Stories about Kansas

Former U.S. Sen. Kassebaum (R) endorses Bollier (D) in KS race

Former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R) endorsed Barbara Bollier (D) in the Senate race in Kansas. Kassebaum held the seat from 1978 until 1997. Pat Roberts (R), the retiring incumbent in 2020, succeeded her. Bollier, Roger Marshall (R), and Jason Buckley (L) are on the ballot.

Bollier, a state senator, served in the state House and Senate as a Republican until switching her affiliation to Democrat in December 2018. She cited school funding and Medicaid expansion among the issues influencing her switch. Bollier has endorsements from several current and former Republican state legislators.

Marshall has served in the U.S. House since 2017. Roberts and President Donald Trump (R) endorsed him. Sheila Frahm (R), who was appointed to the state’s other U.S. Senate seat in 1996 and lost that year’s primary to Sam Brownback, endorsed Marshall the same day Kassebaum endorsed Bollier.

The Wichita Eagle’s Jonathan Shorman wrote, “Both Frahm and Kassebaum hail from an era of moderate Republicanism in Kansas. … Both Frahm and Kassebaum endorsed Democrat Laura Kelly in the 2018 governor’s race.”

Kansas has not elected a Democratic senator since 1932. No Democrat appeared on the 2014 general election ballot, and Roberts won re-election with 53% of the vote to independent Greg Orman’s 43%. In the 2018 gubernatorial race, Kelly defeated Kris Kobach (R) 48% to 43%. Marshall defeated Kobach and nine others in the 2020 Republican primary.

The outcome of this race will affect the partisan control of the U.S. Senate. Thirty-five of the 100 seats will be up for election, including two special elections. As of September 2020, the Republican Party has a 53-seat majority in the chamber. Democrats have 45 seats. Independents who caucus with the Democrats hold the two remaining seats. Republicans face greater partisan risk in the general election, as they are defending 23 seats while Democrats are defending 12. Both parties have two incumbents representing states the opposite party’s presidential nominee won in 2016.

Additional reading:
U.S. Senate delegation from Kansas

Kansas’ state legislative Republican primaries alter the ideological makeup of GOP caucus

On August 4, 12 of the 28 Republican state legislative incumbents facing primary challenges in Kansas lost their primaries. These results could alter the makeup of the Republican caucus in 2021.

Local media sources like The Wichita Eagle, Shawnee Mission Post, and The Kansas City Star identified nine incumbents whose primaries and defeats were representative of an intra-party divide over issues including Medicaid expansion and abortion laws.

Michael Ryan wrote in The Kansas City Star, “A good number of conservatives absolutely washed over their more moderate state legislative opponents in Tuesday’s Republican primary election.”

Jonathan Shorman wrote in The Wichita Eagle, “The influence of Kansas Republican moderates has waxed and waned. Gov. Sam Brownback [(R)] helped oust them in 2012. Voters then swept them back into office in 2016 to end his signature income tax cuts and stabilize the budget.” Shorman continued, “But with last week’s primary losses, their ranks have been depleted to levels not seen for years.”

The following six state senators lost Republican primaries this year. All were first elected in 2016, the year of the most recent state senate elections. Sens. John Skubal, Bruce Givens, Randall Hardy, and Edward Berger defeated Republican incumbents in primaries themselves that year.

• District 11: Sen. John Skubal, lost to Kellie Warren 64-36%
• District 14: Sen. Bruce Givens, lost to Michael Fagg 54-46%
• District 15: Sen. Dan Goddard, lost to Virgil Peck, Jr. 50.1-49.9%
• District 24: Sen. Randall Hardy, lost to J.R. Claeys 63-37%
• District 33: Sen. Mary Jo Taylor, lost to Alicia Straub 60-40%
• District 34: Sen. Edward Berger, lost to Mark Steffen 57.5%-42.5%

The following three state representatives lost Republican primaries this year.

• District 20: Rep. Jan Kessinger, lost to Jane Dirks 57-43%
• District 42: Rep. Jim Karleskint, lost to Lance Neelly 52-48%
• District 71: Rep. Diana Dierks, lost to Steven Howe 62-38%

Local media outlets identified the No Right to Abortion in Constitution Amendment as a noteworthy issue in the primaries featuring Sen. Skubal and Rep. Kessinger. If passed, the measure would have placed a legislatively referred constitutional amendment on the August 4 ballot stating that there is no right to abortion or public funding for abortions in the Kansas Constitution.

A two-thirds vote of all members in each chamber of the Kansas State Legislature was required to refer the amendment to the ballot for voter consideration.

In the Senate, that equaled 27 votes and, in the House, 84. Republicans held supermajorities in both the Senate and House with 29 and 84 members, respectively, equal or greater to the two-thirds threshold in both chambers.

Skubal and Kessinger voted against placing the measure on the ballot. The Senate approved the amendment. Kessinger and three other Republicans joined 39 Democrats to vote against the amendment in the House, resulting in a final vote of 80-43, four votes short of passage.

Skubal’s and Kessinger’s primary defeats and the retirement of the three House Republicans who voted against the amendment with Kessinger means none of the five Republicans who opposed the No Right to Abortion in Constitution Amendment will return for the 2021 legislative session.

Heading into the November elections, Kansas has a divided government. Republicans control both the Senate and the House. Democrats hold the governorship following Gov. Laura Kelly’s election in 2018. The next gubernatorial election will be held on November 8, 2022. In the Senate, Republicans will retain a veto-proof supermajority if they gain seats, hold their current number of seats, or lose a net of two seats. In the House, Republicans will retain a veto-proof majority if they gain or hold their current number seats. If Democrats gain a net of one seat, they will control more than one-third of the House seats.

To read more background, local commentary, and historical data on Kansas’ state legislative Republican primaries, click here.

Marshall defeats Kobach in Kansas’ Republican primary for U.S. Senate

U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall defeated former Secretary of State Kris Kobach, plumber Bob Hamilton, and eight others in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Kansas. As of 9:25 p.m. Central Time, Marshall had received 37% of the vote followed by Kobach and Hamilton with 26% and 20%, respectively. No other candidate received over 10% of the vote.
During the primary, Marshall said he had a record of accomplishments in the House including sitting on the Agriculture Committee, ensuring that protections for crop insurance were included in the Farm Bill, and passing a bill to reduce tax rates.
Since July 15, the Sunflower State super PAC has spent over $4 million worth of satellite spending in the primary principally supporting Kobach. Media outlets wrote that the group had Democratic connections, and Politico reported that one of the group’s ads was “engineered to drive conservative voters towards Kobach.”

LaTurner defeats incumbent Watkins in KS-02 GOP primary

Jake LaTurner won Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District Republican primary with 49% of the vote to incumbent Steve Watkins’ 34% and Dennis Taylor’s 17%, with 57% of precincts reporting. Watkins is the sixth incumbent representative defeated in a primary in 2020. He was first elected in 2018, defeating Paul Davis (D) by less than 1 percentage point.
Gov. Sam Brownback (R) appointed LaTurner as Kansas treasurer in 2017, and LaTurner was elected to remain in office in 2018. He is the youngest statewide elected official in the U.S.
On July 14, Watkins was charged with voter fraud, having used the address of a UPS store on his voter registration form. Watkins said he mistakenly used his mailing address instead of his residential address and that the charges were politically motivated.

Previewing Kansas’ August 4 battleground primaries

There are three battleground primaries taking place in Kansas on August 4. Battlegrounds are elections that Ballotpedia expects to have a meaningful effect on the balance of power in governments or to be particularly competitive or compelling.

Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Kansas

Eleven candidates are running in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Kansas. Incumbent Pat Roberts (R), who was first elected in 1996, is not seeking re-election.

Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall have led the field in noteworthy endorsements and media attention. Roberts, along with National Right to Life and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, endorsed Marshall. Kobach’s endorsers include former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), the National Border Patrol Council, and the National Association for Gun Rights.

Kobach says he has spent two decades fighting illegal immigration and that his record includes cutting spending in the Secretary of State office. Marshall emphasizes his role on the House Agriculture Committee, in passing the 2018 Farm Bill, and in passing a bill reducing tax rates.

Satellite spending in the race topped $9 million as of July 29. The super PAC Sunflower State has spent the most at more than $4 million. Media outlets wrote that the PAC has Democratic ties and is favoring Kobach. Plains PAC is spending $3 million on an ad campaign opposing Kobach. The Senate Leadership Fund booked $1.2 million in airtime supporting Marshall.

As of July 15, Bob Hamilton, the former owner of a plumbing business, led the primary field in fundraising with $3.7 million. He loaned $3.5 million to his campaign. Marshall had raised $2.7 million, and Kobach was third with $938,000.

Kansas has not elected a Democratic senator since 1932. Major election forecasters rate the general election as Lean Republican or Likely Republican. In 2018, Kansas elected Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who defeated Kobach 48% to 43%.

The other battleground primaries in Kansas are:

Republican primary in Kansas’ 1st Congressional District

Bill Clifford, Tracey Mann, Jerry Molstad, and Michael Soetaert are running in the 1st District Republican primary. The seat is currently held by Roger Marshall and is rated Safe or Solid Republican. Media attention has focused on Clifford and Mann. Clifford is a Finney County commissioner, and Mann was lieutenant governor of Kansas from 2018 to 2019.

Republican primary in Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District

Incumbent Steve Watkins, Jacob LaTurner, and Dennis Taylor are running in the Republican primary for Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District. On July 14, Watkins was charged with three felony counts and one misdemeanor count related to an incorrect address on his voter registration form. He says the charges were politically motivated and has accused LaTurner, Kansas’ treasurer, of being involved. LaTurner says he is the electable candidate in the race due to Watkins’ charges.

Additional reading:

Kansas education board blocks governor’s order delaying school start date

The Kansas State Board of Education on July 22 voted to block an executive order issued by Governor Laura Kelly (D) that would have delayed the start of public and private school instruction in the state until after Labor Day.

Kelly issued the executive order on July 20 in light of Kansas’ recent spike in coronavirus cases. The order would have barred public and private schools in the state from holding classes from August 10 through September 8 with the goal of providing school personnel with “the opportunity to prepare for safe and effective student instruction.”

Republican lawmakers passed legislation in June that required Kelly to gain approval from the State Board of Education in order to change school opening dates. The State Board of Education is a constitutionally created board that functions as part of the executive branch. However, the board’s 10 members are elected by the public and, therefore, are not subject to direct control by the governor. The board voted 5-5 to block the order—one vote shy of the six votes that would have been required for approval.

“Our decisions must be informed by public health experts not politics,” said Kelly in a statement following the board’s decision. “This vote puts our students, faculty, their families and our economy at risk.”

Board members opposed to the executive order disagreed with the governor’s statewide approach, arguing that school opening decisions should be made at the local level. “This virus is not the same across the state,” said board member Jean Clifford.

Additional reading:

One Kansas Supreme Court justice faces retention election in November

One Kansas Supreme Court justice, Eric Rosen, will face a retention election on November 3, 2020. He was appointed by a Democratic governor.

Currently, two justices on the court were appointed by a Republican governor while four were appointed by a Democratic governor.

The governor appoints the seven justices of the supreme court through a bar-controlled nominating commission. The governor selects four non-lawyer members while members of the Kansas State Bar Association elect five lawyer members. Four of the lawyer members are elected by bar members in each congressional district while the fifth is elected by bar members statewide.

When a vacancy opens on the court, the commission must nominate individuals to fill the empty seat. The commission nominates potential justices and then interviews the nominees publicly. Next, a majority of the commission decides privately on the most qualified candidates to recommend to the governor for appointment. Following its decision, the commission sends the governor a list of three names from which he must make his selection. The appointed justice then faces a retention election in the next statewide general election taking place at least 12 months after the justice assumed office and each subsequent six years.