Kan. Senator Jean Schodorf on Why She Left the Republican Party for Good
- Sep. 6, 2012
- 2 Comments
Jean Schodorf, a moderate from Wichita, announced plans this week to leave the Republican Party, saying it no longer reflects her views about women, separation of church and state, and the importance of finding common ground with others who have different views. PoliticalFiber.com reporter Erin Heger talked to Schodorf about her decision and her concerns about what she calls a “radical” conservative agenda by Kansas legislators.
Tell me about this split between the conservative and moderate elements of the Republican Party. How did this division develop?
The divide in the Republican Party has gradually developed. When I came to the Senate in 2001, the goal was to have as many Republicans as possible. While there were conservatives versus moderates, the divide wasn’t so great, and we were able to work together. The issues were the same, only they have become more polarized.
This has been a movement at the national level, and I think the national Republican Party has really organized to control local state parties. The moderates have always worked across the aisle, compromised, and tried to come up with solutions. The Republican Party has now developed this idea of “if you do not believe the platform verbatim, then you don’t belong.”
What have been the biggest changes in the Republican Party during your time as a senator?
It’s just gone so far right and radical. Social issues have become much more rigid. Women’s rights have disappeared. It’s not just about abortion anymore. It’s contraception. They seem to have lost touch with women’s issues and what women are facing. Religion is starting to overlap with government. They want to bring religion into the Capitol and into laws.
The economic changes have been based on libertarianism. The Koch brothers have been instrumental nationwide, but especially in Kansas to bring the libertarian message to the Republican Party. They believe in no taxes or low taxes, and that government should only be what the original founders had in the Constitution, and that is commerce and defense. The libertarians do not really believe in government schools. There’s movement for vouchers and home schooling, and things like that. So it’s this libertarian emphasis on the economy, finances and taxes, overlapped with more control of social issues. It’s quite chilling.
Do you think public opinion is moving in a more conservative direction? Or is the Republican Party out of touch with the electorate?
That is a question I’ve been asking myself, and I don’t know the answer to that. I know that this overall plan to change the mindset of the American people has worked for a lot of people. There’s nothing wrong with good fiscal management and low taxes, and this has certainly rung a bell with a lot of people. But in government, the other trick is to be able to do that, but then look at the common good of the country or of the state. That’s where the difficulty comes, because when you are looking at the common good for people, not everybody agrees. We only see our own situations and don’t always see what happens to the very poor who can’t afford food. We don’t see that in our ordinary lives, and that’s the problem.
Yes, people have become more polarized. Conservatism is good, but not always thinking of the common good is not. We, as moderates, do believe in that. We believe in low taxes, and being good stewards of the people’s money, but we also believe in the government providing basic services for the people who at one time or another in their lives may need to access them.
When and why did you decide to leave the Republican Party?
Over the years, I’ve tried to work with the conservatives. It seems like there is less tolerance from the conservative side for moderates, especially when Sam Brownback became governor. There is criticism for coming up with solutions and working across party lines. There’s more Washington style politics, where you have to walk the party line, and you can’t part from that. The Republicans are eating their own. If you don’t agree with everything, they wage war on you.
I’m staying Republican until my term ends in January, because people voted for me as a Republican. Then, I am going to leave the Republican Party, because everything I stand for is not what the Republicans stand for anymore. I don’t know yet if I will join the Democratic Party or become an Independent.
Are other moderate Republicans following you in that direction?
Some have, and I hope more will. I want to keep the moderate voice alive in Kansas.
If the general election goes the way we think it is going to go, then Sam Brownback will have a large majority in the House and the Senate, where he can pass anything he wants in the way of his radical agenda, with no opposition. We will become one of the most conservative states in the nation. There will not be a moderate voice to express the alternative, and what might be wrong with the proposals the governor is suggesting. I want to bring people together in a unified movement to do that.
If the conservatives are successful in the general election, what do you think will happen to funding for education, mental health, and programs for the poor?
There is potential for education funding to decrease is very great. A partial-voucher system could be passed.
I doubt if Medicaid will be expanded at all. There won’t be as many opportunities for people to get health services through Medicaid. Basic services for the disabled and elderly could decrease.
If you cut spending in every area and cut taxes, government as we know it is going to get a lot smaller. Everybody says that’s good, until your grandmother needs to go to a nursing home and can’t afford it. It’s basic, social services for mental health and for the elderly and disabled that will be impacted when you cut back.
What do you think those changes might be with social issues?
The conservatives want to overturn Roe v. Wade. I know more stringent abortion bills were proposed this past session, and it’s hard to imagine what proposals in the future would be. I do know that topic of abortion will come back up although I don’t think we’ll see the personhood amendment again.
Arts funding could be cut again. Anything that we’ve seen in the House could be brought up again.
The smoking ban will likely be overturned. Illegal immigration will be brought up. Maybe voter ID will be expanded. These topics were all brought up last year and the moderates were able to stop some of that. When there are no checks and balances, these things could be passed.
What kinds of legislation have the Democrats and moderate Republicans been able to stop before that you think will be passed easily now?
We thwarted changes to judicial selection that would have allowed the governor to have the final say in all judicial selections.
We were trying to come up with a compromise for the tax plan, and that didn’t work out, so now we’ve got this atrocious tax plan. I’ve voted for a lot of tax cuts, but this is going to wreck the state.
We also passed a transportation plan that would bring in more than 165,000 jobs over ten years, and I think that’s going to be dismantled.
This past legislative session the conservatives supported a tax plan proposed by Gov. Brownback that received some criticism for disproportionately harming the poor. What is the economic vision of the conservatives? Who will benefit and who will be hurt by the kind of economic policies the conservatives would like to see?
In the tax plan, the wealthy and the higher middle-income business owners will be helped with the tax cuts, and that’s not a bad thing. We want to bring in jobs. Everybody has that goal. But also with the tax plan, the working poor who have jobs, but don’t make a lot of money are going to end up paying more taxes.
The key is bringing in businesses and making the state business friendly, and we want that. But you also have to have a quality of life, good education and services for people. Businesses want that. They want their employees to enjoy where they live, so they’ll stay.