After serving on the Wichita school board since 1989, including several terms as its President, Jean Schodorf was elected to serve Wichita’s 25th Senate district in 2000. She was re-elected handily with 60%+ of the vote in 2004 & 2008. In 2010 she ran for KS-04, left open by Rep. Todd Tiahrt’s failed Senate run, placing second in the Republican primary, and losing to the eventual general election winner, the Koch-backed Mike Pompeo.
In 2012, Sen. Schodorf, the Majority Whip for the Republican caucus, was targeted by Republican Governor Sam Brownback, along with most of the rest of the moderates in the state Senate. In the low-turnout August primary, the moderates were nearly all defeated. In Wichita, Schodorf was unseated by Wichita City Councilman Michael O’Donnell, a right-winger who’d been a member of the City Council for less than 2 years.
As the new, even more conservative Legislature is seated, Schodorf is clearing up any confusion about what it meant when she began moving away from the GOP in September.
Jean Schodorf is becoming a Democrat.
Schodorf posted this message on her Facebook page on Jan. 13th, after her final day as a Republican legislator:
Has the Republican Party left you? Well I think it's time to leave the party. As a lifelong republican I feel as though the Republican Party, nationally and at the state level, no longer represents me. Tomorrow at 4:15 I will be at the Sedgwick County Election office to change my party affiliation. I will be a democrat. If you feel the same way, I would love for you to join me. We will make it a party.The comments section below her post is also rather illuminating on the state of Kansas politics today. You’ll see Democrats welcoming her to the party and daring to hope, dejected and despairing moderate Republicans wavering in their party loyalty, and right-wing Republicans telling the "RINOs" not to let the door hit ‘em on the way out.
And if you aren’t convinced that this move is a big deal in Kansas, check out the activity on the post—within 10 hours of its posting, it had attracted almost 500 “likes”, 75+ shares (re-posts), and almost 200 comments. Seriously, check it out here.
Will Schodorf run for office again? And could she win?
She is a lifelong Republican and her electoral record suggests she is pretty popular among Wichita-area Republicans (she got just under a quarter of the vote in the KS-04 primary), and she is certainly popular with the general electorate. As a candidate, Schodorf could be a major asset for Wichita Democrats. A number of Republican moderates knocked out in Republican primaries have switched parties and won back their previously-held seats as Democrats in the general election (a prominent example is Johnson County's Cindy Neighbor).
As to her future plans, the KS Senate is not up for re-election until 2016…but all of the statewide offices (like Governor) as well as the congressional seats are up for re-election in 2014. Given its Republican tilt and the Koch money that would likely be spent to defend Pompeo, Schodorf would be hard-pressed to win KS-04 in a general. But she’d be about the strongest candidate possible, and could also be a serious contender for Governor, or Lt. Gov. Given the welcome she’s received, as well as the bipartisan cred she established running a coalition government with Democrats in the state Senate, she could almost certainly win a Democratic primary.
So what does this all mean for Kansas? And what’s the matter with it?
The battle between the “Mods” and the “Cons” has been raging in Kansas politics since the early 1990s (local political columnist Steve Kraske wrote an excellent piece on the 1987 birth of the conservative movement in the Kansas Legislature). 2013 may turn out to be a rather decisive turning point in this battle.
In 2013, the Cons will control both houses of the Kansas Legislature as well as the governor’s chair for the first time in state history. Gov. Brownback, the first Con governor, has now purged the Kansas Republican party of most of its moderate office-holders. Only a handful of moderate Republicans remain in the Legislature, Cons hold all of the statewide offices (supposedly-moderate AG Schmidt has been cowed into submission and Ins. Comm. Sandy Praeger isn’t running for re-election), and all four Congresspeople are acting like conservatives, even if 2 of them (Jenkins & Yoder) are supposed to be Mods.
Moderate Republicans are beginning to realize that they’ve lost control of the party, and they’re not likely to get it back. Several Republican state senators endorsed Democrats in 2012. While a large number of moderates and even Democrats remain registered as Republicans so as to influence the primaries, Republican cross-over voting for Democrats is quite large in Kansas when conservatives win primaries. With Mods beginning to switch sides completely, and demographic trends eroding Republican advantages even in Kansas, a steady transition toward more competitive politics the entire state may be in the offing...