Kansas state Sen. Dinah Sykes and state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, who had identified as moderate Republicans in the past, announced their decisions ahead of the upcoming legislative session, which begins next month. The lawmakers said they were disappointed in Republican leaders who focused on “issues and approaches that divide our country,” as Sykes put it, rather than their constituents’ needs.
Clayton pointed to an effort to scrap a bipartisan school funding proposal that had been in the works for two years until the GOP said it would be too expensive.
“I have consistently campaigned on a pro-education, pro-business, pro-stability platform,” Clayton said in a statement. “I have been a proud Republican my entire life. However, the recent moves to support chaos in public policy have caused me great concern. I believe that I can better serve my constituents, and support education as a member of the Democratic Party.”
Sykes, who said she was a “moderate person who represents a moderate and pragmatic district,” echoed that statement, saying she did “not agree” with the Republican approach.
“I strongly believe elected officials should serve the people they represent. That belief drove me to run for office” Sykes said in a statement. “At this time, I feel like I can either fight to change the Republican party or fight for the state I love and the people I serve. I think I can better serve my state and constituents as a member of the Democratic party.”
The GOP still has a strong majority in both chambers of the Kansas legislature: 84-41 in the House and 28-11 in the Senate (which also has one independent). The state elected a Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, in last month’s midterm elections. She will be the first Democrat to lead the state in eight years.
Four Kansas Republican lawmakers have switched to the Democratic party this month. Along with Sykes and Clayton, state Sen. Barbara Bollier and outgoing state Rep. Joy Koesten announced they are leaving the GOP.
Bollier said last week that despite her 43-year history as a registered Republican, she had developed “frustrations that have been ongoing” to the point of swapping affiliations. She also cited President Donald Trump as a leading influence in her decision.
“I cannot be complicit in supporting” the president, Bollier told the Kansas City Star. “I can’t call it leadership. I don’t even know what to call him. He is our president, but he is not representing my value system remotely.”