In a lengthy message posted on his Facebook page Tuesday, Merriam Rep. Jarrod Ousley said concerns over the rights of LGBTQ residents in his district led him to the decision to “politely decline” the endorsement of the MainStream Coaliton’s MainPAC.
MainPAC released its endorsements for races in Johnson County late last month, giving its stamp of approval to both Republican and Democratic candidates who support its opposition to “extremist voices in politics.”
The group’s endorsement of Lenexa Rep. Tom Cox, however, prompted criticism from Johnson County progressives, who said Cox’s vote in support of a bill that granted faith-based adoption agencies the ability to refuse placing children with gay and lesbian couples on religious grounds was at odds with MainStream’s dedication to the separation of church and state. MainStream’s first chair was Dr. Bob Meneilly, longtime minister at Village Presbyterian Church, who founded the group in part as a “guard against the encroachment of religious doctrine into the public space.”
While Ousley’s statement does not mention Cox by name, he notes that he was “upset to learn that they were endorsing candidates who included representatives who were key votes in the adoption discrimination bill,” among other issues.
Here’s the portion of the statement where he lays out his rationale for declining the endorsement:
After hearing from some of my constituents regarding their concerns surrounding the endorsement, and how they felt the organization was marginalizing their rights, and discussing the matter with other progressive candidates, at this time, I must politely decline my endorsement from Mainstream. If my inclusion in the list of endorsees provides cover and lends legitimacy to candidates who are not stewards of Mainstream’s founding principals [sic], and if my inclusion causes LGBTQ members of my district to feel their rights are less important than tax policy, then I am contributing to a problem.
In correspondence with Mission City Councilwoman Sollie Flora, who wrote the organization to complain about MainStream’s endorsement of legislators who had supported the adoption bill, MainStream executive director Brandi Fisher said the group took Cox’s position on a number of issues into account when making the decision to endorse him.
“In his two years in office, Rep. Cox has voted for many bills that we do support. Tom Cox has a pro-education record. He voted for increased school funding and to reinstate teacher due process. He voted against campus carry and for Medicaid expansion. He was a critical vote to pass tax reform and again to kill the final hour attempt to cut taxes. Thanks to these votes, there is more money available for schools and safety net services,” Fisher wrote in her email to Flora. “[Cox] is…more aligned with us than his current primary opponent who would like to reclaim the seat for the ultra-conservatives,” Fisher wrote. “For MainStream voters who will be voting in the Republican Primary, it is our job to inform them of who is the better candidate on their ballot.”
Three candidates are running for Cox’s seat: Cox, who is seeking a second term; Republican Jim Eschrich, who will face Cox in the primary; and Democrat Laura Smith-Everett, a first time candidate. (You can see our coverage of their comments at the Shawnee Mission Area Council PTA’s District 17 candidate forum here) MainStream issued endorsements for both Cox and Smith-Everett.
Fisher’s message said that MainStream has “publicly stated that opponents of Rep. Cox should put their energy behind supporting MainPAC’s other endorsed candidate in House District 17, Democrat Laura Smith-Everett.”
Flora posted a message on her Facebook page after the endorsement came out in June saying she could “no longer stand with” MainStream on account of the LGBTQ concerns and later urged other elected officials to join her.
After seeing Ousley’s Facebook post, MainStream issued its own statement on the matter, saying it would remove him from its endorsement list.
“We respect the decision of Rep. Ousley, and are removing him from our endorsement list,” reads the statement. “But we object to the characterization that MainStream cares more about tax policy than LGBTQ+ rights. We have a long history of fighting for the rights, beliefs, and freedoms of all individuals, in every arena from civil rights to education, health care to, yes, undue tax burdens on working and poor Kansans. We work with legislators, community leaders, and other organizations to move the needle forward on all of these issues. We actively supported the city of Roeland Park as they fought to adopt the first anti-discrimination policy in this county. We fought against the Adoption Protection Act, sending hundreds of messages from our members and supporters to Kansas Legislators, including Rep. Cox. And we will stand with LQBTQ+ Kansans next session when legislation is proposed to return sexual orientation to the list of protected classes under Kansas law.”