Salina Legislator Takes Bold Stand

It shouldn’t take courage to do what Rep. Steven Howe, R-Salina, did earlier this month. But it did.

Howe wrote a column about former President Donald Trump, the Jan. 6 insurrection and election denialism. He asked his fellow Republicans, in plain language, to take a different path while they still have time. With a full primary schedule ahead of us — and the Kansas presidential primary set for March 19 — the party could choose to look forward rather than backward, focus on attracting new voters rather than exacting revenge, and work together with Democrats for the good of our country.

Sure, I can hear you all out there saying, fat chance of that ever happening.

Yet Howe speaks with remarkable sincerity. As long as the GOP includes folks like him, we can’t abandon hope.

“For our republic to survive, it needs the peaceful transfer of power,” Howe told me during this week’s Kansas Reflector podcast. “And that is a bedrock foundational issue that has allowed us to survive as a democratic republic. And I feel like that is not something you toy with.”

Opinion writers and political pundits have spilled a lot of ink in recent years about party asymmetry. In other words, Democrats and Republicans don’t always behave in the same way. Democrats encompass a wide variety of warring factions, while Republicans look for order imposed from above. This can be overstated, but you certainly don’t have to look far before finding Democrats bad-mouthing President Joe Biden or his reelection campaign.

Finding Republicans willing to speak out against Trump — a twice-impeached former president who lost reelection and was subsequently indicted on 91 felony counts — takes more effort.

Yes, Howe is conservative. Yes, his political beliefs and ideology likely differ from mine. He also respects reality.

Thousands of President Donald Trump's supporters storm the U.S. Capitol building following a "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
 Thousands of President Donald Trump’s supporters storm the U.S. Capitol building following a “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. The protesters stormed the historic building, breaking windows and clashing with police. Trump supporters had gathered in the nation’s capital to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over Trump in the 2020 election. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)“After I wrote this, I received a message from a neighbor, or someone in the neighborhood, and someone that I’ve known for a while,” Howe said. “And they said they still believe the election was stolen, three years since Jan. 6 has happened. And I don’t know if I can change the minds of fellow Republicans that still believe that, because people will believe what they want to believe. And I’m only one person, and that I’m trying to shine the light on some things here for our fellow Republicans to consider.”

He added: “I think Republicans need to know that there is a Republican at the state level that isn’t going to support the former president.”

The most recent polling data aggregated by suggests that even in Iowa, only a smidge more than 50% of Republicans would support the former president in the caucus. But as happened in 2016, an array of other candidates split the opposition vote.

As we’ve seen repeatedly in Kansas, reliable Republican voters seldom feel comfortable straying from their party when the general election comes around. That means that the choice of voters in primaries and caucuses — even if they represent a fraction of a fraction — carry outsized weight. Kansas political operatives have used this fact over the years to purge the Kansas Legislature of moderate voices.

All this empowers an ideologue like Trump.

And it leaves normal people out in the cold, unrepresented by their party.

“I’ve received quite a few encouraging notes from constituents, people that I’ve never heard from before, or maybe I’ve never met in person, but have sent me notes by email, some phone calls,” Howe said. “And people were encouraged by me coming forward and in writing the piece. And I think there’s more Republicans still out there that perhaps don’t want to speak publicly. They don’t want to get the backlash or the retribution that the former president has talked about if he’s reelected.”

The representative craves, as do I, a return to a different kind of political discourse. As Kansas Reflector’s opinion editor, I would love to write more often about truly progressive topics. Throughout the past three years I have instead written repeatedly about basic facts. Science is real. Vaccines work. Widespread election fraud doesn’t happen.

Both Republicans and Democrats used to agree, if nothing else, on a shared basis of real-world experience.

Not so much today.

“To continue as a civil society, we need to allow each other space to be heard, and to listen,” Howe said. “And just because someone disagrees with your opinion, on a policy matter, or something like that, doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. And so I think a lot of times these days, people take things so personally, or they make it personal, when it doesn’t have to be. And I think that’s the way we move forward is being civil, allowing for discourse, especially discourse from the other side. And we can find common ground.”

I sure hope so. But we all have to make it through the next act of the Donald Trump show first.

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Opinion piece written by Clay Wirestone / Kansas Reflector