State Party Political Directors’ Civil Discussion

Executive Directors of both Kansas Democratic and Republican Parties spoke to an overflow crowd at the K-State Polytechnic Salina Campus at Thursday’s public Civic Luncheon Lecture. With Salina Mayor Jon Blanchard moderating, both Kerry Gooch (D) and Clay Barker (R) took turns answering questions. Saline County Republican Chairman Clarke Sanders and Democratic Vice-chair Carol Viar filled in local specifics, especially surrounding the March 5th caucuses.

When over 110 million watched the Super Bowl, Professor Greg Stephens said, “They were only observing a competition.” Stephens reminded those present that they could actually participate on many levels in the competitive local, state and national 2016 election races. The lecture was billed as “how to get your voices heard in the two party system”.

About the State Republican and Democrat Executive Directors and Local Party Chairs

As a former K-State Salina student who dreamed of flying F-16 fighter planes, Gooch said he has “the best job” that gives him an “opportunity to travel the State and meet progressive people everywhere”. With a degree in political science, he served as a finance intern for the Democratic Party, where he was involved with campaign and capital fundraising. He said he frequently hears about shrinking communities, closing hospitals and student debt. Gooch, who is African American, said when he speaks to different groups, he is often the “only minority and only young person in the room”.

Barker said his wife suggested he volunteer his time to the Republican Party, starting with the 2010 election. A West Point graduate, with a law degree from KU, Barker worked as a litigation attorney for ten years. He found himself volunteering for ten or twelve hours a time, giving advice on some of the legal issues that surface during campaigns. He kept volunteering and one day, he was handed the keys to the office. Barker said, “Anyone, at any time can get involved in the process”. He noted that many people get “interested in politics as they get older as they see how it affects their lives”.

Sanders said Salina has 35 precincts within the city; there are 18 additional precincts within Saline County. Each precinct has a spot for a committeeman and committeewoman for each party. By going to the County Clerk’s Office (at 300 W Ash), anyone affiliated with a party could sign up to get their name on the ballot to be part of that party’s central committee meetings. Sanders said, “The party is about getting people elected; office holders have to be accountable to the electorate”.

Viar said local Democrats meet on the last Tuesday of every month at Martinelli’s restaurant. She described the Democratic Party as having a “big tent, taking all comers”. She said the Democratic Party encourages people to think about and discuss issues. Phil Black is the county’s Democratic Party Chair.

Differences between Political Parties

After opening comments, Blanchard asked, “What are the biggest differences between the two political parties?” Gooch said Democrats believe “everyone should have a fair shot, and have the same opportunities as the person living down the street”. Gooch spoke about how Democrats believe government should be structured to give everyone the same opportunities.

Barker said that at the core, individuals hold different “world views of life; everyone agrees fairness is good” but there can be different perspectives on what is unfair. Republicans believe fairness “should be proportional to effort”; they become concerned if “someone is gaming the system”. Democrats become concerned if the rewards become too big; “wealth and income inequality” are often mentioned as being unfair. Barker said a Libertarian might hold a world view that “no one tells me how to live my life”. Democrats are more likely to believe that “society needs to come together to take care of core needs” so individuals can go on to live their lives.

Party Nominee Preferences

When asked which presidential candidate they would like to see get nominated from their respective political parties and why, both Gooch and Barker said they would need to sidestep that question. As state party officials, their positions require them to be neutral. Gooch noted that the Democrats offer two “phenomenal candidates”, noting Hillary Clinton’s long list of accomplishments and Bernie Sanders “grass roots activism” and ability to bring issues to light. Barker noted that some “tea partiers don’t like Trump”, because they may view him as “not principled”. Ted “Cruz tries to appeal to younger voters”. Jeb Bush and John Kasich are viewed “more moderately”.

Kansas – Cannabis? And Other Big Party Issues

Asked as dual questions, one individual submitted a question containing only two words: Kansas, cannabis, and a question mark. Another asked what are the biggest issues facing each party.

For the Democratic Party, Gooch referenced today’s Supreme Court decision on education funding as having far-reaching implications. Gooch then identified “water” as the next significant issue. Earlier in the day, Gooch and Barker spoke to the Farm Bureau, where water is a significant concern. On cannabis, Gooch noted Colorado received more than $100 million in additional revenues from cannabis last year, and that might be something Kansas Legislators might want to consider.

Barker noted that one wing of the Republican Party, the Libertarians, support “liberalizing marijuana for medical use” and promote the use of industrial hemp. Last year, the Legislature considered a bill involving marijuana, but “too many amendments were added to the bill, so it died”. Barker commented that sometimes amendments were added by both supporters and detractors of a bill.

Barker said, Governor Sam “Brownback and the Legislature made big changes with the tax system”. The Supreme Court is making decisions on matters like school funding. And, Barker noted a “network of people are pulling on the system” on issues like roads. While there is wide spread agreement on the need for roads, Barker noted that some professions make their living from constructing roads and “the question becomes how much to spend on” them.

Reaching Out to Latinos

A questioner began by saying, “Ronald Reagan said Latinos are Republicans and don’t know it.” He continued and said many Latinos felt “betrayed by Obama on immigration”. Gooch responded that the Kansas Democratic Party could do a better job of reaching out to Latinos, African Americans, and Asian/Pacific Islanders. Gooch said Democrats had “overpromised and undelivered”; when Obama got into office, he found he had to “walk back from” what he’d campaigned to reform.

Barker urged individuals to pay attention to what the candidates are saying, noting that candidates “don’t hide where they stand on this issue”.

Unaffiliated Voters

A question about the growing number of unaffiliated voters and the increasing level of disenchantment with the political parties brought a comment that “primaries are paid for by the tax payers and unaffiliated voters can’t vote until the general elections”. Speaking in regard to the upcoming March 5th caucuses, Viar said unaffiliated voters can affiliate with the Democrats while in line at the Democratic caucus. Sanders said unaffiliated voters would need to register with the County Clerk’s Office “three weeks prior to March 5th” to be able to admitted into the Republican caucus.

After the caucuses, individuals who affiliated with a party can go back to the County Clerk’s office and re-declare themselves to be unaffiliated. Barker noted that “only 10% of people are truly unaffiliated”.

Educating Voters

Gary Swartzengruber said that “of all those who vote all the time, only 5% know the key issues well”. Gooch noted that “educating the voters is tough”. Barker paraphrased a quote from Winston Churchill that “the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with an average voter.”

Getting Involved

If someone wants to get involved, Gooch suggested they “start with their local parties”. When they “vote, bring someone with you”. Barker said college and high school students often organize during presidential elections and the best way to start was with that party’s county chair.

Sanders said interested Republicans can contact him at 785-234-0425. The Republican caucus will be March 5th, at the Central High auditorium. Doors will open at 8:30 AM. The program will begin at 10:00 AM and balloting will commence thereafter, perhaps around 10:30 or 10:45. Registered Republicans who aren’t there by 10:00 AM can continue to go to Central High until 2:00 PM to vote for their favorite Republican presidential hopeful. As a reminder, for the Republican caucus, an individual must be registered as a Republican three weeks prior to March 5th; this can be done at the County Clerk’s Office. Individuals will need to bring identification to be admitted into the caucus. In 2012, Sanders said over 850 Saline County Republicans attended that caucus; he speculated more might attend this year.

Viar said the Democratic caucus will meet on March 5th, at South High School, from 1:00 – 3:00 PM. Doors will open before 1:00 PM, but attendees “must be in line” no later than 1:00 PM. Registered voters can declare an affiliation with the Democratic Party that day, while in line. They should also bring identification.

The March 5th caucus will provide both parties with valuable insights. Results will be used in connection with each party’s national political conventions. Kansans will vote for their party’s nominee in the primary election in August.

Story by: Karen Shade for KSAL News


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