How Liberals Lost the Heart of America

by Denis Boyles

When President Obama nominated Steve Six, the former Kansas attorney general, to the federal appeals court last March, most Kansans saw in it the last, small flicker of former governor Kathleen Sebelius’s influence over a state she once dominated. It’s not a surprise that both Kansas senators, Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, have announced their opposition to Six’s nomination.

It’s a new era in Kansas politics, and both senators not only recognize it, but have helped shape it. Despite popular assumptions, for more than half a century, most Kansas governors have been Democrats, and the state is historically “moderate” — meaning liberal Republicans and Democrats have run things the way they like, working, cynically, in tandem to defeat the state’s conservatives.

Until last year, only one conservative had ever won a statewide race for a Topeka office: Phill Kline. His attempts to enforce the state’s abortion laws so enraged Kansas’s moderate establishment that he was mauled by the state’s East-leaning daily press, voted out of office, harangued by a liberal state supreme court justice, and threatened with disbarment. He finally fled to another part of the country entirely. (NRO has reported on this rather extensively; the jihad against Kline continues, as explained here.)

In 2006, Kline was defeated for reelection by Paul Morrison, a Republican-turned-Democrat, who then had to resign because of a scandal, and into his office stepped Steve Six, a local judge who promptly moved to protect Planned Parenthood from an ongoing investigation that had been launched by the attorney general’s office in response to probable-cause findings by two district court judges, one of whom observed that the records in the investigation may have been manipulated by Planned Parenthood. Six struck many as an embarrassing puppet for Sebelius — and for the liberal members of the state’s supreme court, most of whom had been appointed by Sebelius. Six promptly slapped a gag order on the judge, thus removing from the investigation a key witness, and went to court to retrieve the potentially incriminating Planned Parenthood documents. In his official conduct, he seemed more apparatchik than attorney. Steve Six, plucked from obscurity by an extremely divisive governor to perform purely political tasks, would appear to be an unlikely prospect to sit on a federal appeals court.

The labyrinthine adventures of liberals in Kansas have been hard to follow, but lately, most of them have involved a scramble for waning power. So when Sebelius left for Washington to take over HHS for the Obama administration, she left behind an executive branch composed almost entirely of appointed Democrats. In addition to attorney general Six, she had already appointed Democrat Dennis McKinney to the post of state treasurer, replacing Lynn Jenkins, a Republican elected to Congress in 2008. Her own office was filled by her lieutenant-governor, Democrat Mark Parkinson, a liberal chairman of the state GOP who party-jumped to be on her reelection ticket (replacing yet another liberal state GOP chairman who had jumped to become her first lieutenant-governor). He appointed a Democrat to fill his job when he became governor, and yet another Democrat to fill a vacancy in the secretary of state’s office. By 2010, the only elected state official was the insurance commissioner, a low-profile Republican.

For years, coastal observers assumed conservatives had already “stolen the heart of America” — mostly because that was the subtitle of Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?, a 2004 New York Times bestseller, and all that New Yorkers know about Kansas is what they read in the pages of the Times. For them, the election of 2010 must have been confusing, since it saw the defeat of a Democrat and the victory of former Sen. Sam Brownback, the state’s first conservative governor ever. But it also saw the defeat of those appointed Topeka-dwelling Democrats — all endorsed by the Kansas City Star — who attempted to hold onto their jobs. Voters replaced every single one of them with conservatives. Last year, finally, conservatives won the heart of America — but only because liberals so completely lost it. So the literate Left has a new reason to hate Midwesterners. As the  New York Times’s David Carr told viewers of Bill Maher’s TV show, Kansas is now the home of “low sloping foreheads.” Obviously, Kathleen Sebelius has left the state.

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