Rumbles of Political Realignment?
I've talked with a lot of Democratic candidates this year who are running as Democrats because they believe in the principles, ideals and values behind the party of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Many of them are uncomfortable running as a Democratic Party nominee when that includes a set of careerist leadership hustlers who shill for Wall Street, Big Business and anti-worker/anti-consumer special interests. On the opening night of the convention in Charlotte the political leaders-- except for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (above)-- were the most disappointing. Professional politicians Rahm Emanuel (the worst speaker by far), Kathleen Sibelius and Gov. Martin O'Malley were the least inspiring of the evening. Idealistic non-politicians reminded us of why we identify with the Democratic Party and that it isn't just a party owned by a bunch of careerist hacks like Steny Hoyer, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Joe Crowley, Steve Israel and Rahm Emanuel. "It is time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe," thundered Patrick. No one could have mistaken his speech with Emanuel's. "Quit waiting for pundits or polls or Super PACs to tell us who the next President or senator or congressman will be. We are Americans. We shape our own future." He had the audience on its feet. But there are an increasing number of Democratic congressional candidates who want to run on Democratic ideals and values but distance themselves from the sleazy corruption of the Rahm Emanuels and Steny Hoyers and Steve Israels. That's what we mean when we refer to "independent-minded progressive Democrats."
Over on the other side of the aisle there's a similar, though not identical, battle going on. There's has a more ideological rather than just careerist genesis. You probably never heard of Kansas state Senator Jean Schodorf. She's a mainstream conservative Republican from Kansas. And today she's deciding if she should re-register as an Independent or as a Democrat... anything but a Republican, the party of her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents... back to the time of Abraham Lincoln! An editorial in the Wichita Eagle explains how over-the-cliff extremists like Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Congressman Mike Pompeo-- both fully owned subsidiaries of Koch Industries (in other words, the John Birch Society)-- are driving mainstream Republicans like Schodorf out of the party.
So Jean Schodorf, who has worked so long and thoughtfully on behalf of her community and state, now finds herself without a party and a clear path to continued public service. That’s a sad statement about what’s wrong with Kansas politics two years into Gov. Sam Brownback’s term.
Like the rest of us, the three-term state senator, Senate Education Committee chairwoman, former Wichita school board president and 2010 congressional hopeful is free to choose her own party affiliation (she said she hasn’t decided whether it will be Democratic or independent). And some will see her choice to leave the Republican Party as a disappointing surrender to the forces that conspired to successfully defeat her in the August GOP primary by characterizing her as a “taxing queen” and a “phony” Republican somehow responsible for the federal health care reform.
Others will note correctly that the ugliness went both ways in the District 25 primary, which Wichita City Council member Michael O’Donnell won with 59 percent of the vote. Some Schodorf supporters were responsible for mailings portraying O’Donnell, now 28, as a cartoon baby with a diaper and lollipop.
But if Bob Dool, chairman of the Sedgwick County Republican Party, truly believes that “we don’t exclude anybody,” as he told The Eagle in the wake of Schodorf’s announcement, he must have missed the messages to the contrary coming loudly all summer from the governor’s office, the political action committees of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and other entities.
Their rhetoric targeted not just Schodorf and other moderate Republican senators, but by extension every Kansan who still thinks the Legislature should be a place where different views are heard and considered. And by opposing state Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, Brownback and his cohorts further signaled that what they’re interested in isn’t merely reliable conservatism in voting but unquestioning support across the governor’s agenda.
Now, unless Kansas Democrats exhibit a history-defying strength in the November election, the governor and his allies will be rewarded for breaking Reagan’s 11th Commandment with control of the state Senate as well as the House, and the power to do as they please on taxes, school finance, pension reform, immigration, judicial selection, guns on campuses, and more.
Schodorf’s exit for political parts unknown leaves other moderate Kansas Republicans in the mold of Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum to wonder what’s left for them in the GOP, and whether theirs is a passive majority within the party that will exercise its muscle again when the spirit moves-- as it did repeatedly in elections in the past decade in response to the State Board of Education’s evolution wars.
In announcing her move to the Kansas Education Policy Report website, Schodorf said: “I believe that slowly over the years, the moderate side of the Republican Party has left the party. They’ve become independents and they’ve become Democrats. They still think the same. They will vote in primaries, sometimes but not always. And I believe that we found out the Republican Party is the party of tea partiers and ideologues of the far radical right.”
Schodorf's defeat at the polls was financed by an engine for plutocracy headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, Americans For Prosperity (not to be confused with Americans for REAL Prosperity) which is funded by dangerous anti-democracy neo-fascists David and Charles Koch and funded by clownish corporate whore Dick Armey (R-TX). John Celock reports at HuffPo that Schodorf made up her mind to leave the GOP when she watched a report on Hardball about Robert Draper's book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives. "When I heard that while people were suffering from the recession that Republican leaders were plotting to get even with the president, that was it," Schodorf told the Huffington Post.
Draper wrote in his book that over a dozen Republican leaders -- including GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) -- held a dinner meeting on Jan. 20, 2009, to plan how to block Obama's agenda and help defeat the president in 2012.
Schodorf said the reporting on Draper's book during Hardball's coverage of the Republican National Convention hit her as she was coming to terms with her defeat by Wichita Councilman Michael O'Donnell in last month's primary. O'Donnell defeated Schodorf, a three-term senator, 59 percent to 41 percent in the contest, which was considered one of the nastiest in the state. Schodorf was one of 17 moderate Republican state Senate candidates defeated last month, the culmination of a year-and-a-half long war between conservatives who control the Kansas governorship and state House of Representatives and moderates who controlled the Senate.
...Schodorf, the state Senate education committee chairwoman, noted that she and other moderates had a long history of working with Democrats within state government. Schodorf blamed Gov. Brownback for the change.
"When Sam Brownback came to Kansas he said he only wanted Republican votes for the budget," she said. "That was so foreign to me, we always worked together."
Much of Brownback's agenda-- including deep education cuts-- has been foiled by the Senate since he took office in 2011. State Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton) last month told HuffPost that the Koch brothers and other conservative groups plan to turn Kansas into an "ultraconservative utopia."
Schodorf said that she has long focused her Senate career on job creation and providing social services for the less fortunate, noting that her district is largely poor and elderly. Schodorf also chairs subcommittees dealing with economic development and hospital funding and a joint committee on arts and culture issues.
"I was working for basic Republican principles, low taxes, low spending, good education and good services for the elderly and disabled," Schodorf said. "As Republicans now we are expected to think the same way and talk the same way and not think for ourselves."