, are safe -- because they are drawn to encompass conservative voters or liberal voters. This results in candidates who thus are less afraid to run on issues and thus , their voters are generally happy with them. It is in swing districts where you often see candidates trying to run on biography or general "nice" themes, trying to capture perceived moderates or certain niches of voters, and thus there is no stability in their electoral fortunes for the future.

Third, conservativism is not just a poltical movement, it is a philosophy. As such, it should be the goal of conservative candidates to "work for the cause" and when one campaigns on conservative principles, they are advancing that cause. When a candidate runs on "issue-empty" themes or biography only, they are more just advancing themselves. Of course, the desire to win in politics is heavy and of course ,that's the goal of elections. However, the view that being thin on issues is the way towards winning is short sighted and does not see how advancing the cause, when done so effectively, actually aids in victories in individual elections.

Finally, it is simply more honest. A quality political system depends upon the voters having an accurate portrayal of what a candidate believes and doesn't believe. As a result, such a system demands more candidates which will proudly run on these beliefs. That doesn't mean a conservative candidate must tell the voters how you'll vote on every single issue -- what it does mean is that candidate will share their principles so the voters have an accurate guide on how they will vote if elected. The good news is that conservatism is a set of core beliefs, giving conservative candidates an advantage when debating their more issue-devoid opponents.

So, in the end, conservative candidates must answer the following question -- are you running to be something OR are you running to do something? Those fitting the former are a dime a dozen while those fitting the latter are the ones who are truly remembered -- and in the end, most successful on winning on election day.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Media Misreading Kansas Primary Results

If you are a casual follower of Kansas politics, and read this article in the Topeka Capital Journal or read this editorial at Real Clear Politics, you would think that moderates are making massive gains in Kansas, and that conservatives are in full scale retreat.

To borrow the trademark line from ESPN College Football Analyst Lee Corso, "not so fast my friend".

The Capital Journal article, written by James Carlson, basically stated that moderates "appeared likely to retain leadership in the Kansas Senate" after the August 5 primary elections. In the article, Loran Smith, a political science professor at Washburn said "Social conservatives have to be licking their wounds." He also said, according to the article, that conservative victories, "were a wash."


Now, I don't know Mr. Smith, but it seems to me that the kind professor, as well as Mr. Carlson, need to do some more analysis of the primary election results as well as take a look at the upcoming general election. Because, if they did, they'd realize that moderates are actually hanging onto leadership by a thread, due to the fact that there are strong conservative challengers to five incumbent Democrats, with a sixth being challenged by a candidate who although was not endorsed by the Kansas Republican Assembly, did earn the endorsement of Kansans For Life.

Simply, the Capital Journal article focuses too much on the conservative challengers failing to unseat moderate incumbents, and less on the competitive general election races ahead. While none of the conservative challengers to moderate incumbents won, that conservatives did win almost every open seat or where there was a primary against a vulnerable Democrat. In fact, in races where the conservative had any money or name ID -- District 10 with Mary Pilcher Cook, District 37 with Jeff Colyer, District 16 with Ty Masterson, or District 32 with Steve Abrams, and District 18 with James Zeller, the conservative won -- and won handily. The article ignores the fact that conservatives who lost were expected to -- because they were severaly under-funded compared to their incumbent moderates, who could also campaign on their experience chairmanships. Still, despite this, Pete Brungardt nearly lost to Tom Arpke, and Ruth Teichman had quite a fight with Andrew Evans.

So, Mr. Smith, how exactly are conservatives licking their wounds? That is ridiculous on its face. Conservatives put some of their most prominent and strongest voices from the House -- Pilcher Cook, Colyer, and Masterson (plus Kelsey, who is running in Sen. Phil Journey's seat)-- in positions where they are heavily favored to win their seats.

Let's examine the leadership situation more carefully:

The article correctly points out that Steve Morris won the President's seat by a vote of 17-13 (Republicans hold 30 of the 40 seats, currently). It also correctly points out that out of the liberal Republican incumbents challenged by conservatives in primaries, they all held on.

However, the article ignores several key points:

1. Conservative victories in November. Strong conservative candidates are challenging incumbent Democrats or Democratic-held seats in four locations: District 5 (Fitzgerald vs. Kultala), District 18 (Zeller vs. Kelly), District 32 (Abrams vs. Goodwin) and District 19 (Weber vs. Hensley). In addition, in District 13, KFL-endorsed Bob Marshall is running against Patty Horgan. This was Jim Barone's old seat. Marshall defeated Jacob La Turner, who was also endorsed by KFL but the preferred candidate by the KRA, in the primary. In Districts 5, 18, 32, and 13, the margin was slim last time -- 800 votes in District 5, 98 in Dist 18, about 220 in Dist 32, and about 300 in Dist 13.

Let's say Fitzgerald, Abrams, and and Zeller all won but the others lost. This would take the Republican number to 33, and conservative number to 16, just ONE short of the 17 it would take to win a leadership battle. If just two of the three won, conservatives would hold control of 15 of 32, just one vote short to force a tie and two to win. If even just ONE won, conservatives would have 14 out of 31, and just two short, again, to win.

2. Not all of the "Morris 17" are solid. In fact, many estimate up to five of those who voted for Morris last time could be in play this time. In fact, some of these candidates were endorsed by either KFL or even the KRA. Things change in four years. If conservatives are a vote or two away, do you not think these "five in play" would be offered things like chairmanships, etc.?

Now, is this a guarantee that conservatives will win control? No, not at all. A conservative could lose a race in the general, such as Julia Lynn to Ron Wimmer. But, so could a moderate like Tim Owens, who faces a tough Democrat in Judy Macy. However, the moderates appear to have a lid in seats at about 17, while conservatives have a lot of room to grow.

Of broader significane and worthy of discussion is the point discussed in the second article at Real Clear Politics, written by Reid Wilson. Entitled "What's Wrong With Kansas Republicans?", the article largely makes the case that moderates are on the rise in Kansas, while conservatives are falling from power. The article again focuses on the conservative challengers to moderate incumbents losing last Tuesday and also focuses on the losses by Jim Ryun and Phill Kline. It also claims that the rift between conservatives and moderates is declining in Kansas because moderates have reasserted control. Huh?

This simpleton approach again ignores reality.

First of all, again, incumbent committee chairs with huge money advantages should win their primaries! The fact that one of them, the one with the most competitive challenger -- Pete Brungardt -- nearly lost, and a second, Ruth Teichman, could only get 57%, should be very alarming for moderates. It is not some huge sign of conservative doom that these moderate incumbents held on.

Second of all, in hotly contested open Senate seats where a well known conservative was running, the conservative won and won EASILY. Mary Pilcher Cook won 57% of the vote vs. well-known liberal State Board of Education Member Sue Gamble, in a hotly contested race where the KTRM spent thousands on hate pieces trying to smear Pilcher Cook. Jeff Colyer won 70%. Ty Masterson won 60%. Steve Abrams won 60%. James Zeller won over 70%. Steve Fitzgerald was unopposed. Dick Kelsey was unoppposed. Only in District 8, where Rep. Tim Owens defeated Rep. Ben Hodge (who had just moved into the district), did a moderate win an open seat. Let's review: in nearly every open seat where a strong conservative ran, the conservative won easily. In one seat where a moderate incumbent held a huge money advantages, he barely won. And in the fall, the conservatives could pick up as many as 3-4 seats, putting mods in danger of losing control of the Senate leadership, while conservatives still retain easy control of the House leadership. In the Shawnee County DA race, conservative Eric Rucker, former deputy to Kline, easily defeated incumbent DA Robert Hecht. How are the moderates on the rise again?

Third of all, in regards to Kline and Ryun -- both involved more defeats of the candidates themselves more than conservatives in general. In Kline's case, you had a candidate, due to his work, who had become a lightning rod, and the article ignores that Steve Howe was supported by many conservative legislators and activists, including Senator Sam Brownback, who the article cites as part of the conservative wing in dissent. Steve Howe is widely regarded a conservative, and has campaigned as one who is pro-life. In the latter case, with Jim Ryun, you had a candidate who was widely regarded as getting out too late in 2006, and that case, he still only lost by a little over 1000 votes to a well-liked and well-known candidate in Lynn Jenkins. If anything the defeat of Kline and Ryun, who had been around since the early 1990's, was a call for fresh faces, not a movement against conservatives -- as seen by strong conservatives winning in open seats, as mentioned above. So how are the moderates on the rise again?

Finally, there is the issue of the split. If the split is getting any better, it is not because of moderates ascending to power, but due to some of them leaving the party to run as Democrats (Neighbor, Benlon, Wimmer, Morrison, Guinn) meaning the party doesn't have to worry about pleasing them anymore. However, with recent hate mailings by KTRM backfiring but also showing their true motivation/thinking, the divide is likely to grow, not lessen, particularly if the battle for Senate leadership is as tight as it could be.

In summary, the media shouldn't be jumping on the "conservatives in down fall" theme nor should the moderates be counting their chickens in the Senate. If anything, depending on how the fall campaign goes, conservatives are on the verge of making gains in Kansas.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Is there a case to be made against advance voting?

Advance Voting has now been around since the 1996 election cycle. This year, a total of over 23,000 Johnson County voters cast their ballot early -- 30% of primary voters -- a new record in terms of the percentage of voters voting early and total advance ballots returned. While the 22.52% overall turnout was fairly low for a primary, the trend is clearly for more and more voters to vote early. Brian Newby of the Johnson County Election Office recently said that his office was encouraging more and more voters to vote early.

Is this really a good thing?

The conventional wisdom is that it is. Some will say that it increases the likelihood of participation in the political process. Others will say that the more convenient, the better.

Kaw & Border is not so sure.

First of all, we believe that there may be a Constitutional issue here. Take a look at Article 4, Section 2, which deals with the General election in Kansas:
2: General elections. General elections shall be held biennially on the Tuesday succeeding the first Monday in November in even-numbered years. Not less than three county commissioners shall be elected in each organized county in the state, as provided by law.
Notice how it says the general election shall be held on the day. Right now, as a result of advance voting, it occurs on that day -- and the 20 days proceeding election day as well. To our knowledge, this has never been challenged. It may still be okay -- for it doesn't prohibit advance voting, just says that there has to be an election day. For primary elections, which are set by the legislature, there would be no constitutional conflict whatsoever. But, perhaps it was envisioned by our state (and federal) constitutional framers that elections were meant to be on a select day. Why is this? this leads to our second question:

2. Should elections be a snapshot? Political campaigns are continually putting out information, whether they be for or against a candidate or for or against a certain ballot initiative. Due to the nature of campaigns, some information comes out late in the game. This is often the case with ballot initiatives. As such,is it good policy to therefore encouraging people to vote so early in the process (up to 20 days early) that they may miss information that could have led them to a different conclusion?

In the primary this past Tuesday, we have a ready made example of this: The Johnson County Forever Sales Tax. Information against the tax -- including newspaper editorials -- didn't come out until after voting had begun. There was a clear trend against the tax, shown by the results Tuesday evening:

Advance Voting: Yes, 14,036. No, 8606 -- a difference of 5430 votes. (61% - 39%)
Total Votes: Yes, 40183. No, 35,189 -- a difference of 4994 votes. (53%-47%)

Do the math.
On election day, the Forever Tax LOST 26,583 - 26,147 (50.4% - 49.6%).

That's a HUGE swing -- from 39% voting no to over 50! Though the majority of votes were on election day (70%), the 5430 margin win for the tax in advance voting was enough to overwhelm the small 400+ vote No margin on election day. However, there was a clear trend against the tax. A simpleton may say, well, there is no guarantee that those voting Yes early would have voted No on election day, if we had no advance voting.

This might be true -- as the margin was razor thin on election day. But is it such a stretch to think that 2715 advance Yes voters (enough to make it a tie in advance voting) would have changed their mind, given the trend and information coming out against the tax? Had that occurred, the tax would have failed.

What we had here was a rather innocent ballot question, seemingly, asking about public safety and such, plus a taxpayer-funded "information" piece. This drove up the advance number. But, over the last three weeks of the campaign, you had newspapers coming out against the tax, and a lot of buzz about how the tax was a bad plan. On election day, the tax failed, despite the wording of the ballot and the fact that there were no mailings against the tax -- vs. 3 or 4 by the proponents. Point is -- information got out, and the voters, on election day, said no.

But this doesn't just impact ballot questions where information is slow to get out. It also impacts races for office. In races across Johnson County and the state of Kansas, much of the informative mail and information came out in the last week, after a 1/3 of the voters had voted. In Senate District 10, for example, check out the difference:

Advance Voting: Mary Pilcher Cook, 52% - Sue Gamble, 48%
Election Day Voting: Mary Pilcher Cook, 59% - Sue Gamble, 41%

Mary ended up with 57% overall, and would have won in either case, but that 7 point swing is rather large. Could this have been because voters responded to Mary's positive campaign and rejected the KTRM hit pieces, which mostly came in the last two weeks?

If you look at races in the county and statewide, in this cycle and past cycles, you will consistently see a large gap between advance voting and election day voting numbers. Now, some of this is simply because a candidate or party has a better advance voting operation or got out earlier. But, some of it is related simply to money -- challengers to incumbents and new candidates for open seats have a harder time raising money, delaying their ability to get their message to the voters. This leads us to the third question:

3. Does Advance Voting give incumbents and well known candidates an unfair advantage?

The answer here is -- yes and no.

In general elections, the answer is largely no -- as in 2006, Democrats consistently out performed against incumbent Republicans in advance voting, while the Republican overwhelmed the Democrat in election day voting. In a few cases, you'd see the Democrat WIN in advance voting and the Republican win handily in election day voting. In two races, that resulted in the Democrat winning -- District 18 and District 16 -- by very narrow margins (2 votes in District 16!) . This would reflect a superior advance voting operation by the Democrats. Not only that, any challenger would have had significant time -- during the summer and fall, to get their message out.

In primary elections, the answer is largely yes. With the filing deadline on June 10, there is a small window of just 40 days before voting starts. That's not enough time to walk a district, and a limited amount of time to raise enough money to pay for mailings.

Take the race in the District 8 Senate race. Though an open seat, Rep. Tim Owens was from the District 8 area while Rep. Ben Hodge was from an area in Olathe and had recently moved. Check out the numbers:

Advance Voting: Owens, 1552 - Hodge, 795, a margin of 757 votes, or 66-34.
Total Voting: Owens, 4455 - Hodge, 3010, a margin of 1445 votes, or 60-40.
Election Day Voting: Owens, 2903 - Hodge, 2215, a margin of 688 votes, or 56-44.

Now, Owens would have won anyway, probably due to the factors stated above, but the 66-34 - 56-44 difference is a large swing. Hodge was walking, KTRM's hit pieces were backfiring, and it was clear that Hodge was trending up because the voters were getting more information and thus casting more informed votes. Now, does this mean that advance voters are all misinformed? No -- but many just vote to vote early, and wouldn't have had the full set of information in any event.

Another factor here is that it does drive up the cost of campaigns. Many pundits and citizens alike complain about the huge costs of campaigns, running now into the tens of thousands of dollars for state legislative races. Is a system with two election days contributing to this?

So what's the solution? We believe it doesn't have to be an all or nothing approach. Perhaps the advance voting period should simply be shrunk from 20 days to 10 days? That would lessen the impact of the margins above -- and still give people the ability to vote early in case of being gone, and also start advance voting AFTER the deadline to register to vote, which would seem to make logical sense.

The unfortunate probability here is though that no change is likely to occur, as any change would have to be passed by the legislature, and few politicians are likely to vote for a plan that would open them up to a charge that they are restricting voting access, despite the arguments made above.

However, we here at Kaw & Border wanted to pose the question.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Senate District 10 Is With Mary!

Mary Pilcher Cook -- 57%
Sue Gamble -- 43%

If you're KTRM and/or Stephanie Sharp, that's gotta hurt. Apparently District 10 Republicans did not believe the hate mailings claiming that MPC wanted you in jail and women to die of breast cancer. Rather, they responded to Mary's positive campaign, her story, and respected her standing up for Republican principles.

However, the voters' rejection of KTRM's hate mail campaign is just part of the story.

A few months ago, some people, largely composed of outsiders to District 10, claimed Mary couldn't win. They didn't understand the politics on the ground. They hadn't analyzed the election results from 2006. And most of all, they didn't understand Mary Pilcher Cook -- her beliefs on a host of issues, her principles, and her determination.

Mary's campaign was a testament to how to win right in politics. She ran on her beliefs. She ran on her record. And she ran a positive campaign that although highlighted her differences with her opponent, did not cross the line into personal, over-the-top hateful attacks that do nothing but energize the opposition, anger undecided voters, and dillute your own message. She took her case directly to voters, knocking on as many doors as humanly possible, making her case.

And District 10 responded in resounding fashion.

What Mary's victory should also show is that conservatives should be careful about putting political calculations above principle. When one stands up for the conservative cause like Mary Pilcher Cook has done over the last eight years, conservatives should rally around these principled warriors, particularly when their defeats were by the slimmest of margins in one of the worst years for Kansas Republicans in recent history -- 2006.

Finally, for other conservative candidates, Mary's decisive win should be a model for how to win in other districts. You raise enough money to compete; you develop a strong, positive message; and you take your case to the voters -- by mail, yes, but also on foot.

Kaw & Border salutes, and congratulates, Mary Pilcher Cook on her big victory -- and wishes her the best in the General Election.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Tax Hacks of Johnson County

It takes a rare issue to unify conservatives and the Kansas City Star Editorial Board on an issue.

The issue which achieved this incredible feat? The now-infamous "Forever Tax" is a question on the August 5 primary ballot, which would impose a 1/4 cent countywide retailers sales tax, presumably for public safety -- most particularly a jail, a crime lab, and new juvenile services.

We chose the word "impose" for a reason -- because that's exactly what is going on with this tax. Not well thought out, it is the brainchild of what we are now calling the "Johnson County Tax Hacks": Annabeth Surbaugh and Frank Denning specifically, as well as the other city and county "leaders" pushing this offensive, unnecessary, never-expiring tax on hard-working Johnson County voters. Of special note are the co-chairs of the "Public Safety 1st Committee", made up of self-appointed community leaders Ron Wimmer (Democrat running for the Kansas Senate in District 9), Bob Regnier (Banker and Treasurer to Wimmer and liberal Senate District 10 Candidate Sue Gamble), Fred Logan, and Larry Winn III.

Not only are they asking us to vote for it, they are threatning us with higher property taxes if we don't. Who exactly do they think they are? Such threats are not the actions of community leaders, but rather, arrogant political hacks who won't stop until their agenda is shoved down the throat of an unwilling public.

One would have thought that with the soccer initiative being well-wide of the goal in 2006, that the Johnson County leaders that are pushing this forever tax would have learned their lesson. Sadly, that is not the case.

This tax is bad for many reasons:

It never expires. As Wayne Flaherty explains, the county already has one such never-expiring tax and another one up on the ballot in November. It is simply bad policy, in our mind, to have any sales tax, approved for a specific purpose, never expire, meaning it will never be subject to public scrutiny again. Future commissions will not bring it up either -- it will literally go on forever, forgotten. Since these taxes are approved by the public, they should have to be reviewed and renewed by the public after a reasonable time period. Even if you are for it, the fact it never expires limits flexibility later.

The county grows, and therefore sales tax revenue grows. As our friends at the Kansas Progress recently pointed out, the county grows by 10,000 people each year, all of whom pay sales and property taxes. The county should be able to live within its means.

1/3 of the money goes to cities with no strings. As the Kansas City Star pointed out, 1/3 of the funds raised under the tax would go to the cities, and although the cities claim they'll use the tax for public safety, they are not required to do so and they have not laid out detailed plans to the public.

It over-taxes the public. According to the Kansas City Star, the cities would have "excess taxes" of $100 million -- are you kidding me? As the Star pointed out, that's truly indefensible, and in our opinion, offensive.

It's not new and to say otherwise is a lie. The ballot language claims that it is, but the current tax EXPIRES at the end of the year and is for different purposes. This is a NEW TAX that goes on forever, and it is dishonest to claim otherwise.

The county could come back with a tax that expires. They already have plans to do so if this fails, so it is the height of arrogance to have put this on the ballot.

This isn't fiscally responsible. The county has a $700 million dollar budget. Surely, there is room in the budget to cut.

Despite these signficant drawbacks, opposition from the Star, and opposition from the General Manager of Channel 9, "community leaders" continue to push it. What's even more offensive, however, than the downsides of the tax itself, is the way it is being shoved down our throat.

First of all, there was the county-wide "information" mailing which was more like a campaign piece -- which cost almost $40,000 and was paid for by taxpayers (hat tip, Kansas Meadowlark). So that's right, your tax dollars paid for a mailing essentially asking you to raise your taxes. Only the "Tax Hacks of Johnson County" could justify such a mailing. In this link (another hat tip, Kansas Meadowlark) you can find an image of the "information mailing", which looks a lot like a "vote yes" mailing to us. It didn't even include the ballot language!!!!

Second, there is the incredible arrogance of those pushing this. County Chair Annabeth recently had the gall to say that if voters reject the sales tax, the county will just raise property taxes. They don't even have to do so through a mill levy increase -- they can just jack up the value so f your homes -- i.e., the ghost tax. Frank Denning, another major promoter of the tax, got a tax approved by the legislature that has a 10-year sunset, but continues to support the forever tax. The county commissioners, excluding John Toplikar, continue to push for this tax even though they know there are better alternatives. Who wants to bet they all ran as fiscal conservatives, too? There is nothing fisically conservative or responsible about a never-ending, unnecessary sales tax that directs 1/3 of its funds to cities with no strings.

Third, there is already a 1/4 cent sales tax for public safety already in place! Where is that money going? With the increase in population, what is the deal at the County?

In our opinion, the voters need to stand up and reject this ridiculous tax, just like they did with soccer. Not only because it is bad policy, but to send a message to Annabeth Surbaugh, Frank Denning, area mayors and city councilman, and other self-appointed "community leaders" who are supporting this tax -- a message that says that the addiction to sales tax increases, no matter how poorly conceived or what they are for, needs to be treated.

In the opinion of Kaw & Border, the county commission, local chambers and city councils have lost touch with the voters. Send a message to the Tax Hacks of Johnson County, and vote No to the Forever Tax on August 5.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Worried John Vratil Changes Rules; Reveals Short Memory

State Senator John Vratil and his puppets in the Senate "Republican" Leadership must be worried. The most recently published Receipts and Expenditures Report from KTRM revealed that the Senate "Republican" Leadership PAC had donated $45,000 to the group, whose primary mission is to take out conservative Republicans.

One would think in a state in which Democrats are continuing to look to make gains, as evidenced by the filing of a Democrat in almost every single Johnson County legislative seat, that the supposedly neutral Senate Republican Leadership would want to save their money for the general election, to help fend off the serious Democratic challengers in competitive Senate seats. But, instead, the Senate leadership dumps money into KTRM to fight in Republican primaries. Why?

Well, according to the Kansas City Star's Prime Buzz Blog, John Vratil claims the rules have changed:

“I think things have changed,” said one moderate Senate leader, state Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican.

He accused conservatives of lining up primary challenges for several moderate leaders.

“Does that change the rules of the game?” Vratil asked.

Apparently so.

Now that's rich. Perhaps Senate Vice President John Vratil is so distraught over worries that he and his moderate pals will lose control over leadership posts (and thus their power) that his short-term memory is suffering. One must only think back to 2004 when in the last Senate election, then-Republican now-Democrat Lisa Benlon ran against incumbent Senator Nick Jordan in the primary, Rob Boyer ran against incumbent Senator Kay O'Connor in the primary, and moderate challengers ran against incumbent Senators Tim Huelskamp and Susan Wagle. Did the Senate Republican Leadership PAC ride to the rescue then?

Vratil's statement also ignores a second reality. Even if one accepts Vratil's suggestion that Republican incumbents shouldn't have challengers, and that justifies the Senate Republican Leadership PAC spending money to protect moderate incumbents (such as their $1000 donations to Ruth Teichman and Pete Brungardt), how does this justify them contributing $45,000 to KTRM, who is spending thousands upon thousands on two open seats currently held by Senator Nick Jordan (running for Congress) and Senator Barbara Allen (retiring), not to mention the direct donations by the Senate Leadership PAC itself of $1000 to Sue Gamble and Tim Owens, who are the "moderates" running in the respective open seats. If there are races where supposedly neutral Republican organizations should stay out of, it is open primaries where there is no Republican incumbent.

Seems to us that it is John Vratil and Steve Morris who are changing the rules, not conservatives.

Of course, what all of this is ignores is political reality. If you are an incumbent Republican with a voting record that Democrats would be proud of on both economic and social issues, you are inviting a primary challenge. That's what politics is all about. Perhaps if Umbarger, Teichman, and Brungardt (the Republican incumbents drawing the strongest conservative challengers) actually voted conservative on something, they wouldn't have this problem.

This is exactly why Kaw & Border was founded -- to expose the true agenda behind individuals and groups in area politics. John Vratil and Steve Morris are misusing their Senate Republican Leadership PAC (note it doesn't say "Moderate" anywhere in the title) not because of some mythical anger at incumbents being challenged, as that has been going on for years, but because they are worried that they are on the verge of losing control of Senate leadership and the power and influence that comes with.

The political reality is that conservatives are only 3-4 seats away from having the votes to win leadership. The strong candidacies of Steve Fitzgerald in District 5 and Steve Abrams in District 32 (running against Democrats Mark Gilstrap and Greta Goodwin, respectively, both of whom barely survived in 2004) have put that number potentially even closer.

Of course, neither Vratil nor Morris has a short memory. The reality is Vratil and Morris can count -- and they know that if Fitzgerald and Abrams win, and conservatives hold their ground in other seats, that conservatives are a seat or two, max, away from winning control. This is simply personal political preservation -- President Morris and Vice President Vratil don't want to revert back to Senator Morris and Senator Vratil. They are dumping thousands into races in supportive of candidate they know will vote for them for leadership, retaining their positions in the Senate.

Let us be clear: Kaw & Border has no problem with Morris and Vratil wanting to hold onto leadership nor wanting moderates to win more seats that conservatives -- they are moderates themselves. But rather than claiming bogus reasons such as that the "rules have changed", or misusing their PAC, perhaps President Morris and Vice President Vratil should form a new PAC -- and entitle it the "Preserve Our Power and Leadership PAC".

At least that would be honest. But in state where so many Democrats run as Republicans to hide their true ideology, who would expect that?

KTRM: Kansans Trashing Republican Mailboxes

Our friends at KTRM have provided yet more proof they are worried about District 10 voters not Gambling on August 5:

When all else fails, bring out your bogeyman -- Phill Kline. Phill Kline is Pages 1-100 in the KTRM playbook, and they're bringing him out now. Will this work? They are assuming everyone hates Phill Kline, including conservative Republican primary voters in an area where Phill represented for 8 years. This is on the heels of a largely positive Kline radio and mailing campaign and the DA's successful handling (even in Steve Rose's opinion) of the Kelsey Smith case. This is a calculated risk -- but if the Gambler is behind, what else can they do, talk about Sue?

At least this piece actually mentions Sue Gamble, but on the trails of the previous two trash pieces, one wonders if Republican voters in District 10 will reject the very negative efforts of the open and tolerant moderate KTRM.

The political wizardy of KTRM continues to amaze.