When Scott Morgan was working in Washington D.C. as an aide to Sens. Nancy Kassebaum and Bob Dole, it was common to find Republicans who disagreed on today’s hot button issues, be it gun control, abortion or taxation. But the party had a way of hanging together even though its members had divergent views.
“I worked in a U.S. Senate that had conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans, and very liberal Republicans,” he said. “It was the same way with the Democrats. These were big tent parties.”
In Kansas today, though, Morgan says, ideological conservatives have so thoroughly dominated the party that there’s little room for moderates like himself. And he has the feeling there are many registered Democrats who would like a more centrist option on Kansas ballots, as well.
“There is a large group of people out there who are not zealots, who are not single-issue voters,” he said. “The idea was, you’ve got an unmet market and you should design a product for them.”
Since last summer, Morgan has been working to establish a new “Party of the Center” in the state. For the past six weeks, he’s been traveling between his home in Lawrence to events in Johnson and Sedgwick counties working toward collection of the 18,000 physical signatures needed to get the party on Kansas ballots.
He knows the process won’t be easy. Third parties, he said, have a reputation for being futile efforts. But he believes the traditional two-party system has become so unwelcoming to so many people here that Kansas is ripe for a new attempt.
“I know that in four or six years, this will not seem strange at all, because things like this are happening in pockets across the country,” he said. “We do run into people where the issue is you’ve just got to get them to believe.”
Morgan grew up in Shawnee, the son of a political reporter for the Kansas City Star, and graduated from Shawnee Mission Northwest before going on to get his undergraduate and law degrees at KU. After his work for the U.S. Senators, he returned to Kansas to serve as Chief Counsel to then-Gov. Mike Hayden.
His faith in the ability of the Republican party to effectively govern took some hits in the intervening years. He recalled watching a forum for the candidates for Kansas Insurance Commissioner ahead of the 2014 election, and being stunned that so many of them referenced issues that had nothing to do with the office itself.
“They would all have to start their spiel with, ‘I’m right to live from conception to natural death. I’m pro-constitutional carry, 2nd Amendment, no permit. We do not have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem — I will support no new taxes,'” Morgan said. “And if you wanted to go the extra mile, throw in something negative about immigrants. Republican gatherings have always been a little weird, but I realized how much things had changed.”
In 2016, he mounted a last-minute effort to challenge Kris Kobach for Secretary of State, saying that even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to unseat the incumbent, he wanted there to at least be another option on the ballot for Republicans. After losing that election, he began speaking with other Republicans who shared his discomfort with the party’s current make-up in Kansas.
“I knew how long it took conservatives to take over the party,” he said. “I thought, let’s get going [on moving it back]. There’s a lot of grunt work that needs to be done. But people were just so disillusioned. They didn’t think it could happen. A lot people had just given up.”
The alternative — and perhaps the approach that would be better suited to the current environment — he determined, was the formation of a new party for centrists. In October, he penned a “break up letter” to the Republican party, and announced his Party of the Center.
“If you believe that we’re better than what we are now, this should be an option,” he said.