Kansas gets even crazier

How the Kochs and antiabortion activists teamed up to turn the red state even redder

Topics: Kansas, Abortion, Koch Brothers, David Koch, Sam Brownback,

Kansas gets even crazierDavid Koch, right (Credit: AP/Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/Mark Lennihan)

Aug. 7 was a very good night for people who want to drive safe abortion out of Kansas. Republican primary voters ousted relative moderates from the state Senate, laying the groundwork for Gov. Sam Brownback to push through his right-wing agenda, both economic and social.

The former got more attention. The election was evidence of “America’s grass-roots voter rebellion,” in the words of the Wall Street Journal opinion page, or it was, in the words of one ousted state senator, an example of Kansas-based Koch Industries, which threw a lot of money at the race, being “just a terrible, terrible citizen as far as I’m concerned.”

But it was also about abortion, in a state that is arguably more obsessed with it than any other. And abortion foes want proper credit.

“These elections were characterized as a referendum on pro-life Gov. Sam Brownback’s conservative agenda, with the media repeatedly identifying economic conservative groups as major players,” Kansans for Life said in a blog post. “But the GOP rout depended on the candidates’ pro-life credentials and is a reflection of Kansas pro-life persistence, hard work and prayer.”

It was also a reflection of a concerted alliance between groups like the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which received more than half of its war chest from the Koch brothers, and the state’s famous antiabortion hard-liners. The result is a purge not only of centrist Republicans, but even consistently antiabortion politicians who had nevertheless angered Kansans for Life.

That includes Senate president Steve Morris, who, Kansans for Life wrote indignantly, may have had a “pro-life record, but then betrayed it by rigging Senate committees with pro-abortion majorities and working behind the scenes to hurt pro-life bills!” The group continued, “But due to the pro-life routing of ‘moderates’, there is a real possibility that after the November elections, as many as 32 out of 40 Kansas Senate seats could be filled by trusted pro-lifers!” Morris did not respond to a request for an interview.



In a state that just marked the third anniversary of the murder of abortion provider George Tiller and where a court injunction is the only thing blocking the closure of all but one of its abortion clinics, this is no small matter. Kari Ann Rinker, the state coordinator and lobbyist for the Kansas National Organization for Women, told Salon, “The only thing that’s been saving Kansas from complete insanity is this bloc of moderate Republicans.”

The obsessive focus on limiting reproductive rights in state legislatures and the House of Representatives gives the lie to the idea that Tea Party radicals and social conservatives were different beasts. The Kansas primary represents the apotheosis of their coordinated efforts: Morris, whose Senate was the only bulwark against the wholesale adoption of the Brownback agenda, told the Huffington Post after his defeat last week that Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and antiabortion groups spent in the range of $3 million and $8 million on beating him and his allies, with an eye to major tax cuts, an overhaul of school funding and clamping down on labor unions.  Meanwhile, Brownback’s chief of staff, David Kensinger, resigned to start a consulting firm that went on to finance Kansans for Life’s political action committee, throwing $15,000 their way.

“It does cause a person to ponder whether the ‘pro-life’ movement has successfully taken control of the Republican Party or vice-versa,” Rinker wrote on RH Reality Check, declaring that “the state of Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy Kassebaum” has become ”Brownbackistan.”

Morris drew the ire of antiabortion groups when he blocked a bill, already approved by the House, that officials worried would harm the accreditation of the Kansas University Medical Center’s obstetrics and gynecology program by putting heavy restrictions on abortion training and practice. “I have consistently voted pro-life,” he said in May. “While I will always fight for pro-life values, we must also protect the accreditation of our flagship medical center.”

Another Republican state senator, Pete Brungardt, endured protests outside his optometry practice for his relatively pro-choice position, and lost his seat, as did pro-choice Republican moderate Sen. Jean Schodorf and others. Even without the onslaught of spending, the Legislature was in for an overhaul, with both a round of retirements and redistricting that pitted two pro-choice candidates against each other. “The result, based on the primary, is the House will have at least 45 new members in January — a turnover rate of 36 percent in the 125-member chamber. The minimum turnover in the Senate will be 32 percent, with 13 newcomers among the 40 seats,” reported the Tokepa Capital Journal.

One of the few election results that didn’t go the way of antiabortion extremists was the Sedgwick Country district attorney’s race, in which Operation Rescue had taken a keen interest. It was a Republican primary with no Democratic candidate, in which both candidates tried to outdo each other in their opposition to abortion. Operation Rescue opposed Deputy District Attorney Marc Bennett’s candidacy because of his association with his outgoing boss Nola Foulston, who as D.A. refused to sanction the hyper-politicized investigations against George Tiller’s clinic. (Former Attorney General Phill Kline is under investigation for ethics violations in how he pursued Tiller — ultimately fruitlessly.)

Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman outrageously blamed Foulston for Tiller’s murder, because she supposedly forced the killer’s hand. ”If Nola Foulston had done her job with George Tiller, he would still be alive today,” he told the AP before the election. (Rachel Maddow later condemned the AP for reproducing this wild claim unchallenged and for failing to note the murderer’s ties to Operation Rescue.)

“When I read that,” says Rinker, “I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach. And living here, I don’t even get that feeling that much.”

Tiller’s clinic remains closed, despite two separate efforts to restore abortion access to Wichita. One doctor, Mila Means, even purchased Tiller’s equipment, but it remains in her basement after a struggle to find a willing landlord, and now has her hands full with an impending trial against an antiabortion extremist who threatened her life.  Thousands of people, wrote Angel Dillard, who had befriended Tiller’s murderer, “will know your habits and routines. They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live. You will be checking under your car every day — because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.” And Rinker, though she was advising Means, remains skeptical about any clinic being able to open in the coming legislative climate.

Kansas in general, and Wichita in particular, remain highly symbolic, dating back to the 1991 Summer of Mercy protests that roiled the city. It’s a history traced by Stephen Singular’s recent book, “The Wichita Divide: The Murder of Dr. George Tiller and the Battle Over Abortion,” for which he visited Tiller’s murderer, Scott Roeder, in jail. Singular writes that on that visit, Roeder “paused, made eye contact with me through the glass, and forcefully stated, ‘I stopped abortion in Wichita.’”

That’s still true, and after this election, it seems unlikely to change.

Irin Carmon

Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @irincarmon or email her at icarmon@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>