Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Red State Round-Up: Kansas

Written by Diane Wahto of Wichita, Kansas

Kansas liberals have their work cut out for them after a legislative session in which Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson vetoed bills that tightened abortion restrictions, denied federal family planning money intended for Planned Parenthood, and funneled money intended for Public Broadcasting to the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs. Additionally, conservatives have mounted a campaign to remove Kansas Supreme Court Justice Carol Bier from office and to change the way judges are selected.

These events take place against the backdrop of Dr. George Tiller’s murder a little more than a year ago and the pending prosecution by the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts of Dr. Ann Kris Neuhaus, the doctor who signed off on the documents allowing the late-term abortions that Dr. Tiller performed for women around the world.

The last several years, Kansans have become accustomed to having moderate Democratic and Republican governors, including Republicans Bill Graves, Mike Hayden, and Democrats John Carlin, Kathleen Sebelius, and Mark Parkinson. Parkinson, formerly a Republican, changed parties in order to run for lt. governor with Sebelius because he saw the Republican Party moving too far to the right. He ranks high in the polls and probably could win a second full term if he chose to run again. However, both he and Troy Findley, his lt. governor, announced that they would not run for governor at the end of their terms.

That leaves us with a choice between unknown Democratic candidate and staunch pro-choice supporter Tom Holland and Republican Senator Sam Brownback, who is an avowed enemy of Roe v. Wade, Public Broadcasting, Planned Parenthood, and taxes. He also believes the problems with Social Security have come about because women have abortion rights, thus leaving unborn the tax-paying workers who would be contributing to Social Security. His Senate voting record shows he has consistently voted against the interests of Kansans. Despite that, right now the polls show Brownback ahead by a large margin over Holland.

When Parkinson vetoed SB 218, the bill restricting late-term abortions, the Senate override attempt failed, but the House attempt passed by one vote. The bill came back up for an override vote and this time the override failed by two votes. One vote change came about after intense e-mail, phone, and Facebook lobbying efforts of one representative. This bill would have ended the so-called partial birth abortion 'mental health' exceptions and stipulate precise reporting of late-term abortions.

If Brownback does succeed in his run for governor, there will be no defense against anti-choice attempts to toughen late-term abortion restrictions in the state. Right now, no Kansas provider performs late-term abortions, but the anti-choice faction is trying to guard against having Dr. Leroy Carhart, an associate of Dr. Tiller’s, move to Kansas from Nebraska.

Another Tiller associate, Dr. Ann Kris Neuhaus, faces an 11-count disciplinary complaint relating to the second opinion documents she signed for Dr. Tiller. The complaint alleges she failed to properly evaluate whether the abortion was necessary to save the life or the health of the woman, as required by Kansas state law, a charge she denies. Dr. Tiller, acquitted of misdemeanor charges in a court of law in April 2009 , faced the same charges. They were dropped when he was killed. The charges are questionable, given that the petition was made public by Operation Rescue, which had filed the initial charges against both doctors. An evidentiary hearing is set for Jan. 11, 2011.

In the meantime, the Kansas political scene, coming off a heated, mudslinging primary among Republicans, will roll on to the November election. With Brownback having the edge in name recognition, pro-choice voters can only hope that Holland can make himself known and let voters know how reactionary Brownback is. After all, he’s the senator who stood on the floor of the Senate in front of a hand-drawn picture of embryos, labeled in childish scrawl, “We love you.”

If Kansans for Life succeed in their push to remove Justice Bier and conservatives prevail in their move to change the method of appointing Kansas Supreme Court justices, Kansas will face a perfect storm of Red State rollback. Currently, state Supreme Court justices are picked by a nine-member nominating commission; four of those commissioners are non-lawyers appointed by the governor. The other five, including the chair, are elected by lawyers. The proposed change touted by conservatives would allow the governor to send nominees’ names to the legislature for approval. Rather than take politics out of the mix, as conservatives claim, this process would politicize the process beyond repair.

Fortunately, many Kansans are stepping up to make sure their state stays semi-purple. Democrats at their state meeting on Aug. 14, were energized and ready to go to work for their well-qualified candidates. Kansas NOW and Wichita NOW have energetic people working for women’s reproductive rights. A new group, The Group, has started a grass roots movement to get moderate Republican women as well as Democratic women involved in the political process. Even though she didn’t win the primary, pro-choice Republican Jean Shodorf moved ahead of a well-funded anti-choice opponent, thanks in part to the efforts of The Group. Kansans don’t plan to throw in the towel just yet.

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