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.”
Is she right about her soon-to-be-former party? That’s a question that will take more time and elections to answer. In the meantime, Schodorf will be missed by Kansans who’ve benefited from her service, if not by those who now control the GOP and the Governor’s Office.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman