Insanity in the Heartland

Politics here in Kansas is now so screwy that the Democrats are in court pleading they shouldn’t be forced to field a candidate for Senate and the Republican nominee is lagging in the polls. The explanation for this otherwise inexplicable turn of events is a self-described “independent” candidate offering the usual pablum about bipartisanship and practical solutions, an entrenched Republican incumbent who barely survived a primary challenge by a scandal-tainted neophyte because he’s considered too bipartisan and practical by the party’s base, and the gullibility of the average voter.
The self-described independent was once registered as a Democrat, once ran for the Senate as a Democrat, is now very careful not to deny that he will caucus with the Democrats, and to the carefully attuned ear he still sounds a lot like a Democrat, but it remains to be seen if a majority of this reliably Republican state will reach the obvious conclusion that he is a Democrat. On Thursday he came out for the Democrats’ proposal to re-write the First Amendment to restrict criticism of the Democratic Party, which is about as Democratic a policy as one can endorse, but even that might not make the necessary impression on those Kansans distracted by the upcoming basketball season.
One can only hope that the average Kansan, who is as least as apt to exercise his First Amendment rights as the citizen of any other state, will notice that putative independent Greg Orman, usually described in the Kansas press as a wealthy businessman from Johnson County, is on the record with his support of the odious amendment the to the constitution recently proposed by the Democrats that would allow for further federal regulation of spending on political speech. The amendment is touted as an antidote merely to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which reasonably found that that prior restraint of an anti-Hillary Clinton movie was a gross violation of the the First Amendment, but its inevitable result is a regulatory regime that will restrict conservative opinions while allowing the liberal riposte. Orman’s endorsement of this outrage should convince any sensible Kansan of his Democratic tendencies, but we anxiously await the verdict on how many of our fellow Kansans are sensible.
That entrenched Republican incumbent, Sen. Pat Roberts, has an 86 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, which has spiked during the age of the locally unpopular President Barack Obama, and although that heretical 14 percent has alienated the party’s conservative base we hope they’ll notice that he’s been a stalwart defender of free speech. That Citiziens United decision involved money from the demonized Koch Brothers, who are a mainstay of the Kansas economy and have been forthrightly defended by Roberts on the Senate floor, and Roberts has been quite admirable in his defense of the decision of the principle of letting even the most targeted people express their opinions in the the public square.
Thus far the national Republican party seems aware of the danger that such a usually reliable state is in play, and we’re hopeful that Roberts will have the resources to make his convincing case to the people of his state. The state’s media won’t be much help, inclined as it is to present that radical constitutional amendment as an old-fashioned sunshine law that will reveal the nefarious money-bags greasing the system, but given the mood of the state we are hopeful that Orman will eventually be regarded as another Democrat and meet the usual Democrats’ fate. It’s a tricky race to handicap, though, and could go either way.
Kansas’ prognosticators seem split on how it might turn out. One school of thought holds that forcing the Democrats onto the ballot will split the anti-incumbent vote, while another posits that without an official Democratic candidate Ogman will be regarded as the de facto Democrat and suffer accordingly. Roberts’ reputation as a get-along Republican will cost him a few votes from the party faithful, but might pick up a few among those who buy into Orman’s happy talk about bipartisanship. We’ll be keeping our fingers cross that the party faithful recognize a censorious Democrat when they see one, that those with fantastical hopes of bipartisanship won’t mind Roberts’ occasional offenses against Republican orthodoxy, and that Kansas of all places doesn’t screw up the Republicans’ hopes of taking the Senate.

— Bud Norman