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Monday, April 21, 2014

Kansas Democrats re-energize at DemoFest

By Denise Neil
The Wichita Eagle

Kansas Democrats, whose party took a beating in the 2010 election, gathered for the annual DemoFest in Wichita on Saturday, where the focus was reorganizing, re-energizing and preparing for 2012.

The event, which is held each fall in Wichita, drew Democrats from across the state to the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview, where attendees participated in a day full of seminars, a noon rally attended by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and an evening banquet featuring speeches by state party leaders Sen. Anthony Hensley and Rep. Paul Davis.

The focus of the day: grassroots strategizing about how to avoid a repeat of 2010, when Republicans won every statewide office on the ballot, all four congressional districts and picked up 15 new seats in the Kansas Senate.

"It's getting them energized," said Joan Wagnon, chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party. "It's telling them they don't have to accept the results of that election as the trend."

Attendees, who included local activists, county chairs and young Democrats, participated in seminars focused on sending the right message, fundraising strategies and recruiting new candidates. They also learned about the intricacies of the new Secure and Fair Elections Act proposed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach and that require voters to show a photo ID when voting in person next year.

Jamie Shew, the county clerk for Douglas County, spoke to a session about what constituted a valid ID under the new law and urged organizers to educate voters to fill out a provisional ballot, even if they arrive at a polling place without a valid ID. Those voters will have several days to produce a valid ID to make their provisional ballots count.

"That needs to be a mantra that comes out of all of our mouths," Shew said. "Do not be turned away from a polling place for not having an ID. Don't walk away."

Between sessions, attendees shopped for Democratic bumper stickers, including one touting "Obama 2012" and bought raffle tickets to win a giant framed portrait of the president.

Wagnon said she was pleased not only with the spirit of those who attended but by how many people attended. Organizers estimated that between 400 and 450 Democrats attended DemoFest.

"On the day you have a K-State-KU football game, that's not bad," Wagnon said.

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