Another Trip to a Republican Primary

At some point today we’ll stroll a few blocks over to the lovely Gloria Dei Lutheran Church here in the fashionable Riverside neighborhood of Wichita and cast our vote in the Republican primary, mostly because we always vote on an Election Day. This year there isn’t much reason other than ingrained habit for doing so, except for a certain old-fashioned sense of civic duty and a self-interested point of pride to keep a 38-year perfect attendance streak intact.

There’s a hotly contested and highly intriguing primary race going on just west of the county line in the huge but rural and sparsely populated First Congressional District, but here in the smaller but mostly urban and more densely populated Fourth District our very acceptable Republican Congressman is running unopposed. Across town an old buddy of ours who is a notoriously stingy bare-bones government right-winger of a County Commissioner is in a too-close-to-call race against a challenger who promises to be just slightly less stingy and a bit more generous to the locally beloved Sedgwick County Zoo and more amenable to accepting federal dollars for whatever crazy schemes the feds are offering, but that crosses jurisdictional lines so there’s nothing we can do about it, and our own district’s even more notoriously stingy bare-bones government right winger of County Commissioner isn’t up for re-election in this staggered year. We’ve been so busy brooding about that godawful presidential election to find out if any Republicans are even bothering to run for our state house seat, but in any case we live in such an anomalously hip part of this otherwise reliably Republican town that it is still sprouting “Bernie 2016” yard signs all over the place and will surely wind up once again with the crazy-assed tax-and-spend nanny-state liberal Democrat who also happens to be an old buddy of ours. Kansas chooses its governor in off years, the more-or-less acceptable Republican Senator who happens to be up for re-election this time around is facing only token opposition from one of those no-name and no-money cranks who always shows up on the ballot, and the only voting we’ll do with any gusto is against that Republican district court judge who was ordered to undergo some sort of “sensitivity training” after confessing to a long history of sexual harassment.

Still, the privilege of participating in the primary process is enough, for now, to keep us officially registered as members of the Republican Party. George Will and Jay Nordlinger and other conservative writers we have long admired have recently penned their reasons for disassociating themselves from the party that nominated Donald J. Trump as its standard-bearer, and we can’t find fault with any of it, but none of them live in a state such as Kansas where the Republican Party still means something and just what it means is still very much up for vote.
That hotly contested congressional race over in the First District is a highly intriguing example of the Republican internecine warfare, and because the First District gets its talk radio and other media advertising from here in the urbanized Fourth we’ve been able to follow all the mud-slinging. Regular viewers of the as-the-GOP-turns soap opera know there’s been a trend in the past eight years or so for hell-bent hard-core conservative “tea party” types to challenge the squishy moderate “establishment” types in primaries, which explains how Tim Huelskamp became the incumbent Congressman in the same First District that had previously produced such stereotypically squishy moderate “establishment” Senators as Bob Dole and Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran. Huelskamp has proved so hell-bent and hard -core that he got kicked off the agriculture committee and voted against the pork-laden Farm Bill that his challenged was backed by the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Livestock Association, which can hardly be considered special interests in the First District, but Huelskamp had the backing of the Wichita-based Koch Brothers, which is as deep-pocketed and just as dear to our Kansas hearts, and contributions were also coming from all sorts of donors invested in such Republican squabbles, and all the national talk radio hosts were weighing in, and it wound up a mud-slinging fest with both candidates looking bad. After the initial Marshall argument that Huelskamp was too much an anti-establishmentarian bomb-thrower to get along the challenger wound up going with the theme that Huelskamp was a “career politician” dubbed “Washing-Tim,” which is so utterly ridiculous that we’re now rooting from across the county line for Huelskamp.
We’re rooting for our slightly more stingy bare-bones government right winger of a County Commissioner, too, but we will accept whatever verdict the Republicans in that part of town might render.

We’ll also happily cast a pointless vote for the unopposed Rep. Mike Pompeo here in the Fourth District, as he’s been just as conservative as Huelskamp or any other hell-bent type but has done so with the kind of tactful grace that has actually won him some plum assignments from the party bosses and good ink from the national press and a rising star status in the party. While we’re at it we’ll vote for that squishy establishment Senator running against the no-name and no-money kook who always shows up on the ballot, and figure we could do a lot worse. All the other Republicans down-ballot will get our support, too, and with similar sorts of holding majorities in state houses and occupying governor’s mansions and holding County Commission seats across a wide if sparsely populated swathe of this nation we’ll continue to cast our primary votes and hold out some hope for the Republican Party.

— Bud Norman

The New Congress and Its Fitful Start

Conservatives have hoped that the newly installed Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress will be like the cavalry coming to the rescue in one of those old John Ford westerns, but the session is off to a start more reminiscent of the old “F Troop” series.
The first official act of the new congress was to elect the same old Republican leadership, which conservatives had long found too timid in their confrontations with the president even before they ended the last session with a whimpering acquiescence to a “Cromnibus” budget deal that did little to limit the president’s hated executive order granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens and was otherwise so pleasing to the president that he actually phoned some of his party’s legislators to lobby on its behalf. Kentucky’s Sen. Mitch McConnell was elevated from minority leader to majority leader in routine fashion, but Ohio’s Speaker of the House John Boehner had to endure a bit of drama in order to retain his post. He only lost 25 Republicans votes to a variety of candidates that were never serious contenders, but that was enough for The Washington Post to describe it as “the biggest revolt against a House speaker in more than 150 years” and feed a popular press narrative about those crazy conservatives and their wacky war within the Republican party. The party leadership enjoys the good guy role in this tale, with The New York Times touting Boehner’s pledge to “restore function and civility to a body that has become a symbol of disorder for most Americans.”
Within hours such narrative-spinners as Politico were gleefully reporting that Boehner’s desire for “function and civility” had compelled him to punish a few of the dissenting voters by stripping them of desirable committee assignments. This is a common and longstanding practice by the leaders of both parties in order maintain a necessary unity, but in this case it is more likely to exacerbate the party’s divisions. The conservative activists who are largely responsible for the Republicans holding a majority in the House of Representatives will understandably be less enthusiastic about toeing the party line, and no more intimated by the results. Among those voting against Boehner was Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas’s First District, who had already been stripped of a coveted seat on the Agriculture Committee for his past confrontations with Boehner but survived a primary challenge and a general election by candidates who tried to make an issue of it and survived to cast another vote against Boehner, and we don’t expect that he or any of the other rebels will be more compliant in the future.
Nor does it help for the party leadership to corroborate the media depiction of the conservative faction as a bunch of crazies. If the Republicans don’t confront the president on illegal immigration and become even more aggressively tight-fisted on budget they will eventually face a full revolt from the party’s most important voters, and when tit comes down to the inevitable confrontation with the the president the media won’t be giving them any more good guy roles. Plans to get a veto-proof vote on the XL Keystone Pipeline as the start of a busy schedule of other poll-tested bills that president will hate are a good strategy, and a reminder that McConnell and Boehner and the rest of the leadership didn’t get their establishment credentials without some of the political strategy that their more ideological and less pragmatic challengers too often lack, but the bigger battles won’t be won without the conservative’s support and sound ideas.

— Bud Norman

A Swell Party in Kansas

Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas’ Fourth Congressional District threw a swell party Tuesday night. The event was held at the fashionably old-fashioned Candle Club over on the east side, where a private club status left over from the pre-liquor-by-the-drink days ordinarily allows for smoking and enhances a slightly ’60s-era Vegas atmosphere enhanced by painted portraits of all the prominent Rat Pack members, although it was more brightly lit and smoke-free than usual and a portrait of Pompeo had been added to the pantheon of Frank, Dean, and Sammy, and the free food was quite delicious and so was the free beer that a waitress friend of ours provided. Some old friends were in attendance, including a couple of the other waitresses and the newspaper reporter and photographer who were there on the job, and the convivial atmosphere was further enlivened by the numbers scrolling along the bottom of the several big screen televisions that showed Pompeo’s comfortable victory in his contested primary.
Pompeo’s victory pleased us, to the point that we donned one of the oversized “I Like Mike” campaign buttons that were being passed around, and almost all of the numbers that were scrolling across the bottom of those big-screen televisions were heartening. At least here in Kansas, the Republican Party seems in fighting form. The pre-ordained Democratic candidates will head into the general election unsullied by any of the mud that was slung in the Republican primary races, almost all of which were hotly contested, but they’ll face a Republican slate that has been distilled to its conservative essence and is ready to make its convincing case to a Republican state that is hopping mad about Democratic policies.
All the national media attention will be paid to the Senate race, where entrenched establishment incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts survived a challenge from one of those under-funded amateur “tea party” insurgents, but even that surprisingly close call demonstrates the appropriately angry mood of the state’s Republicans. After 47 years of representing Kansas in Washington Roberts won less than 50 percent of his party’s vote, and if not for a couple of crank candidates who split the anti-incumbent vote with Dr. Milton Wolf, a Kansas City-area radiologist best known for posting his patients’ x-rays on his Facebook page with sarcastic comments, the upset would have been the national political story of the day. We expect that a duly chastened Roberts will campaign on the full-throated conservatism that he’s shrewdly advocated the past few years, and that even the disappointed Republicans will prefer him to the Democratic alternative.
Some national attention will also be paid to a couple of the state’s Congressional races, where the usual storyline was inverted and incumbents were the radical “tea party” insurgent types while the challengers were more establishmentarian. Here in the Fourth District, to which we mistakenly included Hutchinson in a previous post, an error due to re-districting that was politely pointed out to us by a well-informed friend at the Candle Club, Pompeo and his principled opposition to pork barrel spending and publicly funded but privately profitable economic schemes was challenged by his predecessor, Todd Tiahrt, who promised to bring home the bacon the way he did back in the good old days George W. Bush’s spending spree. Tiahrt’s pitch included promises aplenty about reviving Wichita’s beleaguered airplane industry, but it’s nice to note that Pompeo’s past success as an aviation entrepreneur and his advocacy of de-regulation and lower taxes proved more persuasive to a solid majority of the district’s Republicans.
Over in the First District, which covers that great big empty space west of Wichita all the way to the Colorado border and then snakes northeast all way to to the edge of Topeka, and which we feel obligated to add also includes the very fine town of Hutchinson, an even more radical “tea party” insurgent type survived a challenge from an even more establishment-minded challenger. Rep. Tim Huelskamp became a talk radio sensation and a national hero to the radical insurgent “tea party” types with his denunciations of the Republican House leadership’s timidity in the government shutdown and other efforts to rebuff President Barack Obama, but the House leadership responded by stripping him of his seat on the Agriculture Committee and thus provided an opening to farmer and former teacher Alan LaPolice, who promised a more polite sort of politics. Huelskamp’s stubbornness on the obligatory Farm Bill, which the Democrats always turn into a welfare bill, as well as his admirable opposition to the ethanol subsidies that enrich many western Kansas farmers, made for a very competitive race. That the First District preferred the more impolite and principled candidate makes us all the more eager to take another drive through that beautifully empty space west of Wichita.
There will also be some gleeful speculation by the national media about the primary victory of Gov. Sam Brownback, who won his party’s nomination but lost nearly a fourth of its votes to a little-known and under-funded challenger. Democrats everywhere, but especially here, hate Brownback with the sort of red-hot passion once reserved for the likes of Dick Cheney or Sarah Palin, so they’ll no doubt predict an upset in the general election, but we think they misread the result. When we cast our votes over at the local Gloria Dei Lutheran Church we ran into an old friend we know to be stark raving liberal, and when we expressed our surprise that she had bothered to show up for the uncontested Democratic races she said that she had switched parties in time to vote to the more “moderate” Republicans, and when we headed home we found a Facebook posting by another Democratic friend gloating how he had switched in order to cast a vote against the hated Brownback, and given the lack of any reason to vote in the Democratic primary we suspect that many others like them contributed to the relatively close count. Brownback will need a good campaign to win, but he knows how to do that and the pre-ordained liberal Democrat from the college town of Lawrence doesn’t look all that intimidating.
We left what turned out to be Pompeo’s victory party before the big speech, as the National Baseball Congress’ annual semi-pro world championship tournament over at the westside’s Lawrence-Dumont Stadium beckoned, but since it was almost on the way we stopped at Kirby’s Beer Store to check on the numbers scrolling at the bottom of the bar’s small television. Kirby’s is a hipster bar rife with Democrats, and one of our favorites, a delightfully dissolute lawyer whose professional fortunes are tied to the party, was watching with dismay. He was surprised by Pompeo’s victory, due to his outdated belief that Tiahrt’s popularity with the local anti-abortion activists would carry the day, and even expressed amazement that nationally-known anti-illegal-immigration stalwart Kris Kobach had cruised to re-nomination as Secretary of State, even though the voter identification laws that he championed are hugely popular here and everywhere else. He expressed the predictable optimism about knocking off Brownback, although he sounded somewhat hesitant, and admitted that Roberts and the rest were likely to cruise to re-election. He also said he hadn’t dared to switch parties to vote in the primary, if only for professional reasons, and we thanked him heartily and promised to forever return the favor.
The national media will pay no mind whatsoever to Sedgwick County’s Fourth District Commission race, but forgive our local rooting interest and allow us to note that Richard Ranzau survived a well-funded challenge from oh-so-moderate State Sen. Carolyn McGinn. Ranzau is locally notorious for voting against any of those Chamber of Commerce-inspired “eco deco” deals that promise jobs and prosperity and a chicken in every pot, even when the feds are picking up the tab, and we’re delighted that a slim majority of our neighboring Republicans have his back. He’ll face a tough race in the general election against the Democrats’ pre-ordained Melody McCray-Miller, the heiress to a local black political dynasty that has the undying loyalty of a large slice of the districts as well as a winning personality that makes her formidable in the paler portions of the district, but we also like his chances in November. There’s no telling what the rest of the country is thinking, but here in the county district and the congressional district and the state at large the Republican party seems more or less on the right track.

— Bud Norman