Primary election results: Welcome to the new Bleeding Kansas

August 5, 2020 10:52 am

Rev. Bill Johnson of Great Bend prays with U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, his wife Laina and supporters on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (Veronica Coons/Great Bend Tribune)

Congratulations, Kansas. When all of the mail-in ballots are counted in the next few days, a historic number of you will have voted in the pandemic primary. It was an extraordinary display of democracy.

One of your rewards will be to suffer through three more months of a U.S. Senate race.

Vanquishing Kris Kobach, Bob Hamilton and eight other would-be successors to Sen. Pat Roberts, U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall emerged victorious in the Republicans’ Battle of the Bastards.

Kobach haters rejoicing that he lost once again should enjoy the feeling while it lasts, because policy-wise, politics-wise and maybe even a little bit temperament-wise, Marshall is as close to the current president as Kobach once longed to be.

He’ll now face Kansas Sen. Barbara Bollier. And with both parties’ national senatorial campaign committees preparing for the even more epic battle of Marshall the obstetrician/gynecologist versus Bollier the anesthesiologist, we’ll soon long for these less-grotesque days of summer. If only Bollier could write us all some scripts to numb the pain now.

Here’s a safe prediction: National media outlets will parachute in coastal reporters who’ll write stories slugged with “What’s the matter with …” and Oz-pun headlines, their leads about two doctors with drastically different ideas for how to heal America.

Because it does feel like a battle for the country’s soul.

Conversations have been underway, among smart people, about whether America is headed for, or is already in, a new civil war. The president enjoys pouring gasoline on the idea that Democrats are not his fellow Americans but rather his literal enemies. To the extent that modern warfare is mainly psychological and technological, we’ve been fighting that cold civil war for a while now, with plenty of hot skirmishes around the edges — places where, to name just one example, people drive cars into crowds of protesters with opposing views.

If this idea of a new civil war is not beyond your imagination, then consider yourself a resident of the new Bleeding Kansas.

One casualty of Tuesday’s results: the fabled Midwestern value of moderation.

In a back-and-forth that’s now been going on for as long as I can remember, moderate Republicans in races for the Kansas Legislature were slaughtered by conservative challengers who committed political fratricide for sins such as keeping taxes sane enough to fund what remains of government services in the post-Brownback era, opposing a constitutional amendment on abortion and working with Democrats to expand Medicaid — something that would have actually helped all people, Republicans as well as Democrats, in crimson districts where rural hospitals are closing.

Tuesday night’s most shocking outcome, however, was in the Democratic primary for Kansas House District 37, where 19-year-old Aaron Coleman held a one-vote lead over incumbent Stan Frownfelter. Coleman had been widely condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike after he joked about wanting GOP rivals to die from COVID-19.

Republican talking points out of D.C., meanwhile, were more disingenuous.

“Sharice Davids has been nothing more than a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi and her socialist agenda since coming to Washington and has failed to stand up for Kansas,” said Tom Emmer, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, in his statement congratulating Amanda Adkins for her win in the primary to take on Davids in the 3rd District race for the U.S. House.

Davids and Pelosi are not socialists.

Marshall echoed that language in his victory statement.

“My Democrat opponent is going to do everything she can to try to convince you she’s a ‘moderate,’ but her record proves she is an abortion-on-demand extremist who stands in lockstep with Chuck Schumer and the Democrats’ radical socialist agenda,” he said of Bollier.

Bollier and Schumer are not socialists.

In Trump country there are many enemies. The lie, among both parties, that all members of the opposing party are the most dangerous of our adversaries has been smoldering for decades but is now a conflagration. This dangerous rhetoric will only intensify over the next three months.

The winners in November, and their margins of victory, will say much about which side Kansans have taken: How strongly will we reject the idea that our greatest enemy is our neighbor?

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C.J. Janovy
C.J. Janovy

C.J. Janovy is a veteran journalist with deep roots in the Midwest. She was the Opinion Editor for the Kansas Reflector from launch unit l June 2021. Before joining the Reflector, she was an editor and reporter at Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, KCUR. Before that, she edited the city’s alt-weekly newspaper, The Pitch, where Janovy and her writers won numerous local, regional and national awards. Her book “No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas” was among the Kansas Notable Books of 2019.