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  • Writer's pictureClay Wirestone, Kansas Reflector

Opinion: Drama, drama drama: Kansas primary candidates dynamite decorum with instantaneous brawls


By Clay Wirestone, Kansas Reflector opinion editor


The 2024 primary season has already generated its fair share of drama. (Getty Images)

I live in the same house as a middle schooler, so I’ve witnessed the drama created by tweens and teens.


I didn’t expect truculent Kansas candidates to generate the same level of fervor. Less than a week into the primary campaign, and the top has exploded off a fizzy bottle of election foofaraw.


Just listen to them!


“This is nothing more than political gamesmanship on the part of Dennis Pyle and perhaps if he focused more on delivering for northeast Kansas we would have tax reform right now,” fussed Rep. John Eplee, a candidate for state senate who faces an ethics complaint.


“I am determined to prosecute election fraud to the fullest extent of the law. It doesn’t matter how far you run. We will drag you back to Kansas and prosecute you,” boomed Attorney General Kris Kobach, announcing the arrest of a person accused of forging petition signatures.


“Schwab attempts to shut down and out anyone who challenges the status quo by pulling non-existent rules out of their butts, making up law out of whole cloth, citing statutes that don’t even pertain, then slamming the door and walking away in an attempt to put an end to the story,” spat GOP operative Kris Van Meteren after Secretary of State Scott Schwab put the kibosh on his attempt to nominate two Senate candidates (one Republican, one Democrat) on the No Labels ticket.


Democrats joined in the theatrics as well.


Rep. Jason Probst berated Republicans who appear to have parachuted into Hutchinson to run for his seat: “This interest in the 102nd District … appears to be rooted in a broader political game where every seat is a piece on a political board game. That’s what bothers me the most.”


Let me repeat, just for emphasis: This all took less than a week to unfold.


We can debate what’s causing this early freakout. Clearly, Republicans have not all decided to sing from the same hymnal. Eplee’s scuffle with Pyle encapsulates the broader battle between everyday conservatives and ultra-mega-rabid conservatives. Meanwhile, Van Meteren’s efforts on behalf of Lawrence Democratic Sen. Marci Francisco and his wife in her 5th District state Senate race illuminate tensions with the powerful Kansas Chamber. Probst’s dual challengers suggest that when Republicans can’t recruit actual locals, they airdrop willing candidates for kicks.


My take? Republicans look and sound nervous. They know their supermajorities in the House and Senate could both fall in November, and leaders in the party and affiliated groups fear leaving anything to chance. That means swatting down efforts from the likes of Van Meteren (who appears to have followed the rules by the book) and hitting their opponents early and hard.


New York Gov. Mario Cuomo once claimed: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”

This primary season, apparently that poetry takes the form of vulgar limericks and scrawled messages inside restroom stalls.


Behind the public spats, just look at the pileups in a handful of races. Seven folks — five Republicans and two Democrats — are running to replace U.S. Rep Jake LaTurner in the 2nd District. One of those Republicans has pleaded guilty to a felony. Another served as attorney general for 12 years.


The 19th District state Senate race includes House Minority Leader Vic Miller, two other Democrats and two Republicans. You might end up with more folks running in that primary than folks showing up to vote.


This all answers a particularly good question asked to me on Saturday by one of my uncles.

We had gathered in a Lawrence backyard for a family reunion, and he asked me how I could bear the unpleasantness of writing about current events. The question stumped me at first. I spluttered some half-formed thoughts about safeguarding my mental health and engaging with varied topics. But as I pondered his question and sketched out this very column, I realized that the answer had been sitting in front of me the whole time.


I write about these topics because they’re enormous fun. Sure, not everyone enjoys the same things I do, but how can you not marvel at this eight-minute meeting of the No Labels Kansas Party held by Van Meteren (and apparently only Van Meteren)?



“Sorry to the fans that we couldn’t find a better looking leading man to star in this thriller,” the operative wrote Kansas Reflector editor Sherman Smith. “Real action-packed, edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff.”


For more of some first-rate political fire breathing, read Van Meteren’s Facebook post on the whole dispute.


I don’t want to downplay the importance of our Legislature or the work it does. Kansas Reflector exists to shine a light on these topics and show how they matter to everyday Kansans. We should applaud those brave enough to step up and serve.


“Running for office takes gritty courage, dogged determination, and deep personal conviction driven by little sleep and missed family dinners, and fueled by lots of caffeine,” said State GOP Chairman Mike Brown in last week’s party newsletter. “The personal sacrifices made (by) these amazing Kansans to run for office is substantial and commendable.”


For once, he’s on the money.


Republicans and Democrats will have abundant opportunities to make their cases — through print, audio and video channels — in the weeks ahead. They will discuss vital issues of the future of our state. They will shake hands, answer questions and debate philosophies of representative government. But they will also, on occasion, act ridiculously. That’s what the pressure cooker of campaign season does to otherwise sensible people.


They will come to their senses soon enough. Meanwhile, we can all enjoy a soupçon of campaign drama.


Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.



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