The strategy of the Kansas Democratic Party (KDP) seems to have lost connection to a lot of the reasons why people become Democrats to begin with. Civil rights are a foundational plank in the Democratic National Platform, and supporting the dignity of LGBT Americans is at the very core of what it means to be a Democrat.
It leaves this Democrat wondering why it’s so difficult to get the KDP to stand up for our own precious values. It leaves me knowing that we will continue to lose election after election until party leadership learns, once again, to act like Democrats.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the current strategies are not working. Among the strategies seems to be the idea that the way for Democrats to get elected in Kansas is for them to act more like Republicans. The idea seems to be that you don’t want to get out there on the margin issues. You know, where the marginalized people live.
This strategy does nothing to create energy in the Democratic base and fails to offer a real choice to unaffiliated voters. The end result is that Democrats and moderates have a far greater tendency to stay home on election day.
Cases in point include the Roeland Park and the Topeka city council elections that took place on April 7. In the months leading up to the election, Roeland Park vaulted into the 21st century by declaring that its LGBT citizens should have the same rights as all citizens and passed anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. During this time, Topeka also made advances toward equality with the establishment of a domestic partner registry and adding gender identity (sexual orientation was already included) to the protected classes for City of Topeka employment.
So let’s take a look at how the equality issue fared in the Roeland Park city council elections. Ward 4 incumbent Michael Gliniecki, who voted against protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination, didn’t even make it out of the primary. Michael Poppa, former chair of the Kansas City Metro chapter of Equality Kansas, came out of that primary along with JoAnna Rush. Poppa won a seat on the Roeland Park City Council in the general election.
In Roeland Park Ward 3, Erin Thomson came out of the primary, as did Linda Mau. While Mau took steps to try to overturn the Roeland Park LGBT protections, Thomson posted on her website that she was in favor of diversity and non-discrimination. In the general election, Thomson won.
Meanwhile, in Topeka City Council District 6, James R. Lord was running against Brendan Jensen. Lord had testified in front of the city council against the domestic partner registry and the addition of gender identity. Jensen ran radio spots on Topeka stations stating that he thought all citizens should be treated equally. Jensen won.
Looks like we are starting to see a pattern here. But there is more to this story. In Roeland Park, the Ward 3 general election had 32.6% voter turnout. In Ward 4, a whopping 43.1% of registered voters turned out. In Topeka, the voter turnout in District 6 was not as impressive as those numbers, but still, 21% of registered voters actually voted. This is a considerably higher percentage than voted in the other Topeka districts. Looks like equality is an issue that is turning out people to vote.
I should share with you that the Democratic Party was active in trying to get out the vote in Topeka. But its focus was in District 4 and District 8, and there were explicit instructions to focus on the issue of economic development, but not to focus on the issue of equality.
I should also share with you that a leader in the Kansas Democratic Party has such an unfortunate misunderstanding of LGBT issues that they referred to me, in public, using a male pronoun. Needless to say, I walked away from those efforts and spent my time trying to get out the vote in District 6 and speaking out about equality. The results speak for themselves.
Continuing to reject the importance of making equality a major campaign issue not only serves to leave LGBT residents of Kansas without protection, it continues to fail as a campaign strategy. The evidence that supporting equality is an effective strategy has become increasingly difficult to ignore.
I am going to suggest that Kansas Democrats make a choice before we lead ourselves again to slaughter in 2016. I am going to suggest that we stand up for human dignity and civil rights. I am going to suggest that maybe, we could act like Democrats.