Believe it or not, sanity has broken out among these three Kansas Republicans

March 3, 2022 3:33 am

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, state Rep. Ron Highland and Secretary of State Scott Schwab have all spoken up recently to acknowledge reality. (Clay Wirestone illustration/Kansas Reflector, Schmidt image by Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector, Highland and Schwab images by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

For those who look at Kansas politics and despair, I’m here with good news. We’re seeing distinct signs of sanity on the conservative side of the aisle, and not a bit too late.

Within the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen three high-profile Republicans buck the trends and speak up for the truth. They have refused to entertain the ideological fictions spun by too many members of their party. And while I may not agree with many of their positions, their ability to state that a fact is a fact and what’s real is what’s real should be praised.

We can call them the Sanity Caucus.

Kansas Attorney General and likely Republican gubernatorial nominee Derek Schmidt can be counted first among equals here. Admittedly, his sanity came during a meet and greet with voters in Harper County, rather than a news conference. But he nonetheless held the line when questioned about election security and some of the preposterous claims made by outside “experts.”

“Here’s kind of my perspective on it,” Schmidt said, according to a recording from the event. “I think, on the whole, Kansas elections are solid. I really believe that. I’m not saying there’s no problems. I’m saying we don’t have the types of widespread institutional problems — at least I’ve never seen the evidence — that I think some other states do.”

See, how tough was that?

The wild part, of course, is the newsworthiness of this statement. Of course Kansas elections are solid. Schmidt unfortunately hedges his bets as the quote continues, because apparently you can’t challenge partisan nuttery too forcefully. Nationwide elections are solid too. Schmidt knows this.

So, for that matter, does Secretary of State Scott Schwab. Fending off a primary challenge from the right, the Republican last month made a compelling case for the safety and security of the state’s elections.

Both Schmidt and Schwab have played footsie with the murkier elements in their party. I haven’t been shy about calling them to account, either. Yet when they stand up for the truth, with all the potential political cost, we should acknowledge it. Praise it, even.

– Clay Wirestone

He went head-to-head with Douglas Frank, a Mike “My Pillow” Lindell crony and math teacher from Ohio, who had testified at an earlier hearing.

“I want to be clear, Dr. Frank did not accuse any fraud in Kansas last week,” Schwab said during testimony to the House Elections Committee. “He said, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,’ but there was no smoke because we did over 300 post-election audits. If there was smoke, it would have showed up in the audit, and that’s a hand count, on paper, audit. … He’s not a Kansas election expert. He’s a mathematician, but it doesn’t add up.”

Both Schmidt and Schwab have played footsie with the murkier elements in their party. I haven’t been shy about calling them to account, either. Yet when they stand up for the truth, with all the potential political cost, we should acknowledge it. Praise it, even.

Good job, guys.

That’s not all. On an entirely different level we have Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wagmego, who has tirelessly worked to create a major water management reform bill. With aquifer levels declining, agriculture and rural communities in Kansas face major challenges.

“I don’t like to use the word ‘crisis,’ but our situation in our state is serious,” Highland said.

Unfortunately, all the far-reaching proposals in the word hit a wall Tuesday, when the carefully assembled bill was ruthlessly gutted. House Water Committee leaders believed the state’s powerful agriculture lobby was behind the move.

“They’ve decided to fight any change at all, and I think the future, unfortunately … we’re having urban vs. rural discussions,” Highland said.

He added: “I’m not the loser; I think the state of Kansas is the loser today.”

Like safe and secure elections, protecting our state’s water supply goes beyond petty politics. It goes beyond what a Democrat or Republican might believe. It’s about making sure that all of us, regular people and politicians alike, live in a shared and sane reality.

Look, the political reality in Kansas is the political reality in Kansas. In most parts of the state, you have to have that “R” after your name on the ballot. Otherwise, you not only won’t be elected, but you’ll probably be laughed out of town.

Just because state officials and lawmakers are Republican doesn’t mean they’re required to believe untrue things. It doesn’t mean they’re required to ignore clear and convincing evidence in front of their faces. It doesn’t require becoming a card-carrying member of the anti-vaccine death cult or former President Donald Trump’s Big Lie-promoting forces.

They can simply speak the truth. The Sanity Caucus could always use a few more members.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has written and edited for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, and cnn.com. Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.