By John Celock
Two of the most conservative Republican lawmakers in Kansas are fighting back at comparisons to President Barack Obama leveled by a statewide group chaired by a former Obama advisor.
State Reps. Josh Powell (R-Topeka) and Amanda Grosserode (R-Lenexa) are calling out the Kansas Values Institute, a 501(c)(4) group, for sending out flyers that tie them to Obama, who is deeply unpopular in the state. Grosserode is described as being like Obama for a series of votes, while Powell is attacked for a voting record where KVI says he voted 221 times with “Obama Democrats.” Both Powell and Grosserode, conservative Republicans, are being challenged by moderates in Tuesday’s GOP primary.
“It’s ironic that this group where the chairman is Obama’s former state director is trying to tie conservatives to Obama to get moderate/liberals elected in this state,” Powell told The Celock Report. “It’s pretty outlandish.”
Powell was referencing KVI’s chairman, Dan Watkins, who was a 2008 senior campaign advisor to Obama and was considered by the president to serve as Kansas’ U.S. attorney. KVI’s other board members are former state Senate Vice President John Vratil (R-Leawood) and former state. Rep. Jill Quigley (R-Overland Park), moderate Republicans who have endorsed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Paul Davis this year.
In a series of mailers, Grosserode, a second term lawmaker from suburban Johnson County, is described as being like Obama with the KVI accusing her of not reading the state’s education funding bill, along with wanting to destroy the state’s Medicaid system and wanting to force people to pay for their neighbor’s homes. Powell indicated the home buying mailer was sent against him as well. The Celock Report also obtained similar mailers sent targeting other conservative Republican lawmakers including Rep. Marc Rhoades (R-Newton).
Grosserode, vice chairwoman of the House Education Budget Committee, took issue with the accusations that she did not read the education funding bill, saying that she sat on committees that helped craft the bill. She said that time was given for lawmakers to become familiar with the various education finance plans that proceeded through the Legislature earlier this year. KVI used the accusation that state lawmakers did not read the bill to compare it to Congress voting on Obamacare, quoting Politico as saying federal lawmakers did not read the entire health care law before the vote.
“That is false. How can they know who read what?” Grosserode said. “I was on a committee that helped construct the bill. There was plenty of time to become familiar with the Senate package. The Senate had their bill passed prior to the House. To say that people did not read that means they lacked the understanding of the process.”
In terms of the accusation that she favors a housing policy that forces people to pay for each other’s homes, Grosserode noted it referred to her vote to eliminate mortgage fees in the state. Earlier this year, the state enacted legislation to eliminate the fees paid to county governments for the recording of property purchased with a mortgage. The change has been opposed by county governments, who noted the lost revenue and said every county resident would have to pay for the time needed to record the mortgages.
KVI used the mailer to compare not having those with mortgages pay for the processing to be similar to bailouts Obama authorized in the wake of the nation’s financial crisis.
Grosserode said she was voting to eliminate an “unfair tax” and was not looking to force anyone to pay for other people’s homes. She said the accusation doesn’t match her political beliefs.
“I would never support something like that. That’s socialism in the extreme,” Grosserode told The Celock Report. “I have no socialistic tendencies.”
Powell noted that he pushed legislation this year that makes sellers to continue to be responsible for back taxes on their property and not shift the burden to those who purchase the property. He said that bill refutes the KVI charge.
“To say I wanted a bailout is outlandish,” he said.
Both Powell and Grosserode took issue with votes they took to promote state control of the Medicaid program and for a health care compact, that could potentially move the state out of Obamacare. The KVI mailer attacked the health care policies as being similar to what Obama is doing and noted the crisis medical care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Grosserode said that she believes shifting Medicaid control to the state would actually help people in the state, noting the VA crisis.
KVI did not return messages left for comment at their offices in Wichita and Topeka.
Powell noted that the flyer accusing him of voting with Obama Democrats could be accurate since many legislative votes are noncontroversial. He said a look at his record would show he is conservative.
“The one that claims I voted with Democrats. The majority of the stuff we do in the state Legislature is non controversial. Stuff like highway naming that is bipartisan all the way around. Those are votes they are referring to,” Powell said. “You can’t in anyway look at my voting record and compare me to Obama. It’s outlandish.”
Powell, a first term lawmaker, is facing off against moderate Fred Patton on Tuesday, while Grosserode is facing a challenge from moderate Republican Jameia Harris.
KVI has been at the center of Republican criticism in recent weeks, with conservatives saying it is way for Democrats to attempt to influence GOP primaries. Conservatives have attacked Watkins’ connection with KVI. Last week, Republican political consultant Jared Suhn circulated a picture on social media highlighting various moderate candidates backed by KVI calling them the “Obama Values Supporting Team.” Among the candidates listed by Suhn were Patton, Harris and Barbara Bunting, who is challenging Rhoades.
Conservatives have also criticized what they see as other Democratic meddling in GOP affairs. These have included donations from top Democrats to moderate Republicans in primaries.
Obama, the son and grandson of Kansas natives, has long been a lightening rod in Kansas. During the 2012 elections, moderate Republicans and Democrats were criticized by groups for being close to the president, forcing several to announce they had never met the president. The pattern of Kansas politicians distancing themselves from Obama continues this year.
In response to Suhn’s social media picture, Rep. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) told The Celock Report that she thinks the only thing she and Obama have in common are liking barbecue from Oklahoma Joes in Kansas City.
Grosserode said that she found the whole situation bizarre and said she found only one thing in common with Obama.
“It’s about as far from the truth as you can get. They obviously stretched themselves,” she said. “I don’t even know what to say. How can you compare a conservative Republican to Obama? There is nothing in common. We’re elected officials, it ends there.”