Tim Hodge, Democrat, defeated incumbent Marc Rhodes, Republican, in the November 8 election for the 72nd district of the Kansas House of Representatives. It was a close election. Hodge got 4772 votes (51.1%) and Rhodes got 4552 votes (48.8%).
Kansas remains a Red state. Donald Trump won over Hillary Clinton in Kansas — 57% to 36%. Although Democrats made modest gains in the Kansas legislature, the Republicans will still have a strong veto-proof majority in both houses. Only 42 of 125 House members (33.6%), and 9 of the 40 member Senate (22.5%), are Democrats.
How was Hodge able to win? He ran an aggressive campaign–knocking on doors, attending political meetings, walking in parades, and working social media. He used the state Democratic franking status to mail out a dozen or more full-color leaflets that identified Rhoades with Governor Brownback’s unpopular programs. At the election eve Democrat meeting Hodge said the most important issues were Brownback’s 2012 elimination of taxes for businessmen, the unprecedented increases in the sales tax, and the raiding of funds from the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Hodge spent more money than Rhoades did for the campaign. According to official reports, in the period from July 22 to October 27, Hodge raised $26,661 and Rhoades raised $15,217.
Three Mennonites will serve in the new legislature. Don Schroeder from Hesston was reelected in the 70th district without opposition. Steve Becker, from First Mennonite Church in Buhler, was reelected with 82% of the vote over token Democrat opposition. Becker was encouraged by the failure of conservative Republicans to recall members of the Kansas Supreme Court. As a retired district court judge, Becker has strongly opposed Governor Brownback’s attempt to get control over the appointment of new Supreme Court Judges.
It now seems certain that a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans will pass a major revision of Brownback’s budget-busting tax policies. Perhaps the governor will veto a reversal of his program. But we can be sure that the Mennonite members of the legislature, now one Democrat and two Republicans, will vote against Brownback’s discredited tax policies.
The campaigns of Tim Hodge and Marc Rhoades for the office of District 72 Kansas House of Representatives have become more hostile and less civil as the November 8 election approaches.
The hostility reached a new peak with a full-color flyer from the Rhoades campaign, mailed out by the Kansas Republican Party, from Brent Kroeker of Enid, Oklahoma. Kroeker is a 43-year-old farmer who was Tim Hodge’s classmate at Tabor College. Since graduating from Tabor, Kroeker became a right-wing Republican while Hodge became a moderate Democrat. Kroeker currently serves on the Tabor College Board of Directors.
Kroeker’s pro-Rhoades flyer (with the text also published as a letter to the editor in the Newton Kansan) claims he is a personal friend of Hodge, and knows that Hodge holds to extreme”outrageous core beliefs” that do not belong in Kansas. Hodge, says Kroeker,”
- “Dismisses the U.S. Constitution as an irrelevant, outdated document forged by slave owners.
- “Describes conceal-carry gun owners as lunatics and mentally ill.
- “Refers to the NRA as a “home-grown terrorist organization.”
Hodge responded to Kroeker in the November 2 Kansan. Yes, he wrote, he and Kroeker were friends. When they were classmates at Tabor, Hodge stood by his friend when he was expelled from the college for vandalizing a local convenience store. Although they have gone different political directions, Kroeker’s accusations are false. Hodge honors the U.S. Constitution, including the second amendment and rights of gun owners. He hopes they can renew their friendship after the election.
The Hodge-Kroeker affair has resulted in a blizzard of gossip and speculation in the Kansas Mennonite community. Members of the Kroeker family have been closely associated with both Tabor and Bethel College–Mennonite schools with a long history of competition. Where did Kroeker’s affiliation with Rhoades originate? Did Rhoades solicit Kroeker’s attacks on Hodge? What is the meaning of “friendship” in the context of such hostilities? With friends like this, who needs enemies? Is this a reflection of the broader polarization of American politics?
I find myself wondering if my new book, A People of Two Kingdoms, Stories of Kansas Mennonites in Politics (Bethel College, C. H. Wedel Series, 2016) was published too soon. New stories keep popping up. The Hodge-Kroeker-Rhoades story, which is still unfolding, is without precedent.