The politics in Kansas are quite crazy at the moment, even by the prevailing national and global standards of political craziness.
More than a day after the primary polls closed on Tuesday we still don’t know who the Republican gubernatorial nominee is, although Secretary of State Kris Kobach holds a lead of fewer than 200 votes over serving Gov. Jeff Colyer in the initial count. Such a slim margin of victory requires a recount or two, which for now will be overseen by Secretary of State Kobach, which has raised some concerns with Colyer and his supporters, and it will be interesting to see how that works out.
Whichever candidate wins, we do at least know that he’ll be facing longtime state legislator Laura Kelly as the Democratic nominee in the general election, and in this cray year in Kansas we expect she’ll be formidable opponent. President Donald Trump won Kansas’ electoral votes by the usual 30 point rout, but that’s only because running against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, as he was a distant third in the Republican caucus and his protectionist policies aren’t playing well here and neither is his rich tough guy from New York shtick. Kelly is scandal-free so far as we can tell, talks knowingly of technical adjustments to state policies rather than radical transformations, is plain-faced and plain-spoken in a reassuringly Kansas way, and either Republican will have a hard time making her out to be nearly so scary as that awful Clinton woman.
Meanwhile, the Democrats went crazy in a very un-Kansas way up in the Third Congressional District, where they chose a lesbian Native American and former mixed martial arts fighter named Sharice Davids as their candidate. We have nothing against lesbians or Native Americans, but we draw the line at mixed martial arts, and it objectively strikes us bad politics even by the Kansas Democratic party’s sorry standards. The Third is morstly comprised of largely black and poor Wyandotte County and the predominantly wealthy and white Kansas City suburbs of Johnson and Miami counties, the sort of district that’s been losing Republican support in all the special elections since Trump got elected, but it’s still Kansas, for crying out loud, and we can only bear so much intersectionality of gender identity politics around here.
The Democrats might have blown a ripe opportunity to flip another suburban Republican seat in the Third, but in the Second Congressional District they took the more characteristically Kansan cautious choice. Their nominee, Paul Davis, is a straight white male and a longtime legislator and former gubernatorial party nominee who won the district in his bid, and he easily defeated the candidate that self-described socialists Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander and New York’s Democratic congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-both campaigned for. and he’s always played well in a district that includes the crazy college town of Lawrence and well as the government-infested state capital of Topeka.
Current Rep. Lynn Jenkins announced months ago that she wouldn’t be seeking re-election in exactly the sort of prosperous and well-educated district that Republicans have been losing since Trump’s election, but the Republicans came up with a formidable challenger of their, at least as far as we can tell from down here. He’s an Army veteran, and he beat out two other Army veterans, one of them a retired law enforcement officer, and he seems the polite and well-mannered sort of suburban who would never think of grabbing a woman by her wherever. By the time all the outside money pours into what will surely be a “toss up” race they’ll be both seen as the slimiest individuals you’ve ever laid eyes, but until then we’re hoping for a nice clean fight.
Down here in the middle of Wichita and the surrounding bounty of the Fourth Congressional District things are no crazier than usual. The Republicans re-nominated Rep. Ron Estes, who easily withstood a challenge from Ron Estes, which is not one of the sloppy mistypings we occasional commit. Turns out there’s another Ron Estes in the Fourth, and no one knows if it was a Democratic dirty trick or just for personal yucks, but he paid the nominal filing fee and got on the ballot. The Secretary of State’s office decreed that the incumbent Estes would be identified as Rep. Ron Estes, while the challenger would lack the honorific and have a middle initial added, which made things pretty clear, so it’s worth noting that the other Ron Estes got 18.6 percent of the vote.
The Democrats re-nominated attorney James Thompson, who came within seven points of beating Estes in the special election that followed Rep. Mike Pompeo’s appointment to head the Central Intelligence. A seven point would be shameful for a Democrat in a lot of districts, but around here it was a 23-point improvement on the usual butt-whippings, and by a sliver-sized margin he actually won Sedgwick County, which is mainly urban and ethnically and socio-economically diverse yet instinctively conservative Wichita, and the crazy Democrats we run into around here never give up hope that we’ll soon be a socialist paradise.
Thompson came within shouting distance in that special election partly because the Republicans were contented and the Democrats riled up by Trump’s victory, and Thompson’s ads featured semi-automatic rifles and talk of his military record and absolutely nothing that could be considered scarily far-left. This time around he let Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez come and campaign for him, which hasn’t impressed our far-left Democratic friends has our more seasoned and pragmatic Democratic friends slapping their foreheads. Estes is just another Ron Estes, and certainly can’t compare to the shooting star of his successor, who is now Secretary of State and plotting every move according to presidential ambitions, but we expect the Fourth won’t flip anytime soon.
Meanwhile, and as usual, everything seems so serenely sane out there beyond the city in the vast and sprawling First Congressional District of Kansas. If you’re a fellow urbanite who longs for wide open spaces, with gently rolling hills of native grasses and lush crops unmarred by strip malls and modern architecture, and Frank Capra-esque small towns full of kind hearts and gentle people, you can still find it in the First. The district encompasses all of harsh and mostly empty western Kanand bumps up against the other districts to the east. The district includes some rough towns that never got over their old west ways, and the many southeast Asians and northern Africans they’ve brought into man the meatpacking plants that largely sustain the district’s economy out west has introduced some uncomfortable racial and socio-economic diversity to once lily-white communities, but they seem to manage their business well enough.
The Republican renominated incumbent Rep. Roger Marshall, and although the Democrats didn’t bother to hold a primary his past opponent Alan LaPolice will be on the ballot as an independent,so it’s pretty much a done deal that Marshal will win a second term. He won his first term by knocking off Republican incumbent Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a burn-it-down anti-establishment who’d been elected in the dark days of President Barack Obama and the Tea Party fervor of the time. When Huelskamp’s never back-down and punch-back-tens-times-as-hard style got Kansas kicked off the House Agriculture committee for the first time ever and wound up delaying a farm bill and it’s much needed-subsidy checks over some fiscal principle the First regained its sanity and chose the more mild-manner Marshall, who is more in line with Bob Dole and all the other future Senators and establishment types the First has sent to higher office, and so far they seem to like him.
Things might be just as crazy as in your neck of the political woods, and if so we wish you well. If it works out for the worse, we hope you have a nearby safe space to beat a hasty retreat.
— Bud Norman