Leaders of the Bethel Life School in Wichita opened a news conference Wednesday by thanking Sedgwick County Democratic Party leadership for keeping its cool over the school's decision to bring in former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin to speak at a fundraiser.
"I... want to say a personal thanks to Sedgwick County leader, Democrat Kelly Johnston," said Ted Barney, president of the Bethel Life School Association. "I appreciate his words in response to the paper that he understands that this is a fundraiser and a fundraiser only and not a political event."
Shortly after Palin's May 2 appearance was announced Tuesday, Johnston, chairman of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, told The Eagle he would keep his feelings about Palin to himself and wished the school well with its fund drive.
"I might have had a better chance of attending if it was someone else," he said.
Wednesday, Barney and the Rev. Andrew Fox, Bethel Life's lead pastor, explained why they wanted to get Palin, a former Alaska governor who is revered by Republican conservatives but reviled and ridiculed by the political left.
They said the goal is to raise money for scholarships and school equipment, and the association wanted a speaker who would draw a big crowd.
Palin fits that bill in Kansas. On Friday, she'll speak to a sellout crowd of 6,000 at a chamber of commerce banquet at the Bicentennial Center in Salina.
Local Republican leaders said they won't be surprised if Palin sells out the 15,000-seat Intrust Bank Arena. Ticket prices and the date they'll go on sale have yet to be determined.
"She is a popular speaker, and we knew that to do what we needed to get done... we needed to go get that person," Barney said.
Fox added that although he is a citizen of Great Britain and can't vote in American elections, he wants to hear Palin talk.
"I'm interested in what she has to say, and there's no political connection whatsoever," he said. He did acknowledge, however, that some will see it as political, no matter what.
"You don't keep it from becoming a political event, that would be controlling people," he said. "People will walk away with whatever impression they want to walk away with."
Palin is scheduled to speak for 30 minutes and then answer 30 minutes of presubmitted questions.