Kansas GOP considers kicking minority, youth and women’s groups out of party leadership

Kansas Republicans are moving closer to kicking groups representing women, Black, Hispanic and young Republicans off the state party’s executive board, a move that would consolidate the power of its new hard-right chairman.

The Kansas Republican Party’s rules committee advanced a proposal this week that would change the party bylaws to remove constituency groups aimed at broadening the reach of the party. It would also oust state and federal GOP elected officials from the board, which oversees party operations and budgetary decisions.

The full party state committee is expected to vote on the proposal this summer, as well as a separate proposal to change the party constitution to remove those individual’s seats on the state committee. The change to the executive committee needs a simple majority while the change to the state committee would require two-thirds support.

If either proposal passes, it would amount to lost representation for key groups Kansas and national Republicans spent years working to bring into the fold. At the same time, it would enhance the power of chairman Mike Brown, who won his position by just two votes earlier this year.

Representatives of the Kansas Young Republicans, Black Republican Council and Hispanic Assembly said they are hopeful the party would reject the changes or that the issue never receives a vote. But if not, they said the party leadership will lose key voices at the table.

“We’re deeply disappointed in the decision to eliminate Black leadership representation from the Kansas GOP and trust that State delegates reject this action and commit to unifying and strengthening the party,” Michael Austin, the chair of the Kansas Black Republican Council, said in a statement calling the proposed rule “short-sighted.”

Ben Sauceda, Chair of the Kansas Republican National Hispanic Assembly, said he’d been working in Republican politics for 26 years, since he was 13 years old.

“This is something that would set our party back dramatically,” Sauceda said. “The party that I worked to build was expansive, was growing, was a party built on ideals that welcome people and encourage people. Not one of fear and not one that is closed.”

Supporters of the proposal wrote in a draft plan obtained by The Star that the purpose was to make the executive committee more similar to the Republican National Committee structure and only have members elected by county precinct committee people.

The constituency groups and elected officials, they said, do not represent members of the party that elected them.

“This flies in the face of our Representative Republic. Our U.S. Constitution makes clear that power is held by individual citizens and those rights are to be protected by the will of the majority,” Rebecca Wetter and Bryant Anderson, members of the KS GOP rules committee, wrote in the proposal.

Anderson, the chair of the rules committee, did not respond to The Star’s request for comment.

Removing those committee members would cut out a group that is vital to the long-term success of the party, said Kelly Arnold a former chair of the party who voted against the rule change.

Its implementation, he said, would be “disastrous for our agenda and for our goal of electing Republicans.”

“What is it going to look like if the Republican Party tells these groups of women and minority groups and young Republicans ‘sorry, we don’t need you to be part of the Republican Party,’” he said.

“You will have a very divided Republican Party.”

Meanwhile, the rule would also remove party leaders who have won state and federal elections from those decision making boards. That includes each Republican member of the U.S. Congress from Kansas, each Republican holding a statewide elected position, and the GOP leaders in the Legislature.

“As a long time member of the executive committee, I know the party must value the input and experience of our elected officials who have actually won elections against Democrats in order to ensure future successes,” said Rob Fillion, who represents State Treasurer Steven Johnson on the executive committee.

Criticism of new chair

The proposal comes months after Brown, a conservative former Johnson County Commissioner and failed candidate for secretary of state, took over as chair of the Kansas GOP.

In his candidacy for chair Brown sharply criticized former leadership and had argued the party needed to give more power to those at the grassroots level. The early days of his term have been fraught with infighting.

Brown has neither publicly supported nor criticized the suggested rules.

“I did not write this proposed change and I was not part of the debate that occurred in the rules committee,” Brown wrote in a Facebook post last week. “As I stated earlier, and regardless of how I feel about potential changes offered by the committees, I will not direct, demand or prohibit discussions within committees.”

He called for an end to “dissension” among party members frustrated by the proposed rules.

But the move would effectively remove power from several individuals who have criticized Brown in the past and pushed back against his leadership in recent months.

Several of the elected officials who currently have a position on the board endorsed Brown’s opponent, Helen Van Etten, in the chair race. The Kansas Black Republican Council, Federation of Republican Women and Federation of Hispanic Republicans, penned a joint letter to Brown weeks into his term criticizing him for not meeting with the groups and for appointing an executive director without the executive committee’s approval.

In addition to removing those individuals from the committee, the proposed rule change eliminates the requirement that the committee approve Brown’s choice for executive director.

Mike Kuckelman, Brown’s predecessor as chair of the party, said he spoke to Brown in late April and urged him to denounce the proposed rules. Allowing the discussion to proceed, Kuckelman said, was indicative of the way Brown has run the party since taking over.

“I think it’s probably a power grab by Mike Brown without considering the collateral damage,” Kuckelman said. “He’s failed to take into account the adverse effect his power grab would have on representation of women and minorities at the table.”

Even if the rules take effect Austin and Sauceda said they would continue to promote Republican candidates and issues within their organizations.

“I’m not a Republican because of who our party chair is or isn’t. I’m a Republican because of the principles our party believes in,” Sauceda said. “Whether someone hijacks that and takes it in an extreme direction, I don’t have to jump on that train. But I will keep working to promote our freedom and beliefs.”