In an unusual move in Johnson County politics, two longtime Republican political leaders, who served in the most recent session of the state Senate, are endorsing Democrats in the November general election to the state Senate.
John Vratil, a Republican from Leawood, and Tim Owens, a Republican from Overland Park, are lending their names to campaign literature as bona fide endorsers of Democratic candidates.
Vratil, who decided to retire from the Senate before the August primary, is endorsing Democrat Mike Delaney over Republican Jeff Melcher in the 11th district.
Melcher won the August primary against state Rep. Pat Colloton.
(Colloton is not endorsing Melcher — although she said Delaney is a “very, very quality candidate” — but she said she wants to remain active in the Republican Party.)
Owens, in his first term as senator, is formally endorsing two Democratic candidates for the state Senate. One is Lisa Johnston, who will face off against Jim Denning in the 8th District. Denning defeated Owens in the primary election. Owens also is endorsing Democrat Juanita Roy of the 21st District, who is running against state Rep. Greg Smith.
Vratil was first elected to the state Senate in 1998 and served as the Senate vice president since 2003. He was virtually pushed into retirement by the conservative wing of the Republican Party. He was too moderate in the eyes of Gov. Sam Brownback, who let it be known Vratil would be targeted. Vratil either decided it was too stressful to serve or was concerned that he might be defeated.
Owens also was targeted in a statewide conservative-led purge of Republican moderates in the Senate.
Both claim this is not sour grapes, but that they find more in common with the Democratic candidates than they do the ultra-conservative Republicans on the ballot.
Speaking of Delaney, Vratil said, “His views are closer to mine, and they are closer to the 11th Senate District.”
Owens will not put up a yard sign for Johnston, but will put up one that says “Vote Moderate,” he said. Johnston’s views are closer to Owens’ views than her Republican opponent’s.
Owens said he has been a Republican all his adult life, going back to college days. But he does not agree with much of the agenda of the ultra-conservatives.
“I agree with those who support education, are moderate on social issues, are opposed to changing the way we select judges in Kansas, and who do not agree with a budget that I think will be devastating,” Owen said.
One can hear the howls of “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) from conservative Republicans.
Vratil rebuts that.
“I am a traditional Republican,” Vratil said. “They (the ultra-conservatives) are the RINOS, because they are no longer traditional.”
Admitting that Republican leaders endorsing Democrats for the legislature is quite unusual, Vratil responded, “These are very unusual times.”
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