Sen. Dinah Sykes has joined a wave of departures from the Republican party ahead of the 2019 session.
In an announcement posted on her Facebook page, Sykes said that she believes she can “better serve my state and constituents as a member of the Democratic party.”
Skyes’ defection is the third among elected officials in the Shawnee Mission area. Sen. Barbara Bollier announced her switch last week, and Rep. Stephanie Clayton announced her switch this morning. Both Clayton and Sykes had hinted last week that they had considered leaving the GOP.
“I am a moderate person who represents a moderate and pragmatic district that expects me to focus on issues and solutions that impact their day-to-day lives,” said Sykes, whose 21st Senate District includes parts of Lenexa, Shawnee, Overland Park and Olathe. “Increasingly, I see the Republican party focusing on issues and approaches that divide our country. I do not agree with that approach.”
Sykes said Wednesday that she had been considering the switch since before Thanksgiving. She ultimately came to the conclusion that she would better be able to serve the district as a part of the Democratic caucus.
“I really feel like I have tried to represent the district,” she said. “You’re never going to make everyone happy regardless. I try my best to engage in my community, and I came to the decision that this was in the best interests of our district.”
Sen. President Susan Wagle acknowledged Sykes’ announcement on Twitter.
“While I am disappointed that Senator Sykes will be joining the party of higher taxes and big government, she believes this move will allow her to better represent her district,” Wagle wrote.
Responding to the news of Sykes’ and Clayton’s party changes, Johnson County Republican Party Secretary Colton Gibson said that “The JCRP applauds Sen. Sykes and Rep. Clayton for their honesty to their constituents and we wish them the best.”
Sykes defeated conservative Republican incumbent Greg Smith in the primary ahead of the November 2016 general election, where she defeated Democrat Logan Heley for the Senate seat. Since the election, though, she said she has watched the “right wing agenda” advance further and further into Republican party dealings.
“I saw that, at the precinct committee person level, we had right wing people in a lot of seats, and it just felt like there was not a way to fight that. There was no way to make a change,” Sykes said.
Sykes also cited rhetoric from the party at the national level that she feels has been divisive.
“There has been this sense that if you are different, you are not accepted,” she said. “And that was very troubling for me.”
She said she remained committed to the same issues that had driven her to run in the first place: An efficient government that provides services at a good value to Kansans.
“My constituents for the most part want good government,” Sykes said. “They want it efficient, but they want government services. They want mental health services. They want good schools. They want good roads. They don’t want to pay more than we have to, but they want good services.”
Sykes said she is planning to seek a second term in office when her seat comes up for election in 2020.