Is the Moderate Coalition Finished?
From The Docking Blog August 13, 2013
For the most part we have used this blog as a way to explore public policy. Today, however, I want to look at a political point, and address a question I have been asked many times over the past couple of years: is the moderate coalition, which governed the state of Kansas effectively for many years, finished as a political force?
The answer to the question is no.
For years in the legislature there was an informal coalition between moderate Republicans and Democrats, particularly in the state Senate. This group worked productively with Governors Sebelius and Parkinson, voting for policies such as the temporary sales tax increase to fund government services during the Great Recession, and blocking many of the radical conservative policies that we’ve seen enacted over the past couple of years.
And on the statewide electoral level, often Republicans would nominate a radical conservative in their primary, and Moderate Republicans and Democrats would band together to elect a moderate Democrat in November. It didn’t always work, as the example of former Attorney General Phill Kline shows, but then again, he was defeated for reelection.
The last two election cycles have called this coalition into question. In the legislature, the Republican Party purged its moderates in the Senate, leading to a radical conservative takeover and the flood of truly terrible legislation we’ve seen over the past year. On the electoral level, we have Kris Kobach, as blindly devoted to his own ideology as Phill Kline ever was, while dedicated and competent public servants like Dennis McKinney are relegated to the sidelines.
So the question arises: has Kansas permanently changed?
There has been only one other time in the 30 years that I’ve been following Kansas politics that were similar to the 2010 and 2012 cycles in terms of Democratic bloodletting, and that was in 1994 and 1996. There is an important similarity between these two sets of cycles: the first mid-term and reelection campaign of a Democratic president who was unpopular in Kansas. I probably don’t have to tell you that 1994/6 – as bad as it was – was not the end of Democratic governance in Kansas, and I don’t believe 2010/12 will be the end of the Moderate Republican/Democratic coalition either.
The difference now (aside from the influence of massive infusions of private money into the electoral system, which is a topic for another day) is that Moderate Republicans realize that, right now, their home is not in the Republican party as it is currently constituted and run. Although they were not able to make their presence felt in Republican primaries last year, there are still a significant number – in the tens of thousands – of Moderate Republicans who are as horrified as any Democrat by the irresponsible policy-making and autocratic governing style of the governor and his legislative allies.
I am completely confident that these responsible Republican leaders will work cooperatively with Democrats across the state in 2014, both to take the governor’s mansion and to reestablish a governing majority for the Moderate Coalition in the State House of Representatives.
(Jill Docking has worked in the financial services industry since 1988 and is a long-time resident of Wichita. She has been active in politics and policy for many years, including running for Senate in 1996 and supporting many moderate candidates of both parties.)
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