Sen. Barbara Bollier’s announcement that she was decamping from the GOP and had changed her party affiliation to Democrat had many Shawnee Mission area constituents wondering if other moderate Republican legislators might be considering the same move.
And while two moderate GOP legislators in districts that voted heavily for Democratic candidates last month say they’re staying put, two others have been ambiguous about their plans.
Asked Wednesday whether they had any intention of switching parties, Reps. Jan Kessinger and Tom Cox said they were firmly committed to remaining in the GOP.
Republican Stephanie Clayton, though, told that Shawnee Mission Post that she does “do not know what lies ahead, but remain firm in my commitment to my constituents and their values.”
Sen. Dinah Sykes has not responded to our inquiry about whether she plans to remain in the GOP. But KCUR’s Sam Zeff reported Wednesday that Sykes said she had considered leaving the party.
Voters in moderate-held districts swung toward Democrats in November
Republicans Cox, Kessinger, Clayton and Sykes stand out among the Shawnee Mission area delegation for the fact that the districts they represent swung strongly toward Democratic candidates in statewide and federal races on the November ballot.
Fellow moderate Sen. John Skubal’s district, on the other hand, supported four of the five Republican candidates on the ballot for statewide and federal office, suggesting it remains a solid district for Republicans. Prior to Skubal’s victory in 2016, the Senate district was represented by conservative Republican Jeff Melcher.
Among the others, though, Clayton’s district was the most pronounced, supporting the Democratic candidates in four out of the five federal and statewide races, and giving Democrat Laura Kelly a nearly 32 percent margin over Republican Kris Kobach in the gubernatorial race.
Clayton, however, easily fended off a challenge from Democrat Stephen Wyatt for her House seat, winning a third term in office on a 59-41 vote split.
Skye’s district went for four of five statewide and federal Democrats as well, and gave Kelly a 23 point margin over Kobach. Senate seats weren’t on this fall’s ballot, but Sykes will be up for reelection for the first time in 2020. In 2016, Sykes unseated conservative Republican incumbent Greg Smith in the primary 58-43. She then went on to win the general election by defeating Democratic nominee Logan Heley 50-42.
Cox’s district went for four of the five statewide and federal Democrats as well, and gave Kelly a 20 point margin over Kobach. He was able to hold on to his seat by defeating Democratic challenger Laura Smith-Everett 50-47 — a much closer margin than Clayton secured for her reelection.
Kessinger’s district went for three of five Democrats in the statewide and federal races and gave Kelly an 18 percent margin over Kobach. Kessinger marched to an easy reelection, taking a 60-40 win over Democrat Becky Barber. (Barber, it should be noted, ran an inactive campaign).
Cox and Kessinger stress working with colleagues of different ideologies
In explanations of their decisions to remain within the Republican party, both Cox and Kessinger said they were committed to working across party lines to craft good policy.
Cox provided the following statement on his decision:
I have no intention of switching parties. I ran and was elected on a bipartisan platform focused on issues important to the district. Party label is the last thing I consider when working with colleagues on an issue or casting votes. I work for the constituents of my district and they made it very clear they want me to work with all sides to craft policy that benefits our state. Does that mean I will agree with my Democratic colleagues on every issue? No. Does that mean I will agree with my Republican colleagues on every issue? No. It means I will focus on the issues and not the party labels. Every legislator has to make their own decision on party and they are accountable to their constituents, not their fellow legislators on that choice.
Kessinger provided this statement on his position:
I am a lifelong Republican in the spirit of George HW Bush, Dwight Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt. While party leadership has shifted far to the right, I will remain a Republican and work to bring the party to the center where the majority of Americans are politically. Extremism and partisanship divides us and causes many to choose sides with winners and losers. The two party system is vital for democracy. I embrace the term “moderate Republican” in the truest sense of the word, working with the left and the right to bring about the best solutions for Kansas and the United States.