Here’s the nightmare for moderate Republican candidates in Johnson County: Voters’ hatred for Gov. Sam Brownback’s destructive policies will imperil their chances of winning on Nov. 8.
Many Kansans really dislike what Brownback has done to the schools, highway system, social programs and other state public services. He’s the most unpopular governor in America. Democratic candidates rightly often bring up Brownback on Facebook, on their websites and in meetings with voters.
But in Johnson County, this anti-Brownback wave could endanger the re-election chances of moderate Republicans who gamely fought against his policies the last few years. It could stop talented moderate GOP newcomers from winning.
Here are eight Senate and House races involving good, strong moderate Republican candidates that bear watching. (I previously wrote about “The eight Johnson County Democrats who just have to win this fall.”)
The only two moderate GOP incumbents I put in the “will win” category are House members Stephanie Clayton in the 19th District and Melissa Rooker in the 25th District.
They are extremely diligent public servants, favor a fairer tax system and are the kinds of leaders Kansans will need in the state Capitol to navigate the next two very difficult years there.
7th District: Republican Barbara Bollier left her House seat to run for this one, and is facing Democrat Megan England. Bollier recently has been defending her voting record against charges that she’s a Brownback sympathizer.
That’s ridiculous. Bollier received the MainPAC endorsement with a score of 100 percent. She scored just as high on the PTA legislative voting scorecards as Democrats and other moderate Republicans. Bollier is a moderate Republican when it counts the most.
England is pressing her case, pointing to her elective experience on the Roeland Park City Council. She also will try to ride the anti-Brownback wave as much as possible. That’s fine.
But England also has posted a misleading link in her website. Her main claim is that Bollier votes with Brownback and extremist GOP members most of the time. That’s because many, many bills pass with clear majorities — sometimes in both parties — and are certainly not destroying Kansas.
Bollier is the superior candidate. Her votes on crucial issues — as the PTA and Mainstream vote checks absolutely show — reveal her to be an experienced opponent of Brownback’s. Just this weekend Bollier tweeted a Wichita Eagle story that eviscerated Brownback’s claims about job creation in Kansas.
Barbara Bollier deserves re-election.
21st District: Moderate GOP candidate Dinah Sykes knocked off incumbent Greg Smith — a Brownback ally — in the primary. That should give her the leg up in beating Democrat Logan Heley in the race.
Yet Sykes is combating somewhat the same campaign Bollier has faced: Contentions that she’s not a true moderate. She had her photo taken with extremist U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder!
Give me a break.
Heley in other years would look attractive, given the pro-school, pro-tax reform policies he has outlined.
However, as I have noted before, Sykes has superior life experiences to Heley. Yes, it counts that she’s a mom. It counts that she’s been involved in school activities. It especially counts that she took the time to research the issues, decided to oppose Brownback’s policies and then defeated an incumbent.
Sykes on her website outlines strong and well-informed positions against Brownback’s policies of giving unfair tax breaks to LLCs, for the need to better fund K-12 schools, against the governor’s depletion of road maintenance funds and for local control at the county and city levels, not by the state Legislature.
Dinah Sykes is an excellent candidate and is easily the best choice for Johnson Countians in this race.
23rd District: Republican Linda Gallagher has the deserved reputation for being an intelligent, often soft-spoken voice of reason. Yet my favorite story about Gallagher involves the time earlier this year she gamely showed up at a public forum held in her district by ultra-conservative Republicans who apparently had not wanted her there.
Gallagher, in other words, has the kind of steely nerves that moderate Republicans are going to need in the upcoming session as they — and some very good Democratic legislators — work to undo Brownback’s income tax breaks and other policies.
Gallagher is opposed by Amber Versola. Like Heley, Versola has some solid, typical Democratic leanings on issues. She has the support of some respectable organizations.
But in the end, voters should not get rid of Gallagher, who has experience as a legislator and has opposed Brownback’s worst policies. Indeed, Gallagher got the same high marks from MainPAC and the PTA legislative scorecard as many Democrats received.
Finally, Democrats will mount strong challenges in three other Kansas House races. This is where the anti-Brownback feelings of voters could really be felt.
In all of these cases, you can read why I have endorsed the GOP moderates — to the great consternation of Democratic political players, of course — while acknowledging that the Democratic candidates deserve voters’ attention.
17th District: Republican Tom Cox will try to fend off Helen Stoll.
21st District: Republican Dorothy Hughes is opposed by Jerry Stogsdill.
39th District: Republican Shelee Brim faces Angeliina Lawson.
Brownback officially is not on the Nov. 8 ballot. But his soiled political reputation is being used by Democratic candidates who want to link him to Republicans — moderates as well as ultra-cons.
In the cases listed above, the moderate Republicans will be fighting to overcome the hatred for Brownback and try to emerge victorious next month.