The race for State Board of Education against John Bacon looked incredibly close until the last votes were counted. It had been a 2 point race until the last precincts reported and gave the incumbent creationist a massive lead over Don Weiss.
Don Weiss has asked me to pass on these thoughts:
Please let me take this opportunity to thank your readers for their tremendous support. I would be honored to help carry their dreams and desires for Kansas in the future.
He also included his broader take on the Kansas elections:
As you might expect, I am deeply disappointed in the outcome of the State Board of Education election, not only for my race, but also for Jack Wempe’s. We have a terrific new, moderate majority with two new, moderate Republicans that will do a great job for the state. While we are in good shape for the next two years, I am worried about 2008. With Bill Wagnon and Carol Rupe retiring, it’s going to be very difficult to keep a moderate majority, and here’s why.
The Democratic wave that got so much press coverage really did not turn Kansas any bluer lower than national and state-wide races. When you really look at the races, We picked up one congressional seat with Nancy Boyda, and one Attorney General. Given the popularity of the Governor already, I don’t think you can call Parkinson’s victory a major Democratic turn-around for the state. I much appreciate, however, that more moderate Republicans are now moderate Democrats.
So where did that leave the rest of the Democratic candidates? I can only talk about Johnson County house candidates and the SBOE races. In all four SBOE races (leaving Janet Waugh’s out for now), all four Democrats lost. Jack and I lost to obvious right-wing incumbents. All four lost between 40 and 49%. Jack, with his previous house experience, ran the best race and came the closest to defeating his Republican opponent. Consider that in this election the Democratic SBOE candidates had the following points in their favor: massive right-wing SBOE controversy, massive discontent with a Republican president and congress, high profile defections of several moderate Republicans to the Democratic party, high profile discontent with a right-wing Attorney General, and a record number of moderate candidates on both sides of the SBOE races.
And the result? Four defeated Democratic candidates by margins that appear not to take into account the merits or reputations of the any of the candidates, R or D, and defeated by margins that would be consistent with straight Republican party-line votes.
In the house races, Johnson County fielded about 20 Democratic candidates in contested races. Only 1 won: Cindy Neighbor. She was a former house member as a moderate R. She very narrowly defeated Mary Pilcher Cook, another hard-right winger. Once again, all candidate were defeated in the 40 — 49% range. Sound familiar?
It appears that as long as you were already well known as a moderate R in Kansas, you could get newly elected as a D. Other than that, forget it.
So from where I sit, the national Democratic wave didn’t even amount to a ripple by the time it got to the local races.
This does not bode well for the State Board in 2008. If Democratic candidates were virtually ignored by Republican voters even with everything they had going for them this year, what chance do you think they will have in 2008?
Ironically, the “Take Back Kansas” campaign that was so desperately needed and was so successful in guaranteeing a new, moderate majority as a result of the primary may have actually been too successful by peaking too soon. When Connie Morris and Brad Patzer departed, so did the controversies, the press, the fundraising, and a second chance to educate the average Joe Republican voter about their incumbents.
Thankfully, the new, moderate majority will move education forward, and there shouldn’t be any really stupid, controversial actions by this Board. But on the other hand, exactly because of this I see yet another asleep-at-the-wheel flip-flop in 2008 brewing. And I find this deeply troubling.
I agree that we have to start worrying about the 2008 Board elections now. With the attention off of the Board, it’s likely that voters will not be as engaged next time as they were now, and we saw how voter interest changed even since August. After 1999, voters and science advocates all eased off, and that’s how 2004 happened. We can’t let this be how our schools are run. They need consistency.
I suspect that the failure to carry races lower on the ticket can be attributed to two causes. First, down-ticket races generate less press, and people are more likely to vote party-line. Kansas has been a fairly Republican state for a while now, and there’s a big party identification advantage for Republicans in Kansas.
Governor Sebelius and Dennis Moore could have helped those down-ticket races out by one simple act: putting the word “Democrat” on their campaign materials. Sebelius was going to win in a walk, and Dennis Moore has finally made his seat safe. Those two could have built the Democratic brand so that people would pay more attention to the entire Democratic ticket. And that would help both of them down the line.
The more Democrats are in the state legislature in 2010, the more power Democrats have to redistrict. That could be the difference between saving Nancy Boyda’s seat (assuming she’s overcome the onslaught we can expect in 2008) and maybe even elect a Democrat in the 4th District, which is mostly Wichita. And Sebelius is probably running for Senate (I don’t buy the talk about her as a VP nominee, and I’d rather see her in Sam Brownback’s Senate seat).
For her to win a Senate race, she has to convince voters that they like voting for a Democrat. They understand that sending a Democrat to DC, even a moderate Democrat who governs the way Republicans do elsewhere, means giving power to the national Democratic Party, and that party has image problems in Kansas. If she wants to win a Senate race, she has to address that concern. Electing local Democrats who can stump for her and promoting the image of the party at large would have helped her down the line.
She did go and stump for Don Weiss, and she worked hard for the entire ticket, so I don’t want to sound over-critical. It’s time Kansas Democrats started taking pride in their party.