Some registered voters in Wichita began getting a recorded call earlier this week from Elma Broadfoot, former city mayor and a lifelong Democrat.
“I’ve done something I thought I’d never do,” she told voters. “I’ve changed my party from Democrat to Republican.”
In the message sponsored by Kansans United in Voice & Spirit — the same group that staged tax protests in Topeka — Broadfoot states, “Extremism in Kansas must stop. I can help by voting for a Republican with a moderate voice.”
The group was formed by two women in Lawrence. They declined to say who their contributors are.
Broadfoot is not the only voice in Kansas calling on registered voters to switch party affiliation. The Kansas National Education Association is suggesting the same thing, warning that the coming election is, “the most critical election of our times,” according to Mark Desetti, the groups governmental affairs and communications director.
He and others say that because of Republican dominance, much of the state’s future will be decided not in the November general election but in the August primaries, where there are more contested races.
On it’s website KNEA is asking: “If you live in a district that will likely elect a Republican in the general election, wouldn’t it be nice to have a say in which Republican that will be?”
The group is acting now, Desetti said, because “The majority in the (Kansas) House showed that they are willing to essentially abandon public services.”
The state Legislature approved a tax cut in the last session that will either produce more prosperity and jobs, or a deficit that will trigger either tax increases or massive budget cuts in education, transportation, and social services.
Joe Aistrup, a political science professor at Kansas State University, said the move by the KNEA, with its 25,000 statewide members, is significant but will probably not change any results, “unless there are just enough votes in a very close election,” where the votes are apart by only one percentage point.
Dakota Loomis, the communications director for the Kansas Democratic Party, and Brandon Whipple, the Sedgwick County Democratic party chair, both said they have no plans to urge Democrats to switch registration.
Clay Barker, the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said Democrats ought to find their own candidates instead of trying to interfere in someone else’s primary.
Switching affiliations will only weaken the Democratic Party further, said Mel Kahn, a political science professor at Wichita State University and a lifelong Democrat. Kahn said Democrats need to do a better job not only of finding good candidates but of finding a message. Republicans dominate “because they do a much better job of messaging.”
Aistrup said that longtime Republicans, if they think non-Republicans are trying to tip an election, might vote conservative instead of moderate.
If those who supported tax cuts are right about it creating prosperity, he said, “then Kansas will probably become deep red for many years to come.” Legislative researchers say the tax cut passed earlier this year will provide $231 million in tax relief the first year and that that figure would grow to $934 million in six years. The Brownback administration has said that the cuts could generate 23,000 jobs beyond natural growth by 2020.
If the tax cuts don’t create more jobs that could create all sorts of headaches, Aistrup said.
Legislative researchers project that the tax relief will lead to a state budget shortfall by July 2014 and that the deficit will balloon to $2.5 billion by July 2018. If those numbers become reality, the Legislature would have to raise taxes to make up that deficit or make budget cuts. Local school boards in turn would have to make cuts or raise property taxes. “There is no tax more hated than property taxes,” Aistrup said.
Kahn, from WSU, said cutting schools is a bad idea, given Gov. Sam Brownback’s stated intention of using lower taxes to attract business. If a new company considers moving to Kansas, Kahn said, one of the first things their employees would ask about is whether schools for their children are good, and adequately supported.
Aistrup said Kansas has turned more Republican since 1980, when Ronald Reagan won the presidency the first time. The most significant change, Aistrup said, was in Sedgwick County, which used to vote Democratic and now votes mostly Republican.
The current numbers from the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office show that Democrats are significantly outnumbered, both by Republicans and by voters who did not pick a party: Statewide, there are 757,454 registered Republicans, 439,019 Democrats, and 506,540 voters unaffiliated.
In Sedgwick County: 107,329 Republicans, 68,285 Democrats, and 87,497 voters unaffiliated.
Officials in both the Secretary of State’s Office and the Sedgwick County Election Office said they have noticed no significant registration switches.
The number of people switching parties is similar to 2010, said Sedgwick County election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman. From June 1 to July 13, 2010, 1,430 voters changed party affiliations, she said. In the same time period this year, 1,457 voters changed parties. Her office does not break down which party any of these voters were changing to.
Broadfoot, 68, Wichita mayor for two years in the early 1990s and a lifelong Democrat, said switching parties was hard to do.
But she said one of the more disappointing things about politics these days is how so many people have been turned off, by political carping and criticism, and by how many people, “including my own children,” don’t think their votes would count.
Tuesday is the last day to register to vote, or to switch parties, for the Aug. 7 primary. Voters can participate in either the Republican or Democratic primary election, but not both.
Registered voters who are unaffiliated can vote in either primary. Unaffiliated voters who wish to vote in the Republican primary, however, will have to fill at a new voter registration card at the polls and join the party before they will be allowed to vote.
Contributing: Brent D. Wistrom of The Eagle