Politics 2004Week of August 16

“Bloody Kansas”

Although much of the national news media focused on Missouri’s overwhelming approval of a traditional marriage amendment in the wake of the August 3 vote, there was an equally resounding voter message in nearby Kansas: “No More Taxes-Or Else!”

In primaries that were no less than breathtaking, voters rejected six incumbent Republican state legislators and one Democratic lawmaker. As Karl Peterjohn, executive director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network that helped spearhead last week’s revolution, told me: “In the highest-profile races, there was some really bad news for tax and spend Republicans-what I like to call, the Walter Mondale-wing of the Kansas GOP.”

Most stunning of all was the defeat of the heir to perhaps the Sunflower State’s most revered political name: State Rep. William Kassebaum, son of former Sen. (1978-96) Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker (R.-Kan.) and grandson of Gov. (1932-36) and 1936 Republican presidential nominee Alf M. Landon. For all of the luster surrounding his name, Kassebaum was more recently known as the co-sponsor of the Kassebaum-Neighbor bill, which would have added a surcharge to the state income tax, raised the sales tax up to a record 5.5%, and given local school districts additional authority to raise property taxes. K-N, as the tax bill is widely known, had the strong support of Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and passed the House. But it was stopped in the Senate. Kassebaum lost to ’02 primary foe Shari Weber.

Similarly, K-N co-sponsor Cindy Neighbor (lifetime Kansas Taxpayers Network rating: 17.5%) was defeated in her third consecutive primary battle in Johnson County against former State Rep. Mary Pelcher Cook (lifetime KTN rating: 100%).

Other “tax-and-spenders” who suffered the wrath of Republican voters were House Speaker Pro Tem John Ballou, breaking with conservatives over the marriage amendment (he opposed a constitutional amendment vote) as well as taxes, who lost to conservative insurgent Mike Kiegerl; veteran state Senate Tax Committee Chairman Dave Corbin, a leading proponent of internet taxation and interstate sales taxation, who was clobbered by a 2-to-1 margin by conservative former State Rep. Peggy Palmer; and former Wichita Mayor, ’02 gubernatorial candidate and GOP liberal Bob Knight, with backing from the Kansas branch of the National Education Association. Knight managed to receive only 36% of the vote against conservative State Sen.. Susan Wagle. Another losing moderate fixture in state legislative primaries was John Sebelius, the Democratic governor’s Republican brother-in-law, who lost by a 3-to-2 margin to conservative State Rep. John Faber.

KTN’s Peterjohn also gave credit to the Club for Growth and the Kansas branch of American Prosperity for the conservatives’ big win. Both groups got involved in twelve legislative primaries by putting out information on voting records. “This is a tactic liberal Republicans have used in the past,” Peterjohn told me, “and in the twelve races they were involved in, the more fiscally conservative candidate won.”

Kobach K-Os Establishment

For all the legislative victories for the anti-tax forces, the big story from Kansas for conservatives nationally was the stunning nomination of conservative swashbuckler Kris Kobach in the 3rd U.S. House District. One week after he topped GOP Establishment candidate Adam Taff by 81 votes in the primary, and following a count of provisional ballots, Kobach-a law professor and former counsel to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft-was declared the winner by 207 votes out of more than 80,000 cast. Former fighter pilot Taff, who narrowly lost to Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore in ’02, thereupon endorsed Kobach and called for all Republicans to work for his election this fall.

Kobach won by running hard on the issues of immigration, abortion, and marriage, rallied volunteers who felt strongly about each of these issues. He opposed the administration’s visa program for illegal immigrants, was pro-life without exceptions, and backed a constitutional amendment on marriage-all three positions on which opponent Taff was to the left. Moreover, Gun Owners of America and the National Right-to-Life Committee weighed in strongly for Kobach, a staunch 2nd Amendment advocate and a graduate of Harvard, Yale Law School, and Oxford.

The 3rd (Johnson County) is the lone U.S. House district in the Sunflower State with a Democratic congressman. Three-termer Moore (lifetime ACU rating: 12%), who barely escaped defeat two years ago, is considered one of a handful of incumbent House Members in political danger.