Mike Brown, who lost a Republican primary for secretary of state in 2022, was elected chairman of the state party over Helen Van Etten by a vote of 90-88. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Former Johnson County commissioner and 2020 election conspiracy theorist Mike Brown narrowly defeated Saturday a former Republican national committeewoman to earn a two-year term as the state GOP’s chairman.
The contest over who would serve in the party’s top administrative job offered a fresh illustration of GOP infighting despite calls by Brown and Helen Van Etten to seek unity if chosen to replace chairman Mike Kuckelman, an attorney who served four years as chairman. In advance of the party meeting, Kuckelman accused Brown of being insufficiently conservative on abortion and gun rights. During his nomination speech, Brown fired back by declaring himself “pro-life” and “pro-2A.”
Van Etten’s base in the 2nd and 4th congressional districts was pitted against dominance of Brown in the 3rd District in the Kansas City area. In a packed convention hall, it took a minimum of 90 votes from the 179 credentialed delegates to prevail. Hand counting of ballots settled the issue: Brown, 90; Van Etten, 88. One ballot was declared “spoiled,” because someone apparently voted for both nominees.
Brown, an Overland Park construction contractor, lost a reelection campaign for Johnson County Commission in 2020 and fell short in the Republican primary for Kansas secretary of state in 2022. He rebounded by surviving one of the closest races for party chairman in state history.
“As Republicans,” Brown said, “we are not the party of equity and entitlement. We are the party of excellence and hard work.”
He urged GOP delegates to get behind his candidacy and work to overhaul the organization to make Republicans more competitive, especially in the 3rd District. His quest is to end the career of Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davis, who is serving her third term representing the Kansas City area. He also wants to flip the governor’s office in 2026 after back-to-back victories by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly over Republicans Kris Kobach and Derek Schmidt.
“We simply cannot continue to keep doing the same things over and over and believe that somehow it’s going to turn out differently,” Brown said. “We’re going to get the governor’s seat back. We’re going to get CD3 back. We’re going to get control of this mess.”
Lynn Rogers, a former Democratic lieutenant governor and state treasurer, said election of Brown meant the Kansas GOP “made their bed and must lie down in the conspiracy-laden nightmare of their own making.”
Brown has called for RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to resign. In public appearances, Brown said there shouldn’t be room in the state’s Republican Party for RINOSs or what he described as “milquetoast, Republican-in-name-only, lousy Republicans.” He also has a record of promoting election conspiracy theories alleging President Donald Trump had reelection stolen from him in 2020 because of fraudulent activity.
After Brown took his position on the stage, GOP delegates debated but tabled a resolution calling for impeachment of President Joe Biden. The request centered on concern about Biden’s purported approval of social media companies censoring commentary by conservatives about COVID-19 and vaccines to counter the pandemic.
Brown, who was endorsed by former U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, said the Kansas GOP would be a fundraising machine, become more unified and develop databases to help candidates win. He would expand the state party’s role in elections by reaching down to local school board races and city council campaigns. It was essential to expand the Republican supermajorities in the Kansas House and Kansas Senate, he said.
Brown was nominated for chairman by Calvin Hayden, the Johnson County sheriff. Hayden complained that he’d never received financial support from the state party in his campaigns for sheriff.
“That can’t happen,” Hayden said. “We need to help our people at the grassroots level. We need to fight. We need to make sure that we get people with conservative values.”
Van Etten, who has never held elective political office and immigrated to the United States from Taiwan, was the state party’s national Republican committeewoman from 2008 to 2020. In a speech, Van Etten vowed to strengthen the Republican Party by emphasizing fundraising, county-level training and recruitment of activists.
“As a long-time conservative activist, I have fought for decades in the trenches,” she said. “Our fight is for the values and the freedoms that we hold dear. I have a track record of standing for conservative principles and working with all Republicans to get things done. I will be nobody’s rubber stamp. Neither will I be a carbon copy of any previous or current leadership.”
Van Etten is a retired audiologist with the Topeka school district and served from 2013 to 2021 on the Kansas Board of Regents as an appointee of Gov. Sam Brownback.
Michael Austin, a Trump administration appointee as adviser to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, nominated Van Etten for the post. He said he appreciated Brown’s zeal and passion for conservatism, but indicated that wasn’t enough in these times.
“We need experience,” he said. “We need connections. We are the calvary. We are the boots on the ground. I trust doctor Helen Van Etten to give us the tools and the resources we need to win the fight and make this state great again.”
An exit speech
Before the agenda turned to voting on two candidates for chairman, Kuckelman encouraged the audience to be respectful of anyone expressing contrasting views. He said he’d not thrown anyone out of state party meeting before, but appeared to leave open that possibility.
“I know there’s a lot of emotion. We’ll run this meeting with decorum and respect,” Kuckelman said. “We are all Republicans. All of us in this room are unified on the Republican principles on the platform.”
Kuckelman sought after the November election to punish GOP officials who supported independent gubernatorial candidate Dennis Pyle.
He said the next chairman had to build ties within the party, advance platform principles and build support for GOP nominees. He said the Kansas GOP had to remain dedicated to expanding voter registration among Republicans and strive to get more conservatives to vote, he said.
Another task was to maintain the Republican two-thirds supermajorities in the Kansas House and Kansas Senate, keep both U.S. Senate seats in GOP hands, win the 3rd District congressional seat and reclaim the governor’s office.
In addition, he said the state party had to reach out to minority voters and to the 500,000 unaffiliated registered voters in Kansas. He said Democrats in Kansas led independent voters astray in the latest election by distorted information on the issues. “They incited the left with the wrong messages,” Kuckelman said.
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