If you’re part of an endangered species in Kansas known as moderate Republicans, it’s OK to walk the walk, just don’t talk the talk.
That would seem to be the message from House Majority Leader Don Hineman (R-Dighton) who reportedly advised more than two dozen legislative moderates not to announce their public support for anyone in the governor’s race who isn’t named Kris Kobach.
In other words, if you can’t support the Republican nominee, keep it to yourself.
We respect Hineman, but in this instance he is not just wrong ... he’s dead wrong.
A message like this is troubling on two fronts.
First of all, it puts party above state. When that happens, the former loses any sense of integrity and the latter suffers from politicians who are more interested in their survival than in the well-being of constituents.
Secondly, it reaffirms the intolerant nature of ultraconservatives within the Republican Party, as if this wasn’t already known.
We saw evidence of this in 2012 when the ultraconservative wing of the party, led by Gov. Sam Brownback, was blocked in its effort to cut education funding and gerrymander the state in a way to heavily favor Republicans.
In addition, the infamous Brownback tax cut was temporarily blocked because moderates correctly argued it would lead to huge deficits.
Through a legislative maneuver, Brownback was able to get the tax cut enacted anyway and huge deficits followed as predicted.
Vengeful ultraconservatives got their pound of flesh later that year when they purged a number of moderate legislative Republicans, including Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton).
The well-funded Koch political machine delivered a message that apparently still resonates today: Either fall in line with right-wing ideology or you’ll find yourself on a hit list.
The ultraconservative leadership again showed its vindictive nature earlier this year when it removed Sen. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) from a committee leadership position because she had the audacity to endorse Democrat Laura Kelly for governor and Democrat Tom Niermann for the 3rd District congressional seat.
We see Hineman’s letter as his way of discreetly warning moderate legislators that they risk the same fate if they don’t remain silent. Speak your conscience and you are handing more power to ultraconservatives is the subtext.
He may be right.
On the other hand, we argue that silence guarantees nothing.
Kobach is the antithesis of what we should want from any elected official, let alone our governor. Yet, in a three-way race, Kobach has a chance of winning with a solid 35 percent — maybe 40 percent — of the vote.
If moderates aren’t willing to find their voice before the election, what’s to be gained afterward? Are they expecting Gov. Kobach and the conservative leadership to reward them by expanding Medicaid or adequately funding public education?
Is the plan to speak out while Kobach is pushing another version of the Brownback tax cuts through the Legislature? While he tries to take oversight of school funding away from the Supreme Court? After schools are forced to go through another round of funding cuts? After our highways fall into further disrepair?
As these battles are being waged, the pre-election silence by moderates will be forgotten. Those with the courage to speak up will be attacked relentlessly from the right by the Koch money machine.
Moderates will have bought some time, but not immunity.
In a twist of Trumpian irony, it could be said that through their silence, moderate Republicans will be “unindicted co-conspirators” if Kobach is elected.
Perhaps some moderates will try to justify their silence by saying this allows them to fight another day. But how much more difficult, if not impossible, will that fight be with Kobach in the governor’s office and fellow ultraconservatives in legislative leadership positions?
By acquiescing to the so-called base, moderates risk allowing our state’s economy to be driven into the ditch once again, this time with Kobach behind the wheel. The silent majority in Kansas cannot afford to be silent and neither can the lawmakers elected to represent them.
Anyone who thought the 2016 election was the beginning of the end for the ultraconservative movement in Kansas was premature in their assessment. They aren’t going to give up their grip on Kansas politics without a fight.
Today’s Republican Party reminds us of the Groucho Marx line in which he says, “I won’t belong to any organization that would have me as a member.”
Trading away your values — and your voice — in order to maintain an uncertain truce with this Republican Party is much too steep of a price to pay for membership.
Rod Haxton is publisher of The Scott County Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org