Moderate Kansas Republicans Vow To Fight Back Conservative Challenge

Control Of 'Divided Party' At Stake

In Kansas, Republican state legislators have leaned increasingly conservative. Now a leader of the state's moderate Republican faction is vowing to fight back.

Kansas Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton) said moderate GOP senators will aggressively fight back expected conservative challengers in the August primary. Moderate Republicans have long controlled the state Senate, but the House of Representatives and is now more conservative than in past years, as is the governor.

"We've had a divided party in our state for 15, 20 years, and it has gotten worse," Morris said. "More primaries, more noise."

The moderate Senate Republicans, who control the GOP caucus in the largely Republican Senate, have recently teamed up with Democrats to defeat several measures that have put the caucus at odds with the House, including a proposed strip club ban, a proposed hike in state education funding, tax reform legislation and judicial selection reform.

The Senate caucus was also at odds earlier this year with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who eliminated the state's arts agency despite Senate objections.

Morris is one of several moderates being challenged in the primary -- a group that includes several prominent senators such as Senate Vice President John Vratil, Assistant Majority Leader Vicki Schmidt and Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Owens.

Morris said turnout in the August primary and fundraising are his two biggest concerns going into the primary season. With the primary occurring at a time when many Kansans are on vacation, he said his campaign group is working to boost turnout. He declined to discuss specifics of his turnout plan.

Morris said he expects outside groups to pour money into the state to help the conservative challengers. Kansas conservatives were helped in the 2010 House election by several outside groups. But Morris said his team is working to raise cash for its own campaign chest and has plans for a grassroots campaign.

With education spending and tax policy likely to be at the center of the debate, Morris said he still plans to form a study committee to develop a tax reform alternative to Brownback's proposal. Morris said he wanted the Senate to take the time to develop and study it's own plan -- instead of waiting first for the House to send a proposal to the Senate, as has happened in prior years.

In terms of education funding, Morris said he and other moderates want to see an increase in the state's per pupil aid to local districts from the current $3,750. The rate was cut over the past few years from $4,400 in response to declining state revenues. He said projected increases in revenue should be put into the education pot.

Morris said he thinks Brownback is not involved in recruiting the conservative challengers. State Rep. Greg Smith (R), who is challenging Owens, and other Kansas political observers also told HuffPost in October that Brownback was not involved in the effort.

Morris said at the end of the day he believes there are not as many differences between him and his conservative foes as some would think.

"We agree with each other 95-percent of the time," he said. "The majority of us are pro-life.

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