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- “Dismisses the U.S. Constitution as an irrelevant, outdated document forged by slave owners.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.