by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector
May 19, 2023
TOPEKA — The chairman of the Kansas Republican Party ordered reconsideration Friday of proposed changes in party bylaws that would undermine the influence of Black and Hispanic members on the partisan organization’s executive board.
Mike Brown, chosen chairman of the state’s Republican Party during a divisive election in February in which he proclaimed the Kansas GOP was “not the party of equity and entitlement,” said criticism of rules amendments capable of weakening the voice of constituency groups on the executive board justified the internal review.
The proposal had generated blowback from the Black Republican Council and the GOP’s Hispanic Assembly, and fueled attacks from the Kansas Democratic Party.
“Based upon the concerns expressed to me and the impact the rules committee’s resolution is having on the party and its members,” Brown said, “I have directed the rules committee to meet and reconsider its recent recommendation to the state committee to change the makeup of the members of the executive committee.”
He said reconsideration of the changes, and presumed withdrawal of those recommendations, would allow the Kansas Republican Party to “refocus on expanding our party and winning elections.”
“Our members are diverse in ethnicity, background, age and beliefs, but we are united in our passion for smaller government, less taxes and more freedom,” Brown said.
In 2022, Brown sought the GOP nomination for secretary of state on a platform anchored by claims fraud contributed to President Donald Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden in 2020. Brown also said there wasn’t room in the state GOP for “milquetoast, Republican-in-name-only, lousy Republicans.”
He was elected state party chairman on a vote of 90-88 against Ellen Van Etten, who immigrated to the United States from Taiwan and served as Kansas’ national Republican committeewoman from 2008 to 2020.
On Thursday, the Kansas Democratic Party described the proposed rules changes as an attempt to consolidate power around Brown’s conservative base by disenfranchising Black and Hispanic individuals interested in leadership positions.
“What is most concerning is the broader implications beyond insider party politics,” said Kansas Democratic Party chairperson Jeanna Repass, the first Black and Latina woman in that role. “When we have legislative majorities run by this party that have largely been upheld through gerrymandering, what we see is a trend among parties in power to cater to extremist bases at the expense of everything that makes us great, which includes diversity of experiences and voices.”
“Where there is disagreement, we can have dialogue, but if we have a state that denies people access to either, our democracy is in serious trouble. We Democrats are a ‘big tent’ party, and while it can often be difficult to find common ground all the time, having many perspectives in the room is essential to the democratic process,” Repass said.
Recent U.S. Census data showed 74% of the Kansas population was white with non-Hispanic origins. Nearly 13% of Kansas’ residents were of Hispanic origin and 6.2% identified as African American or Black, the Census said.
Michael Austin, chair of the Kansas Black Republican Council, had said in a statement changes proposed by the state GOP’s rules committee were “shortsighted.”
Sen. Cindy Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat, said repression of diversity within the Kansas GOP could encourage Republicans in the Kansas House and Kansas Senate to advance policy viewed as harmful to Democrats. She had urged the Republican Party to reconsider the proposed rules.
“I know there are still many reasonable Republicans who are holding on to and hoping for a return of the sensible party of the past,” she said. “I invite all reasonable, tolerant Kansans to do as I did seven years ago — join the Democratic Party, where you will find that diversity is viewed as an asset, not a threat.”
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