Mission Hills Sen. Barbara Bollier this morning officially changed her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.
Citing “frustrations that have been ongoing for nine years,” Bollier said Wednesday that the inclusion of anti-transgender language in the party platform had proved a breaking point for her.
“Morally, the party is not going where my compass resides,” Bollier said. “I’m looking forward to being in a party that represents the ideals that I do, including Medicaid expansion and funding our K-12 schools.”
Bollier had been publicly at odds with Republican leadership in recent months, putting her support behind Democrats Tom Niermann and Laura Kelly in the Kansas 3rd Congressional District and gubernatorial elections, respectively, moves that led to her being stripped of her committee assignments by senate leadership. A physician by training, Bollier was especially upset at having been removed from the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.
“Once I was removed from my committees, it no longer made sense for me to try to represent my constituents as a Republican,” she said.
Bollier had lent her support to an initiative by Scott Morgan, a former aide to Republican Sens. Nancy Kassebaum and Bob Dole, to form a new Party of the Center in Kansas that represented moderate values. But, she said, it became clear to her that to have any influence in the capitol, she needed to be affiliated with one of the two major parties.
“I still support a movement like that for a moderate party, but I have found that the rules of the legislature are really set up for a two-party system,” she said. “If you aren’t affiliated with one of the two parties, you can’t sit on committees. And until that changes, there isn’t going to be a way to make it work.”
Local Republican officials said the news of Bollier’s departure from the party was not a surprise.
“The JCRP was not shocked by today’s news,” said Johnson County Republican Party Chair Dave Myres. “After her recent endorsements of Democrats in both the primary and general elections, as well as a voting record more liberal than many Democrats, we applaud her for her honesty.”
Bollier says she will run for a new term in 2020
Bollier said that she will run for a second term in the Senate in 2020, this time as a Democrat. She moved to the state’s upper chamber after having served in the House from 2010-2016.
District 7, which she represents, runs roughly from the Wyandotte-Johnson County line at 47th Street on the north to 99th Street at the south; and from State Line Road on the east to Metcalf Ave. on the west. It includes all of the cities of Roeland Park, Fairway Westwood, Westwood Hills, Mission Woods, Mission Hills, Prairie Village and Mission as well as parts of Overland Park and Leawood. The district strongly supported Democrat Laura Kelly in the gubernatorial election, giving her a 39 percent margin over Republican Kris Kobach.
County Republican leaders, though, indicated they planned to challenge her next cycle.
“We look forward to an exciting election ahead in 2020 as Republicans have true representation on the ballot in Senate District 7,” said Myres.
In an announcement released Wednesday morning, Sen. Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said he welcomed Bollier to the Democrats’ ranks.
“We are excited to welcome Senator Bollier to our caucus,” Hensley said. “She has been a longtime friend and respected colleague with the best interests of Kansas at heart. Her expertise, pragmatism, and courage enrich the entire Kansas Legislature — regardless of whether she calls herself a Democrat or Republican.”
While clearly a victory for Senate Democrats, Bollier’s addition does little to change the math for the minority party in the legislature: Democrats will now hold 10 of the 40 seats in the Senate instead of nine. And there was apparently no love lost on the part of Republican Senate leadership.
“Senator Bollier has a voting record more liberal than some Democrats, so it’s no shock she joined the party of Nancy Pelosi,” Sen. President Susan Wagle of Wichita wrote on Twitter. “The only surprise is that she didn’t end her facade of being a Republican sooner.”
Sen. Majority Leader Jim Denning of Overland Park also shared his reaction to the news.
“It is unfortunate to be losing a member of the Republican caucus, but I believe this will be a healthy change for Sen. Bollier personally, her constituents, and for the Republican Caucus,” Denning wrote on Twitter. “I wish her the best and look forward to continuing to work with her next session.
State Republican Party leaders have not responded to an invitation to comment at this time. We’ll update the story as soon as we connect with them.
Bollier has not received her committee assignments from Democratic leadership at this time.
“I love my constituents and I love the state of Kansas, and I’m trying to find the path to serve them best,” she said of the decision to switch.