Kansas Republicans hold to hard-right on social issues at state convention in Overland Park
OVERLAND PARK — The Kansas Republican Party held firm to its hard-right stance on social issues during its state convention this weekend as various officials gave speeches railing against Planned Parenthood, same-sex marriage, the Kansas Supreme Court, the Obama administration and even the League of Women Voters.
The convention came just two weeks before Republican voters in the state will vote in the March 5 caucuses to make their choice for a presidential nominee. And while some of the presidential campaigns sent surrogates to speak on their behalf, the real focus was on upcoming races for the Kansas Legislature.
"Help them out because the national left doesn’t like what we’ve done in Kansas. So the next target will be getting at these state legislators," Gov. Sam Brownback said. "You really need to get out and help them."
One of the biggest events of the day Saturday was the annual Kansans for Life prayer breakfast, which drew attendance from dozens of legislators and the state's entire congressional delegation.
At the event, KFL announced it had issued early endorsements backing Sen. Jerry Moran and all four U.S. House members for re-election, boasting that Kansas has the most pro-life delegation in the country, with all six members scoring a perfect 100 percent on abortion-related issues.
But it may have been Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach who caused the most stir by labeling the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters as "communists" for challenging the proof-of-citizenship voting law he championed in 2011.
Speaking to a committee of 2nd Congressional District delegates, Kobach said: "The ACLU and their fellow communist friends, the League of Women Voters — you can quote me on that, the communist League of Women Voters — the ACLU and the communist League of Women Voters sued," Kobach said, making sure that reporters in the room heard him.
He was referring to a lawsuit filed this month in federal court in Washington, D.C., challenging new federal voter registration forms issued by the Election Assistance Commission that now require voters in Kansas and two other states to show proof of citizenship in order to register.
"And get this," Kobach said. "We just heard through back channels, the Department of Justice met with this federal agency, met with the Kansan who heads this federal agency, tried to brow-beat them into changing their mind, and when they said they wouldn’t change their mind, the Department of Justice said we’re not going to defend a federal agency."
Kobach announced he would travel to Washington on Monday and file a request to intervene in that case.
Kobach also drew laughter and applause when he launched into criticism of the Kansas Supreme Court and urged Republicans to vote against four of the five justices on the court who are up for retention in 2016.
"The message is, vote no on those justices," he said. But he urged them to keep the one justice who was appointed by Brownback, Caleb Stegall, of Lawrence, describing him as "the only conservative on the court" and the "one justice on the court who stands completely above criticism."
Attorney General Derek Schmidt also spoke to district committees, saying it was important to elect a Republican president this year in order to stop what he said were the excesses of the Obama administration.
"Their goal is to cram as much legacy as they can into federal rules, regulations and agency actions over the next 11 months to make it as long and difficult as possible for us, should the voters hire us going forward, to undo errors they have made," he said. "This is a huge deal."
Schmidt's office is currently involved in three multistate lawsuits challenging the Obama administration over clean air regulations to reduce carbon emissions and combat global warming, clean water regulations that extend the reach of regulations into smaller streams and ponds, and efforts to allow some 4 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States.
Later in the day, the party got down to the business of the convention when the 182-member state committee voted to elect state Rep. Mark Kahrs as one of the party's representatives to the Republican National Committee, succeeding former Congressman Todd Tiahrt, who did not seek another term on the national committee.
"I want to serve at the RNC to represent the values, the Christian Coalition values that the state of Kansas represents, especially on social policy," Kahrs said. "I will fight vigorously for our pro-life plank, and I will fight vigorously for the sanctity of marriage at the national level. There’s an internal battle within the Republican Party on that issue, and I will not waver, and I will not bend on that issue."
Kahrs defeated Johnson County businessman Chad Bettes, 103-79, to win the position.
Bettes is a marketing and public relations consultant now working for his family's roofing and siding company. Until last summer, he was a senior associate at the Singularis Group, a GOP consulting firm that was actively involved in campaigns for conservative Republicans who unseated moderate GOP state senators in the 2012 primaries, giving control of the Senate to conservatives.
Kansas Democrats will get their chance to rally their troops and craft their 2016 campaign message when they gather in Topeka next week for their own state convention.