Democrats’ new day
The days of conservative-leaning politicians being welcomed in the Kansas Democratic Party seem to be finished.
If you don't believe it, just ask three-term incumbent State Sen. Mark Gilstrap, who is waging a Democratic primary battle in his re-election bid to represent the 5th District, which includes parts of Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties.
Earlier this month, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley - leaders in the state Democratic Party - took the highly unusual step of endorsing Gilstrap's opponent, Kathy Kultala.
It marks only the second time in Sebelius' six years in the Governor's Office that she's endorsed a candidate in a Democratic primary for a seat in the Legislature. It also marks a turnaround for Hensley, who called himself one of Gilstrap's "biggest supporters" in the 2004 election season.
Gilstrap is a fiscal conservative who has staunchly opposed tax increases throughout his tenure in the Senate. He also is opposed to abortion, a stance much more in alignment with conservative Republicans.
Seems that since the 2004 election, Gilstrap has taken measures that crossed the line of no return for Sebelius and Hensley. In the 2005 special session, Gilstrap voted with the Republican majority to strip the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to make a decision on the hotly debated school finance issue. Then in 2006, Gilstrap endorsed Phill Kline, the ultraconservative Republican incumbent for Kansas attorney general. This past legislative session, Gilstrap crossed the governor by voting for legislation to allow construction of new coal-fired energy plants in western Kansas.
Aside from the endorsement and signing a fund-raising letter for Kultala, Sebelius has stayed away from publicly commenting on the race. Hensley, though, has not.
In a news conference Tuesday night in Lansing, prior to a forum involving Gilstrap and Kultala, Hensley said this:
"While he may claim to be a Democrat, Mark's voting record is nothing short of Republican. : This election year, voters in the 5th District have a choice - re-elect a senator who is a Democrat in name only or elect a real Democrat who will stand up to the Republican majority and be a voice for commonsense solutions to the many challenges facing our state. I believe the choice is clear."
That's tough talk in a party that prides itself on a history of tolerance. It also marks a new day for conservative-leaning Democrats in Kansas.