Presidential election years provide impacts that, for the most part, we have no input into. The popularity of a Republican incumbent President and how much the Democratic candidate excites Kansas Democrats to get out and vote impacts the down ballot races. I’m convinced that Jimmy Carter's popularity with Kansas Democrats in 1976 was a key factor in gaining the majority in the Kansas House and the opportunity for me to become Speaker. Then there is the far right of the Republican Party remaining a force, particularly in Republican Primaries. Their successes in more politically balanced districts are our opportunities. But whether we take advantage will depend on several factors.
The Kansas Democratic Party needs to start with recruiting good candidates who will develop a well-thought out plan that has been tested and who will work really, really hard in their districts. I am observing signs that, more and more, younger Kansans are starting to see the necessity that they engage. This can have an enormous impact on the candidates we recruit and the voters we can work to mobilize. I see legislators like Tim Hodge, State Representative from Newton, as an excellent example of what is possible in very Republican districts with hard work and an efficient strategy. Now we need to find those candidates from a very diverse pool of possibilities that fit that mold and concentrate on where it is realistic we can win. That process, if not already in action, should start now.
It also requires us to understand the math issues. Democrats are a minority party in Kansas, and that will not soon change. This means we need to recruit candidates that not only appeal to the broad spectrum of Democrats but have the potential to reach out and attract the Independent and Republicans votes needed to win. Keep in mind, winning is important. We don’t just do all of this because we enjoy politics. Kansas has real problems that need to be addressed.
Certainly, Democrats need to stick together—understand and appreciate that a fractured party guarantees losing. This doesn’t mean we can’t have differences. We do, and that will not change. The point is, we can’t let those differences keep us from being united in our mission to help this great state. That is certainly true when the majority of Republicans vote with the far right because of either philosophy or fear.
On Saturday, March 2nd, the Kansas Democratic Party will select their leaders for the next two years. Although I am not involved this year and do not know who the candidates are, I do hope that what I have shared here represents the thinking of a majority of the delegates and the leaders they select. Achieving real success in 2020 is not just for our party but for the future we want for Kansas.