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Three Kansas lawmakers abandon Republican Party, become Dems

When an elected official switches parties, it's notable. When three elected Republican officials become Democrats -- all in the same week -- it's extraordinary.
Friday, April 2, 2010, in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Friday, April 2, 2010, in Topeka, Kan.

Elected officials don't often switch parties, which is why it raised a few eyebrows last week when Kansas state Sen. Barbara Bollier announced she was giving up on the Republican Party and becoming a Democrat.

"Morally, the party is not going where my compass resides," Bollier explained. "I'm looking forward to being in a party that represents the ideals that I do, including Medicaid expansion and funding our K-12 schools."

What we didn't realize at the time was that she'd soon have some company. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported this morning:

Kansas Sen. Dinah Sykes and Rep. Stephanie Clayton served notice Wednesday of a decision to politically re-brand themselves by leaving the Republican Party to represent a Johnson County district as a Democrat.Sykes, a Lenexa resident elected to the Senate in 2016, said she was motivated by the GOP's approach on key issues and concerns about a party led by President Donald Trump.

The article added that we may yet see a fourth Kansas lawmaker make the same transition: "Another Republican in the House, Rep. Joy Koesten, of Leawood, said she also was giving consideration to switching her affiliation."

These changes won't alter the balance of power in Kansas' legislative chambers -- the GOP majorities remain intact -- but anytime three lawmakers in the same state switch parties in the same week, it's emblematic of something important brewing.

To be sure, Kansas has earned its reputation as one of the nation's most reliable "red" states, but it's worth noting that this year's election results offer fresh hope for the state's Democrats. For example, Kansans elected a Democratic governor, Laura Kelly -- despite a centrist independent splitting the mainstream vote -- and she was endorsed by many high-profile Republicans, including several former GOP governors.

In Kansas' 3rd congressional district, Rep.-elect Sharice Davids (D) easily defeated incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder (R), and in the neighboring 2nd congressional district, incumbent Rep. Steve Watkins (R) barely survived a tough challenge from Paul Davis (D), prevailing by just 1.5%.

My point is not that Kansas is somehow on its way to becoming "purple." With Republicans still dominating, that won't happen anytime soon.

But in recent decades, there's been a rift within the Kansas GOP between its moderate and conservative wings, and former Gov. Sam Brownback (R), while destroying the state's finances, set out to ensure the latter contingent crushed the former.

It now appears some of those moderate Republicans have decided it's time to give up on the party altogether.