Kansas Democrats ousted one of their top officials during an acrimonious and at-times chaotic fight on Saturday in Wichita that brought into the open sharp divisions within the party.
Members of the party’s state committee voted to recall Party Secretary Casey Yingling 121-54, with the party’s rules chair declaring that the vote against her had passed – gaining the two-thirds support needed.
Yet even the number of votes needed was mired in division, with Rep. Brandon Whipple, D-Wichita, saying the recall required two-thirds of state delegates seated, not two-thirds of those who voted.
The meeting was recessed to an unspecified date, leaving open the possibility the result could be challenged later.
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A recall petition against Yingling that had been circulating within the party alleged she had a conflict of interest when she voted on a request to the party’s executive committee to provide $20,000 to Democratic congressional candidate James Thompson’s campaign earlier this year. Yingling is part of Ad Astra Group, a political consulting firm that has done business with the Thompson campaign.
But in the weeks leading up to the recall vote, the debate had sprawled, leading to accusations of personal enrichment and threatening behavior by those close to her. Supporters of Yingling, including Thompson, said a smear campaign had been waged against her.
Party chairman John Gibson backed the recall. He argued that if Yingling had continued in her position she would have endangered the party’s ability to win elections.
“If the recall does not succeed, I do not believe we deserve to win at the ballot box,” Gibson told Democrats.
Audible gasps were heard in the hotel ballroom where the meeting was taking place. As Gibson continued, some shouted “shame!” Someone yelled that Gibson was a liar.
“If we as a party cannot govern ourselves, how can we expect the people of the great state of Kansas to trust us to do the right thing for Kansans in the face of pressure?” Gibson said.
Yingling said those interested in the petition were not interested in winning elections. She said her efforts to seek a solution privately had been rebuffed.
Yingling said she is disappointed the party would set what she called a low standard for a recall.
“This is ridiculous. This should happen to no one. I don’t care if there’s another consultant on here, I don’t care what anybody has done to me – this should happen to no one ever again,” Yingling said.
The lead-up to Saturday’s meeting was tense.
Opponents of the recall set up a website defending Yingling and criticizing Gibson. Chris Reeves, the state’s Democratic National Committeeman, wrote in support of the recall on the liberal site DailyKos.
It’s unclear whether the party will move past the fight. Some Democrats on Saturday lamented that the dispute had gone as far as it had.
“How did we get here? How did we get in this place?” said Randy Rathburn. “Never in my life have I seen people standing up and booing other people that are good Democrats. How did we get in a position like this?”