The two candidates for the presidency in 2016, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are so unpopular that we hear more talk than usual about refusing to vote at all. I am reminded of James Klassen’s complaint that instead of voting for the lesser of two evils, Americans typically choose to vote for the evil of two lessers.
Members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, have consistently refused to vote in local or national elections. They want to remain “separate from the world,” not “unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” They base their refusal on the Dortrecht Confession of Faith, and upon their Articles of Faith adopted (revised) in 1959. If they would vote in elections for public officials who “bear the sword,” they would be responsible for the killing ordered by governing officials. Nonresistant Christians should not bear such guilt.
Bennie Bargen, one time professor of business at Bethel College, taught that Christians should stay away from the polling booth. When Robert Shellenberger, my classmate at Bethel, asked Bargen if God could guide someone at the polls, Bargen said, “Yes, God can guide you to walk right out of there!” Bargen eventually left Bethel and joined the Bruderhof.
In 1993 Referd Wiggers, who had been raised a Holdeman, found an intermediate position. He was elected to the school board in Halstead, Kansas. Although he had left the Holdeman church, he still believed that it was contrary to scripture for women to be in positions of authority over men. Wiggers was unwilling to vote for a woman to be superintendent of schools, principal, or on the school board. So he abstained from voting on those issues on the school board. There were protests in the newspapers, even talk of a recall election for Wiggers.
There are no studies that compare the percentage of nonvoters among Kansas Mennonites with the percentage of nonvoters among Kansas citizens in general. My guess is that in the years since World War II, the percentages of non-voting Mennonites (apart from the Church of God in Christ, Mennonites) has approached the Kansas norm.
The Republican primary contest on August 2, 2016 between Steve Becker and Lowell Peachey in the Kansas 104th legislative district was the second time in Kansas history that two Mennonites have opposed each other in a political campaign. Becker is a member of the Buhler Mennonite Church. Peachey is a member of the Journey Mennonite Church in South Hutchinson.
The first Mennonite-vs.-Mennonite legislative campaign was in November 1970 when Ernie Unruh and Merrill Raber opposed each other. Unruh and Raber were both members of the Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton. Unruh, a Republican, had been in the legislature for nine two-year terms. It was a close race. Unruh won by 211 votes. Two years later he was defeated in the Republican primary by Richard Walker. Raber went on to an active career in Democrat party local politics in Harvey County.
Although Unruh had served in the Air Force during World War II, and Raber was a pacifist, their 1970 political contest was cordial. Raber was known to be more “liberal.” Unruh was more inclined to free enterprise conservatism. But their differences were not contentiously displayed in candidate forums and in the newspaper.
The 2016 Becker-Peachey campaign was more bitterly polarized. Peachey was on the right-wing, a supporter of Governor Sam Brownback’s tax cuts of 2012 that blew a hole in the state budget, limited funds needed for education and social welfare, and refused Medicaid funds from the national government. Paul Waggoner, a local GOP attack dog, wrote intemperate columns in the local newspaper against Becker’s “liberal social agenda.” Waggoner accused Becker of being pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and an “ideologue on the death penalty.”
Like other right-wing Republicans, Peachey is strongly pro-life. He differs from other right-wingers, however, in his call to protect the rights of children with disabilities. The fact that Peachey has a developmentally disabled grandchild must have been behind that social concern. (His campaign literature did not explain how the “rights of children with disabilities” could be reconciled with his opposition to Medicaid and education funding.)
In Kansas current “three-party” system (right wing Republican, moderate Republican, and Democrat), Becker qualifies as a moderate Republican. He called for reform of the Brownback tax policies. He argued strongly against giving the governor more power in the selection of Kansas Supreme Court justices—a position that reflected his career as a district court judge. He voted against a major sales tax increase. He was indeed a leader in the campaign against the death penalty. But he did not take leadership for restriction of gun ownership. He insisted that he had a “100 percent pro-life voting record” including the defunding of Planned Parenthood. We can expect him to have an influential public role in the future.
Steve Becker, incumbent Kansas legislator from House District 104 (Buhler Hutchinson) won the Republican primary Tuesday, August 2. He defeated Lowell Peachey with 2,921 votes (60%) to 1, 967 votes (40%) Becker and Peachey are both Mennonites.
Steve Becker is a moderate Republican. He opposed Governor Brownback’s tax policies to eliminate income tax for small businesses and to increase sales tax. He also opposes Brownback on the Kansas Supreme Court school funding issues, as well as the governor’s attempt to take over the court nominating process. Lowell Peachy is a right-wing conservative.
In his primary victory, Becker apparently benefited from a statewide backlash against Brownback and his policies. One pre-primary poll had Brownback’s approval rate at 15%. At least eleven conservative Republican lawmakers were defeated by moderates. In the big first congressional district, the extreme right-wing incumbent Tim Huelskamp lost decisively.
Despite the anti-Brownback backlash, it is by no means clear that a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans will be able to overturn the Brownback agenda in coming legislative sessions. Brownback’s legislative supermajority has been eroded, but he will be able to exercise his veto power for two more years. Despite the continuing Kansas budget disaster, Brownback has not modified his absolute commitment to the ideology of “trickle down economics.”
The meaning of “conservative” and “moderate” is hotly contested in Kansas. In his primary campaign advertising Becker used photographs of Ronald Reagan, and insisted that he was strongly pro-life. He said he “voted with my fellow Republicans 90% of the time.” Becker has distanced himself from the legislative seminars sponsored by the Koch brothers from Kansas. In conservative Kansas, progressive Republican candidates apparently think they must present themselves to be more conservative than they really are. Becker is ambivalent on gun-control issues.
Although Becker is a strong proponent of legislation to end the death penalty in Kansas, that issue did not come up in the Becker-Peachey primary campaign. The anti-death penalty cause received an additional boost when Carolyn McGinn narrowly (51%) won re-election in Senate District 31 (Park City, Sedgwick, Newton). McGinn is a Catholic. Mennonite votes may have been essential to her re-election.