Friday, December 12, 2008

Up-and-coming Kansas Republican Rockstars: the Future of the Kansas GOP

Kansas Republicans, in contrast to the national outcome, made gains against the Democrats in 2008 and 2010 promises to be a banner year for Republicans, as Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh and Sen. Sam Brownback jockey for the GOP nomination for governor in order to put that office back in Republican control (it will be), and Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt run for Brownback’s U.S. Senate seat. In addition, a slew of state senate seats will be up for grabs, all 125 state house seats will be up, and all statewide offices will be up (the Konnection has received credible tips that attorney and state GOP chair Kris Kobach is set on re-claiming the attorney general’s seat for the GOP). Meanwhile, here are some Kansas Republican pols on the younger side who we believe will be powerful leaders in the future based on their current successes:

Kevin Yoder—this young KU law school grad and current attorney is now serving his 3rd term in the house representing an Overland Park-based district that includes the headquarters of Sprint. Yoder is known as a pragmatic voice in the legislature who transcends the moderate/conservative political divide in the Kansas GOP and is well respected by moderates and conservatives alike. Yoder won his race this year with more than 60 percent of the vote and is constantly mentioned as a favorite for Johnson County DA in the future, state senate, and even congress. Yoder was recently named chair of the power Appropriations committee.

Julia Lynn—another young, energetic, and bright newcomer, Lynn faced a strong opponent in Olathe Superintendent Ron Wimmer in her first election bid after being appointed to Kay O’Connor’s seat by the GOP precinct committee members in 2007, but Lynn won by a resounding 10 percent. Lynn was recently named vice chair of the Tax and Commerce committees, a major accomplishment for a freshman legislator who will be making waves in Topeka and throughout her political career.

Kasha Kelly--this dynamic Arkansas City representative has championed budget reform, fiscal responsibility, and led the implemention of the state's first sunshine laws to promote state budget transparency online. Kelly has incredible skill and drive, which makes her a rising star in the party.

Lance Kinzer--this third-term Olathe lawyer carefully researches the issues and knows the Kansas constitution like the back of his hand. Kinzer has championed reductions in state spending and a strict constructivist view of the state constitution. He has also worked across the aisle and written critical legislation to downsize government and halt its growth. Look for Kinzer to run for AG someday.

Lynn Jenkins—popular state treasurer took on native son and former congressman Jim Ryun and overcame long odds, defying the pundits and winning. But she didn’t stop there—Jenkins promised new Republican leadership, running on a strong platform of the core issues of low taxes, cutting wasteful spending, eliminating earmarks, and sealing the borders. In one of only a few defeats of incumbent Democrats nationwide, Jenkins returned the 2nd District to Republican control. Jenkins will be a powerful force in Washington and strong voice from Kansas, serving as a prime example of the type of campaign Republicans need to run if they want to regain power.

Steve Howe—conservative, bridge-builder, 15-year veteran of the Johnson County DA’s office who united Republicans around his candidacy and defeated political opportunist and turncoat Rick Guinn in November, despite being heavily outspent. I personally know Steve well and worked in the DA’s office with him and he will be an honest, effective, and tireless advocate on behalf of the citizens of this county. It will be refreshing to move beyond the political posturing, corruption, and controversy-plagued administrations of Morrison and Kline. The question is: what is next in Howe’s political future?

Mark Gilstrap switches to GOP

The media has inundated us with reports of Republican defections to the KS Democratic Party in recent years, yet there is only brief mention of Kansas City, KS State Senator Mark Gilstrap’s recent defection to the Republican Party. Gilstrap, the most conservative Democrat in Topeka, has supported Kline for Attorney General, and is a pro-life social conservative with fiscally-conservative tendencies. Sebelius’ unprecedented endorsement of Gilstrap’s primary opponent led Gilstrap to lose his longtime seat in the Democratic primary. Really, Gilstrap had no choice as his party all but abandoned him and decided it had no use for someone who wasn’t going to tow the liberal party line of the governor. Gilstrap returned the favor by endorsing Republican Steve Fitzgerald in the general election.

Republican Steve Fitzgerald has come within four points of winning this KCK seat twice now. The Konnection believes that Gilstrap should and must run as the Republican nominee in 2010—his odds of beating Kelly Kultala would be great, since he is well-known in the district and would attract a substantial Democratic crossover vote. Additionally, the lost of an additional senate seat would reduce Democratic numbers in the state senate to an abysmal 8 members in the 40 member body—a profound failure considering Sebelius massive fundraising efforts and long-term goal of increasing the party’s numbers in that body and in the state house.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Political Upset of the Decade

Joseph Cao: One of the new faces of the GOP

Two special congressional elections were held in Louisiana yesterday. Republican physician John Fleming narrowly beat popular former Democratic attorney Paul Carmouche by 300 votes, holding this seat for the GOP. But LA-2 was the scene of the most shocking upset of the night, astounding all political pundits and observers. This New Orleans based district takes in only two parishes (counties) in Louisiana—Orleans and Jefferson—and due to its demographics (an urban, majority black district), it has long been the most Democratic district in the state. That changed Saturday in a historic moment when New Orleans voters voted out disgraced and indicted Congressman William Jefferson and elected Republican attorney Joseph Cao to congress, 50 to 47 percent. Some quick facts on this historic win:

  • Cao becomes the first Republican to represent this New Orleans-based district since 1891—a span of more than 100 years
  • Cao becomes the first Republican to represent a majority African-American (60 percent black) congressional district in America
  • Cao becomes the first Republican to represent a U.S. congressional district with a 28 point Democratic lean (Obama won this district with 75 percent of the vote)
  • Cao becomes the first Vietnamese-American to serve in congress and he comes from the party of real diversity, the Republican Party

Now, naysayers will dismiss and downplay the results, claiming this was a vote against Jefferson, not a vote for Cao, and that Jefferson’s federal indictment and legal troubles doomed his re-election bid, combined with low turnout for a special election originally postponed due to Hurrican Gustav. All of those factors are valid reasons for explaining Jefferson’s loss, but those factors alone do not explain Cao’s win. Jefferson was under federal indictment in 2006 and still won re-election convincingly. The difference this year? The Republicans recruited an inspiring reformer who represented the growing diversity of his district, someone with an intriguing life story (Cao arrived in the U.S. as child from Saigon in the aftermath of Vietnam War as his family sought to escape communism), someone well-connected with his community, with a history of service and volunteer commitment to the city of New Orleans. Cao built coalitions that included former Democratic candidates and independents, knocked on more doors and held more community forums than any Republican challenger in the past. In addition, his efforts were complemented by the NRCC and Louisiana Republican Party, which waged an aggressive campaign against Jefferson and micro-targeted certain wards in New Orleans while blanketing the suburbs with TV, radio, and print ads. The result? Jefferson only very narrowly won Orleans county (New Orleans), losing many of that city’s wards while Cao won suburban Jefferson County, beating Jefferson overall by 3 percent.

Jefferson’s ethical and legal lapses were not enough to cost him re-election in a district with a 28 point Democratic edge—the incredible effort of the Republican Party in fielding a top-tier candidate and supporting him in every way possible with the full heft and resources of the national, state, and local party apparatuses should and will provide a blueprint for how Republicans can win even in the bluest of districts. Let’s not forget that Republican Jim Ogonowski came within 5 points of knocking off Paul Tsongas' wife in Massachusetts in 2007. With the right message and the right candidates, the GOP can win again everywhere, becoming a dominant party in the northeast again and refusing to cede any district to the Democrats.

These two Republican victories in Louisiana, combined with Saxby Chambliss’ double-digit win in Georgia last week are evidence that the Republican party is not dead and that conservatism is still alive and well. Since Obama’s victory, the Republicans are 3-3 in special congressional elections, and with the right message and right candidates, the party can make huge gains in 2010. That is, if it takes anything from these special elections and creates an organizational framework going into 2010.

As for Louisiana, the fact that the most liberal and Democratic district of the state has elected a conservative Republican further underscores the state’s sharp turn to the right in the last decade. Just six years ago, a majority of Louisiana’s congressional delegation was Democratic—now only one of its 7 congressional seats is held by a Democrat (and that seat, held by Charles Melancon, was formerly held by Republican Billy Tauzin, and it is expected to switch back to Republican control in 2010 or 2012, giving Louisiana complete GOP control of its delegation). Louisiana also has a GOP governor and senator, and was one of only a few states to give John McCain a greater share of its vote in this year’s presidential election than George W. Bush in 2004.