The Kaufman Case

                One decision in my writing and publication of A People of Two Kingdoms II, Stories of Kansas Mennonites in Politics (2016) was whether to include the story of Arlen and Linda Kaufman.  In 2005 the Kaufmans, who ran a home in Newton, Kansas, for the mentally ill, were convicted and imprisoned for Medicare fraud, mail fraud, and forcing their patients to work in the nude and to conduct sexual acts on each other.   Linda died in 2019 after being released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2016.   Arlen recently died in federal custody (January 18, 2021).

               Although the Kaufman case was not “political behavior” in a narrow sense, I might have included their story under my broader definition of politics to include matters of civic identity and consequence.   Also, I was personally connected with Arlen.  His father (Menno Kaufman) and my paternal grandmother (Alvina Kaufman Juhnke) were brother and sister.  Our fathers were both Kansas Mennonite wheat farmers and educators.   I well remember family visits when Menno was principal of Inman High School and my father, William Juhnke, was principal of Lehigh Rural High School.   On one such visit, when I was a high school freshman, Arlen, with an annoying sense of superiority, instructed me about the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr and let me know that God was “infinite reality” and not a bearded man up in the sky.

                Some members of Kaufman’s family believed that Arlen and Linda in 2005 were victims of an unjust legal system that refused to consider the good intentions of their care for the mentally ill.  As repulsive as the filming of patient sexual activity, and forcing patients to watch the films, may seem to the average person, there is a tradition and a literature that argues that such activity can be therapeutic.   Was Arlen and Linda Kaufman’s treatment of patients defensible as therapy?

                I thought of the potentially competing narratives of the Kaufman case when reading the recent book by Sean Patterson, Makhno and Memory:  Anarchist and Mennonite Narratives of Ukraine’s Civil War, 1917-1921 (2020).   After World War I, Mennonites in the Ukraine suffered horribly at the hands of violent anarchists led by Nestor Makhno.  Entire villages were wiped out.  The Mennonite image of the Makhno is one of unqualified evil.  That is the way I taught the story in my decades of teaching Mennonite history at Bethel College.   But Sean Patterson’s book now tells me there is an alternative narrative in which Makhno’s behavior has its own defensible rationale.  Anarchism was an ideology with its own self-serving  justification.  There is more than one way to tell the story of Nestor Makhno.

                Now that the Arlen and Linda Kaufman are dead and gone, I do not propose to retell their story in a way that justifies the way they treated mentally ill patients.   That would be a major research project for which I do not have the time and energy.   As it is, I find the behavior for which they spent many years in prison to be embarrassing and shameful.   But there remains a small hesitation in my mind.  Would there be any point in retelling this story from the viewpoint of Arlen Kaufman?

Mennonite Shutout

November 10, 2020

          For the first time in more than half a century, when the Kansas legislature meets in 2021 their members will include no Mennonites.   In the election of November 3, 2020, Tim Hodge (D), member of the Bethel College Mennonite Church, lost his bid for re-election as representative to the Kansas House of Representatives, 72nd district.   Hodge, a Democrat in a strongly Republican district, had won by narrow margins in 2016 and 2018.  In 2020 he was decisively defeated by Avery Anderson, a 23-year-old scion of a prominent Newton Main Street business family. Hodge is an attorney in Newton. Anderson has had no professional or business experience.

              The long stretch of Mennonite representation in the Kansas legislature began in 1966 when Walter W. Graber (D) of Pretty Prairie was elected to the legislature.   (The first Mennonite representative had been Henry P. Krehbiel, elected for a single term in 1908.)   Graber was a member of the Pretty Prairie Mennonite Church, and active in local and state agricultural affairs.  He served for five terms.   Since then ten different Mennonites, mostly Republicans, have served in the legislature.   One, Christine Downey (D), served in the Kansas Senate from 1993-2005.

              Mennonite political activity in Kansas reached a peak in the 1980s.  During that decade three strong Mennonite candidates served in the state legislature—Harold P. Dyck (R) from Hesston, Duane Goossen (R) from Goessel, and Jesse Harder (D) from Buhler.  These men were invited to speak at the annual “Legislative Awareness Seminars” in the state capital sponsored from 1981 to 1988 by General Conference and Mennonite Brethren.  In these seminars Mennonite pastors, lay leaders and students learned about the legislative process expressed their concern in the offices of these representatives.  More than before and after the 1980s, Mennonites seemed to be aware of state politics.

              Most of the Kansas Mennonite politicians would qualify as “moderates.”   Nearly all of them opposed the death penalty.  Except for Tom Bishop, all of them represented substantially rural areas and were concerned about agricultural issues.    The farm crisis of the 1980s prompted much of the political activity of that decade.

             The recent race between Tim Hodge and Avery Anderson was remarkably devoid of defining issues.   Hodge, as usual, campaigned as an opponent of the Sam Brownback’s “tax experiment” that devastated the Kansas budget and included a food sales tax that shifted the tax burden onto poorer people.  Hodge supported Medicaid expansion.   Anderson, for his part, persistently avoided committing himself on divisive issues.   He claimed, somewhat tentatively, to agree that the food sales tax was unfair and should be changed.   He was for restoring “power back to the people.”   Above all, he was the proud grandson of Phil Anderson who for decades has owned and operated a bookstore on Main Street in Newton, and long served on the Newton USD 373 School Board.   “He taught me the values I hope to carry to the Statehouse,” said Avery.   The election results confirmed the effectiveness of this family-oriented, issue-avoiding strategy:   The name Anderson is golden in Newton.

              The prospects are not good for heartland Kansas Mennonites to elect one of their own to the Kansas legislature in the foreseeable future.   Both Stephen Owens of Hesston (74th   district) and Avery Anderson of Newton (72nd district) are attractive and articulate young men in districts of dominant Republican registration.  Owens ran unopposed in 2020.  These men are likely to be re-elected to office as many times as they choose to run.

Prospective Gerrymander up for Discussion

Mennonite Shutout
For the first time in more than half a century, when the Kansas legislature meets in 2021 their members will include no Mennonites. In the election of November 3, 2020, Tim Hodge (D), member of the Bethel College Mennonite Church, lost his bid for re-election as representative to the Kansas House of Representatives , 72nd district. Hodge, a Democrat in a strongly Republican district, had won by narrow margins in 2016 and 2018. In 2020 he was decisively defeated by Avery Anderson, a 23-year-old scion of a prominent Newton Main Street business family.
The long stretch of Mennonite representation in the Kansas legislature began in 1966 when Walter W. Graber (D) of Pretty Prairie was elected to the legislature. (The first Mennonite representative had been Henry P. Krehbiel, elected for a single term in 1908.) Graber was a member of the Pretty Prairie Mennonite Church, and active in local and state agricultural affairs. He served for five terms. Since then ten different Mennonites, mostly Republicans, have served in the legislature. One, Christine Downey (D), served in the Kansas Senate from 1993-2005.
Mennonite political activity in Kansas reached a peak in the 1980s. During that decade three strong Mennonite candidates served in the state legislature—Harold P. Dyck (R) from Hesston, Duane Goossen (R) from Goessel, and Jesse Harder (D) from Buhler. These men were invited to speak at the annual “Legislative Awareness Seminars” in the state capital sponsored from 1981 to 1988 by General Conference and Mennonite Brethren. In these seminars Mennonite pastors, lay leaders and students learned about the legislative process expressed their concern in the offices of these representatives. More than before and after the 1980s, Mennonites seemed to be aware of state politics.
Most of the Kansas Mennonite politicians would qualify as “moderates.” Nearly all of them opposed the death penalty. Except for Tom Bishop, all of them represented substantially rural areas and were concerned about agricultural issues. The farm crisis of the 1980s prompted much of the political activity of that decade.
The recent race between Tim Hodge and Avery Anderson was remarkably devoid of defining issues. Hodge, as usual, campaigned as an opponent of the Sam Brownback’s “tax experiment” that devastated the Kansas budget and included a food sales tax that shifted the tax burden onto poorer people. Hodge supported Medicaid expansion. Anderson, for his part, persistently avoided committing himself on divisive issues. He claimed, somewhat tentatively, to agree that the food sales tax was unfair and should be changed. He was for restoring “power back to the people.” Above all, he was the proud grandson of Phil Anderson who for decades has owned and operated a bookstore on Main Street in Newton, and long served on the Newton USD 373 School Board. “He taught me the values I hope to carry to the Statehouse,” said Avery. The election results confirmed the effectiveness of this family-oriented, issue-avoiding strategy: The name Anderson is golden in Newton.
The prospects are not good for heartland Kansas Mennonites to elect one of their own to the Kansas legislature in the foreseeable future. Both Stephen Owens of Hesston (74th district) and Avery Anderson of Newton (72nd district) are attractive and articulate young men in districts of dominant Republican registration. Owens ran unopposed in 2020. These men are likely to be re-elected to office as many times as they wish.

Kansas Mennonites in Politics

A month before the 2020 general election in Kansas the prospect for Republican supermajority victory and subsequent redrawing of House district boundaries is already up for discussion. In early October Titus Wu, writer for the Topeka Capital-Journal, raised the possibility that the Republicans might again attempt to put Newton and North Newton into separate districts. (See Newton Kansan, Oct 8, 2020) The goal would be to divide a Democratic area, presently District 72 represented by Mennonite Tim Hodge, and to create districts with a Republican majority.

A gerrymander division would violate redistricting guidelines, which say that “communities of interest” should not be divided. Newton and North Newton obviously constitute a common community of interest. But the guidelines do not have the force of law.

Gerrymander proposals are not new to Kansas. In October 2001, a Kansas House Redistricting Committee, charged with adjusting the boundaries of congressional districts to…

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Prospective Gerrymander up for Discussion

A month before the 2020 general election in Kansas the prospect for Republican supermajority victory and subsequent redrawing of House district boundaries is already up for discussion. In early October Titus Wu, writer for the Topeka Capital-Journal, raised the possibility that the Republicans might again attempt to put Newton and North Newton into separate districts. (See Newton Kansan, Oct 8, 2020) The goal would be to divide a Democratic area, presently District 72 represented by Mennonite Tim Hodge, and to create districts with a Republican majority.

A gerrymander division would violate redistricting guidelines, which say that “communities of interest” should not be divided. Newton and North Newton obviously constitute a common community of interest. But the guidelines do not have the force of law.

Gerrymander proposals are not new to Kansas. In October 2001, a Kansas House Redistricting Committee, charged with adjusting the boundaries of congressional districts to achieve equal population per district, proposed a plan that would have put North Newton into the big Republican first district of western Kansas. If that proposal had been adopted, Tim Hodge, a Democrat and resident of North Newton, would not likely have been elected in 2016 to the Kansas House of Representatives.

In the face of the proposed gerrymander of 2001, local community leaders in Newton, North Newton and Bethel college mounted a strong protest. Doug Anstaett, editor of the Newton Kansan, denounced the plan as a “blatant political move,” and called for a veto by Governor Bill Graves. North Newton held several public meetings and invited legislators Garry Boston (from Newton) and Carl Krehbiel (from Moundridge) to hear their protests. Students at Bethel College sent some ninety letters to members of the redistricting committee. City administrators from Newton and North Newton travelled to Topeka to make the case for their mutual common interests and for the importance of staying in the same congressional district with Wichita to the south.

The protesters prevailed. In May 2002 the Redistricting Conference Committee agreed to a plan that kept Harvey County intact and in the 4th district. Portions of rural Greenwood County were put into the 1st district. Mike O’Neal, Republican chairman of the House Redistricting committee, publicly congratulated Krehbiel and Boston for their leadership in overturning the original proposal.

Now, almost two decades later, it is not yet clear whether the Republicans will make another gerrymander attempt to divide Harvey County. If they do so, it will be up to local officials to mount another nonpartisan movement to respect the integrity of their community of interest.

Kansas Flu Pandemic 1918

Names matter.   At least Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Kansas’ representative on the Donald Trump administration, thinks so.    Pompeo and President Trump want the current world-wide COVID 19 coronovirus pandemic to be known as the “China virus” or the “China pandemic.”   Why?  “Because,” they say, “it started in China.”
This is a blame game.  In fact the Trump administration, itself under attack for the horrific effects of the pandemic on the United States and for their belated response to the crisis, have gone out of their way to blame anyone but themselves.   They have blamed the Democrats, China, Barack Obama, and the press for the extended ravages of COVID 19.
In Pompeo’s words, “We’ve said from the beginning that this was a virus that originated in Wuhan, China.  We took a lot of grief for this from the outside, but I think the whole world could see it now.”  Pompeo initially claimed that “a significant amount of evidence” demonstrated that the virus came from a laboratory in Wuhan.   He subsequently admitted that the “scientific consensus” was that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.  But he and President Trump clearly want the  name to stick.  This was the “China virus” or the “China pandemic.”
Pandemic naming does not have a noble or accurate history.   The great influenza pandemic of 1918, which killed 675,000 Americans and twenty to fifty million people around the globe, became known as the “Spanish Flu.”  But the so-called “Spanish Flu” did not begin in Spain.   It was falsely identified because Spain, not engaged in the World War that was raging in 1918, had a more free press and put out more information than did the United States and other countries.  The king of Spain, Alfonso XIII, got the flu–a highly publicized event that helped foster the mistaken identity.
The actual origin of the “Spanish flu” of 1918 has not been definitively determined.   Some scholars are convinced that it began in Kansas.   Twelve thousand Kansans died from the flu or from accompanying pneumonia.  According to Wichita State University historian, Judith R. Johnson, “Out of a population of almost 1,700,000, there were 174,094 reported cases in Kansas during the last three months of 1918 and the first three months of 1919.”  At Bethel College in North Newton, wrote Johnson, six girls became ill on the same day in January.  They were taken to the overcrowded hospital in Newton.  One of them died.
The first known victim of the “Kansas flu” was Private Albert Gritchell of the U.S. Army at Fort Riley.   On March 4, 1918, Private Gritchell reported to the base hospital with the classic flu symptoms.  By noon of that day, a hundred of his fellow soldiers reported with similar symptoms.    Soldiers from Fort Riley soon took the infection to Europe, where it spread among combatants and civilians on all sides of the war as fast as the current COVID 19 pandemic.   In 1998 the army put up a bronze historic marker at Fort Riley stating that the “first recorded cases of what came to be the world wide influenza epidemic were first reported here in March 1918.”
Most historians of the 1918 pandemic are reluctant to state dogmatically and unequivocally that it started at Fort Riley.   An entry on Wikipedia summarizes some of the alternative theories.  But everyone agrees that that the first recorded victim in the U.S. was Albert Gritchell.  What additional evidence is needed?
Andrew Carroll, author of a 2013 book about “America’s Great Forgotten History,” pushes back the story by one month and a few hundred miles.   In late January and early February 1918, Dr. Loring Miner of Sublette, Kansas, noticed a rash of severe influenza cases.  One of the victims, along with his infected child, visited and most likely infected his brother at Camp Funston (Fort Riley).  Dr. Miner reported the cases to the U.S. Public Health Service.  That is documented in writing.  There is a mass grave from 1918 in Sublette of people who had worked in a local sugar factory and died in a short period of time.   Who was the first person infected?  Author Caroll’s guess:   “In all probability it was a local (Sublette) farmer infected by a sick bird.”  (331-32)
Until the current COVIC-19 pandemic, the influenza pandemic of 1918 was little-known or noted in the United States or elsewhere.  That memory was drowned out by the dramatic events of the Great World War that ended November 11, 1918.   In behalf of accurate historical remembering, we would now do well to stop talking and writing about the “Spanish flu.”   That event was not “Spanish,” either in its origin or in its major effects.
And what name should we use to designate today’s crisis?   If Secretary of State Pompeo is to be allowed to name a pandemic by its point of origin, one of his options would be to name the 1918 event the “Kansas Flu Pandemic.”   Kansans would not welcome the honor.   Most of us, I assume, would also prefer to avoid the national hostilities that result from the administration’s current blame game.  The naming of pandemics should not be a conscious political strategy.    We should find other designations than “Kansas Flu” and “Chinese Virus.”

 

Religious Freedom to Spread Deadly Disease

April 12, 2020,  James Juhnke

Today is Easter.   This year’s Easter celebrations have been disrupted by the world-wide Covid 19 pandemic.  Here in Kansas we have been drawn into a debate about the meaning and practice of gathering for religious worship.

Last Tuesday, April 7, the Democratic Governor, Laura Kelly, issued an executive order that limited religious gatherings to ten people.   On Wednesday, a Republican-dominated “Legislative Coordinating Committee,” on a 5 to 2 party line vote, overturned the governor’s executive order.  It was, they said, a matter of religious freedom.  Susan Wagle, Senate president, said the Kelly’s order was “out of line, extreme and clearly in violation, a blatant violation of our fundamental rights.”  Kelly said the Republican legislative committee’s action was “political.”   She appealed the issue to the Kansas Supreme Court, asking for a quick decision in time for Easter.

Yesterday, April 11, the Kansas Supreme Court struck down the Legislative Coordinating Committee’s action.   The governor’s stay at home order was restored.  Large religious gatherings in the context of the world-wide Covid 19 pandemic, remained criminal activity.

The argument was not merely academic.  It had to do with life and death.  Kansas has recorded 55 deaths related to the virus, and the epidemic was spreading rapidly through the state.   Governor Kelly cited four instances of “positive case clusters” of Covid 19 that had been tied to religious gatherings in Kansas.   People who attended large close meetings were infecting, or were infecting others, with the virus.   They then went out into the public and spread the deadly disease.

What was the “religious liberty” issue?   Stephen Owens, Republican legislative representative from Hesston, became an outspoken critic of the governor on television and in print.   “Liberty is the norm, not the exception,” said Owens.  “Our Constitution is the cornerstone of our society.   Our freedoms  were not conditional of how the next crisis unfolds.   Suppression of freedom must never be the norm.”  Owens believes it is unconstitutional to forbid attendance at religious gatherings.

Owens failed to acknowledge that there is more than one relevant norm that governs society.   There is also a “sacredness of life” norm.   Human life is sacred.   No one has the right to kill other innocent people, or to be involved in unnecessary deaths of large numbers of other people.   There is clear evidence that, in the context of the Covid 19 pandemic, attendance at large close meetings results in the deaths of people at those meetings and of others outside who are subsequently infected.   How many such deaths in Kansas would Owens be willing to accept as the price of religious freedom?  Would he accept fifteen, fifty, five hundred or more?  Would it make a difference if he would know in advance the names of those who would die?  Does the right to attend church really trump the right to life?

Critics of Governor Kelly’s order typically insist that they agree with the governor’s intent.  Derek Schmidt, Republican Attorney General of Kansas, said he agrees with the substance of the governor’s executive order.  But he does not think the order should be legally enforced.   Steve Owens himself does not plan to attend any large close religious gatherings, nor does he want anyone else to do so.  But he says it is wrong to criminalize the practice, and wrong to punish any attenders.   Schmidt and Owens obviously hope that all Kansans will be sensible enough to stay away from large religious gatherings.

That hope is naive.   Religious leaders are not invariably rational or sensible.  Rev. Tony Spell, pastor of a church near Baton Rouge Lousiana, told the press of his plan for 2,000 to attend his Easter service.  “Satan and a virus will not stop us,” Spell told Reuters.  “God will shield us from all harm and sickness.  We are not afraid.  We are called by God to stand against the Antichrist creeping into America’s borders.”   A limited reading in the history of radical religious groups can reveal many stories of people on the fanatical fringe.  Tony Spell’s behavior, if he follows through on his threats, should be criminalized.

The debate about religious freedom and the Kansas governor’s coronavirus restrictions is by no means settled.   The Kansas Supreme Court made its decision to uphold governor on narrow constitutional grounds, not upon the great moral issues at stake.   The Republican legislature may well attempt to repair the constitutional problems.   They have yet to address the apparent absurdity of affirming a particular law or policy, while insisting that it not be enforced.  (“Crazy,” the Newton Kansan called it.)  When is the law not the law?  We may well soon face the question of what to do with radical religious dissenters who are obsessed with religious freedom but indifferent to the sacredness of life.    Stay tuned for more.

 

Some Mennonites Vote Democrat

In the popular American imagination, Kansas Mennonites are Republicans.  The recent 2018 elections offered some interesting contradictions to that image.   In Harvey County the Mennonites voted strongly to elect one of their own members, Tim Hodge, a Democrat, for a second term to the state legislature.  In Marion County, Mennonites in West Branch township (including the town of Goessel) gave thirty-five more votes to the Democratic candidate, Laura Kelly, than to her Republican opponent, Kris Kobach.

There are a number of reasons for the common image of Mennonite Republicanism.  One is that journalists in the early years who wrote about Kansas Mennonites focused on the Alexanderwohl church community in western Marion County.   In the years after immigration (1870s) down to World War I (1917-18), the Alexanderwohlers were solidly Republican.   The election results in Menno township and West Branch township were often  over 90% Republican.  The Republican party had been in power at the time of the migration, and the Republican sponsored railroads provided cheap land for Mennonite settlement.

But not all Kansas Mennonites were Alexanderwohlers.  Just to the west in southern McPherson County was the Hopefield/Eden community and their daughter community of Pretty Prairie in western Sedgwick County.   The Hopefielders were “Swiss Volhynians” who immigrated from a different part of eastern Europe than the “Dutch Russian” Alexanderwohlers.   The Hopefielders tended to vote more Democratic (and in the 1890s more Populist), than the Republican Alexanderwohlers, although never as solidly.  Part of the picture was social/religious competition between different Mennonite groups.

I researched and wrote about Kansas Mennonite political acculturation in two volumes titled  A People of Two Kingdoms I and II  (1975 and 2016).   One surprise was that in recent decades, from World War II to 2014, more Democrat than Republican Kansas Mennonites ran for state and national offices.  During these seven decades a total of thirty Kansas Mennonites ran for state or national office.  Of these, seventeen (57.7%) were Democrats, twelve (40%) were Republicans, and one (3.3%) was Independent (Reform Party).  Nine of the twelve Republicans, and six of the seventeen Democrats, were elected to office.  A full list of these Mennonite politicians is in Appendix A, pp  297-299 of A People of Two Kingdoms II (2016).

Not all Kansas Mennonite groups were equally interested in politics.  Twenty-five of the thirty Mennonite candidates for state and national office were members of, or related to, congregations of the General Conference Mennonite Church.  Four were members of the Mennonite Brethren Church.   One was a member of the (Old) Mennonite Church.

In the years around the turn of the twenty-first century the Mennonite contribution to Kansas politics was shaped by a “three-party” system:  moderate Republican, right-wing Republican,  and Democrat.   An increasing number of Kansans were registered Republicans who elected an increasingly Republican legislature.  Kansas was called “the reddest of the red states.”  Critics (notably Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter with Kansas, How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, 2004), observed that Kansans voted against their own interests.   They voted against abortion (with little result on the state level) but received tax cuts for the wealthy.

Kansas Republicans were divided into two groups–moderate and right wing.   It was possible for moderate Republicans to join with Democrats to oppose right wing legislation and to elect Democratic governors.  Coalitions of Democrats and moderate Republicans elected Democratic governors John Carlin in 1980 and 1984, and Kathleen Sebelius in 2004 and 2008.   Now in 2018 the election of Democrat Laura Kelly over Republican Kris Kobach recapitulated that pattern.

The 2018 election revealed a dramatic political difference between urban and rural Kansans.  There are 105 counties in Kansas.  Democrat Laura Kelly, now governor-elect, won a majority in only nine of those counties–all substantially urban.  Meanwhile Republican Kris Kobach won a majority in 96 counties, but lost the election decisively.   The rural-urban difference only partly explains Mennonite voting.   Harvey County, where Mennonite Democrat votes elevated the county into the elite nine county group that elected Laura Kelly, is a mostly rural county.  The energetic and innovative campaign of Tim Hodge, along with his Mennonite base, resulted in a Democrat win in Harvey County.   And West Branch township, where Mennonites supported Laura Kelly, is clearly rural.  There must have been other reasons that Mennonites in Goessel voted strongly for a Democrat in 2018.

 

 

 

Count All the Votes: Hodge vs. Kelly

On election day, November 6, 2018, when the votes were counted for Kansas state representative in district 72, the Republican candidate, Steve Kelly, led the incumbent Democratic candidate,  Tim Hodge, by eighty-four votes, 4330 to 4246.  The Kelly camp celebrated, but cautiously.   The advance ballots and provisional ballots remained to be counted.   The Hodge camp hoped against hope that when all the votes were counted, they would overcome their deficit.  Hodge speculated that a recount might be necessary.

On Tuesday morning, November 13, a week after the election, the Harvey County clerk, Rick Piepho, announced a reversal.  The count of advance and provisional ballots revealed that Hodge had won the election by 209 votes, 51.12% to 48.74%.  (The exact numbers were not available, in part because the Whitewater precinct in Butler County was not included.)   But it was beyond doubt that Hodge had won.   There would be no recount.

The nail-biting outcome reflected Hodge’s campaign strategy.   He had gone door to door throughout the district, carrying two documents–voter registration forms and advance ballots.  He found hundreds of people who were not registered and who doubted whether their votes could make a difference.   These people responded to a person-to-person appeal.   Many filled out registration forms and promised to mail in ballots.  The alleged Republican advantage in party registrations–twice as many Republicans as Democrats–was not as important as people conventionally thought.   The 72nd district was full of people who were fed up with the Brownback-Republican party leadership and were eager for a change.  In the end these people made the difference.  Hodge said, “We’ve knocked on 6,000+ doors, registered close to 1,000 new voters, helped 2,200 voters get advance ballots and met thousands of wonderful people.”

The outcome also reflected the importance of Hodge’s political base in North Newton, where he lives on Main Street across from Bethel College and where his family attends the Bethel College Mennonite Church.   In the North Newton precinct, Hodge got 68% of the vote–359 more votes than his opponent, Kelly.   Hodge needed those votes to overcome Kelly’s majority elsewhere in the 72nd district.   In Whitewater Kelly beat Hodge, 189-68.

The election map showed a strong north/south difference.  Hodge won in North Newton and in the northern precincts of Newton city, while Kelly won in the southern precincts (with one exception).  Kelly also won in the rural townships to the south and east of Newton, as well as in the Butler County Whitewater precinct.  It would take careful social/political analysis to explain this pattern.  Part of it is traditional American town-gown differences.  Bethel College stood for peace during the Vietnam War.  One possibility is that the voting pattern reflected religious identity.  Mennonites presumably tended to vote for Hodge.  Another possibility is that some of the votes reflected social class.  But that needs to be studied.

The differences between candidates Hodge and Kelly were striking.   Hodge spoke out clearly and forcefully on a range of issues.  Kelly was less decisive on tax issues, but presented himself as a problem-solver who could reach across party lines.   Hodge opposed the death penalty while Kelly defended it “in extreme cases.”   Kelly was more clearly anti-abortion or pro-life.   There were conflicting reports about fundraising and spending.  The “Newton Now” newspaper, with information from the Kansas Secretary of State office, reported that from Jan. 1 to Oct 29, Hodge spent $56,077–more than twice as much as Kelly.   Hodge claimed that some groups had supported Kelly’s campaign without being required to report to state election offices.  Kelly got support from the Koch Foundation and from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile in the Kansas governor’s race, the Democrat Laura Kelly, a long-term member of the Kansas Senate, defeated the controversial Republican candidate, Kris Kobach.   Laura Kelly, like Hodge, tied her opponent to the discredited 2012 Republican tax “experiment” of former governor Sam Brownback.   Despite the success of Laura Kelly and Tim Hodge, along with the surprise victory of Democrat Sharice Davids in Kansas’ third congressional district, one cannot say that Kansas fully shared in a larger national “Blue Wave.”   The relative numbers of Democrats and Republicans in the Kansas Senate and House of Representatives did not change.   Indeed, a number of moderate Republicans were replaced by more conservative legislators from the same party.   Two victims of this trend were the moderate Mennonite Republican candidates Don Schroeder of Hesston and Steve Becker of Buhler/Hutchinson.  Schroeder and Becker both lost in the August primary to more conservative Republican candidates–Stephen Owens and Paul Waggoner.   Becker ran a write-in campaign in the general election but came short by a thousand votes.

Governor-elect Laura Kelly has announced the appointment of a four-member team to set forth procedures and policies for the new Democrat administration.   One member of the team is Duane Goossen, former long-term legislator and budget director in Kansas.  (See comments about Goossen in previous blog posts.)   It remains to be seen whether the progressive policies advocated by Laura Kelly, Duane Goossen and Tim Hodge, such as expansion of Medicaid, removing the tax on food, and funding for education will actually be achieved.   But it is evident that Mennonites will have an ongoing influence, modest to be sure, on the Kansas political scene.

 

 

Mennonite Moderates Lose

     Two Mennonite moderates, Don Schroeder and Steve Becker, lost to conservative challengers in the Republican primary of August 7, 2018.   Both results were surprises.

     Schroeder, from Hesston in the 74th district, was running for his sixth term in the Kansas House.  He lost to Stephen Owens, 45% to 55%.  Owens identified with President Donald Trump, who, he said “really invigorates a lot of Republicans tired of the status quo.”  Owens, a life member of the National Rifle Association, acclaimed the second amendment.  At a public forum in Hesston he startled the audience by admitting that he was carrying a concealed weapon at the time.  He wants his daughter at Kansas State University to be enabled to carry her own weapon.  He criticized the Democrats and moderate Republicans who increased taxes to dig the state out of the hole created by the Brownback tax decrease of 2012.

Owens got significant financial help from conservative individuals and groups, including Koch and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.  The published record of campaign finance data revealed that total gifts to the Owens campaign came to $10,822.43.  To be sure, Schroeder also received money from conservative political action committees.  For example the record shows in 2017 gifts of $500 each to Schroeder from the BNSF Railway Company, the CHS McPherson Refinery, and the Kansas Contractors Association.  It is integral to American politics, including Kansas, that interested agencies attempt to buy the friendship and the votes of politicians.

In any case, Owens this time outhustled Schroeder on the campaign trail.  The town of Hesston was flooded with Owens yard signs and the post office boxes were stuffed with his brochures.  Owens energetically campaigned door to door.   Some of Schroeder’s supporters speculated that he was getting weary of politics and anticipated retiring in any case after another term or so.

In the 104th district, including Buhler and South Hutchinson, the initial primary election ended with Paul Waggoner leading Steve Becker by just one vote–2,014 to 2,013.   After the sixty-some provisional votes were counted, Waggoner won by seventeen votes.

Becker, a retired Reno County District Judge, is accustomed to close elections.  He won his first State House primary in 2012 by a 57-vote margin.  He is a member of First Mennonite Church in Buhler, and would be expected to get full support of Mennonites in Buhler and the surrounding territory.  But it is speculated that a goodly number of Mennonites voted for Waggoner, a businessman who ran to the right of Becker on the abortion issue.  Becker said he was against abortion, but that Waggoner succeeded in personalizing this and other issues.

Becker has been a strong opponent of the death penalty in the Kansas House.  He has been the primary  sponsor of legislation to end the death penalty.  That issue was not highlighted in the August primary election, but Becker’s leadership will be sorely missed in Topeka in the future.

Political commentators in Kansas observed that the results in the 74th and 104th districts were part of a small conservative wave in the Republican party.  Republican conservatives, supported by the state Chamber of Commerce, took five or six seats away from moderates.  It is said that tax issues were most crucial, but it is also the fact that church-based anti-abortion groups are well organized to exercise influence beyond their numbers at the local level.

A typical view of Kansas politics holds that there is effectively a three-party system:   Conservative Republicans; moderate Republicans; and Democrats.  Democratic candidates can get elected by making alliance with moderate Republicans.   The 2018 Democrat candidate for governor, Sen. Laura Kelly, needs to win over the moderate Republicans in order to defeat the Republican candidate, secretary of state Kris Kobach.  Both Kelly and Kobach worry about losing votes to the independent candidate, Greg Orman.  The August primary results in the 74th and 104th districts–the defeat of Schroeder and Becker–would seem to favor Kobach’s prospects.

 

Hodge vs. Kelly

Tim Hodge of North Newton, Democrat and current state representative from the Kansas House District #72, will will have a strong Republican opponent in the November 2018 election.   Running against Hodge will be Steve Kelly, former president of the Medical Center in Newton.

Hodge won  in 2016 over the conservative Republican incumbent, Marc Rhoades.   Rhoades was a dogmatic “trickle-down” capitalist who opposed taxing businessmen.   He strongly supported Governor Sam Brownback’s 2012 tax “experiment” that blew a hole in the Kansas budget.  The failure of Brownback’s “experiment” helped Hodge win a close election.  The campaign was contentious.  The candidates bitterly denounced and insulted each other.

Hodge will face a very different candidate this time, in 2018.   According to an article by Adam Strunk in the June 7 issue of Newton Now, Steve Kelly defines himself politically as “right of center”–quite unlike the far right-winger Rhoades.   Kelly wants to be known less for his political ideology, than for his personal commitment to consensus building.  Strunk quoted Kelly:   “There needs to be more listening and less talking.  There needs to be more work to solve the issues instead of staying ‘look at me.'”  Kelly says his listening ability and consensus building enabled him to promote the takover of Via Christi Clinic by Health Ministries in Newton.

Kelly’s position on two issues suggest that he is not on the far right.  He says that he was for repealing the 2012 Brownback tax cuts.  He also argues for the expansion of Medicaid and for the acceptance of federal funds to closed the “Medicaid Gap.”  His experience in health care has taught him that hospitals and retirement homes could make good use of federal funds that Kansas has so far turned down.

On other issues Kelly seems to be further to the right, but his responses are vague.   He says he is “against abortion,” but does not explain what anti-abortion legislation he supports.  He says he “supports the second amendment” but “with responsibilities.”  It is not clear whether he favors the sale of assault rifles.   He says he needs “time to think about” tax policies.   No doubt Hodge, a strong proponent of reducing the state sales tax, will challenge Kelly to take a clear stance on that issue.  Hodge is a co-sponsor of legislation to end the death penalty in Kansas–another issue that Kelly will need to address in the upcoming campaign.

Kelly claims Hodge as a friend.  Remarkably, in 2016 Kelly twice contributed financially to Hodge’s campaign for the legislature.   It seems that the 2018 campaign will not be scarred by the same hostile denunciations and insults as two years ago between Hodge and Roades.

The count of voter registrants by political party indicate that Republican candidates have a major advantage in the 72nd district.   The number of registered Republican voters (6,284) in Harvey County is more than twice the number of registered Democratic voters (3077).   There are also 3,883 unaffiliated, and 101 Libertarian, registered voters.  The 72nd district also includes to town of Whitewater in Butler County.  We may well wonder if the natural advantage of incumbency will help Hodge overcome the disadvantage of political party registrations.