Although their presidential candidate is a foregone conclusion and their fortunes in state politics have not been good of late, Democrats gathered for caucuses today to try to re-energize and takes some swings at Republican dominance in Kansas.
The caucus meeting at Wichita State University, one of five in Sedgwick County, drew about 90 people who were ready to cheer when state Rep. Judy Loganbill, D-Wichita, declared war on what she called a Republican “war on women” in the Legislature.
“I am glad to see so many women here,” Loganbill said. “We have seen an unprecedented attack on women and women’s issues.”
Loganbill’s speech was a Kansas take on the national issue of opposition by Republican presidential candidates and legislators to abortion rights and the inclusion of contraception services in health plans under the Affordable Care Act.
Women have become “second-class citizens in our Legislature,” she said. “The bills they are supporting are heinous. They are absolutely reprehensible.”
Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, picked up on that theme and identified the “Conscience Protection Act” as particularly objectionable.
The bill would shield medical care providers who decline on personal moral grounds to provide services or advice, including popular forms of birth control, if they believe it could lead to pregnancy termination.
The bill is similar to a federal measure called the Blunt Amendment that recently failed in the US Senate by a 51-48 vote.The Kansas version was passed by the House but is stalled in the state Senate.
Finney called it “fraud.”
“They do not have to give you any service, but you still have to pay the bill,” she said.
Loganbill said on election day, “I’m going to take every female friend I have to the polls and they’re going to vote.”
She said Republicans are trying to roll back women’s rights gained in the 1960s and 1970s, and urged those in the crowd who have daughters to “get them registered, and get them registered now.”
Both lawmakers got enthusiast applause and even a couple of standing ovations.
Voter Charles Thornhill said the issue particularly resonates with him.
He said he’s a strong supporter of Catholic hospitals and Via Christi in Wichita saved his daughter’s life when she got cancer at age 21.
But about five years ago, another female relative of his was raped in Louisiana and “The Catholic hospital there would not give her a morning-after pill,” he said. “That’s terrible.”
Finney also lambasted the House majority for, she said, ignoring concerns of ordinary citizens while rushing to pass bills for special interests.
Finney, a cancer survivor, has pushed for years for a bill to allow medical use of marijuana, which she said 74 percent of Kansans support.
But, she said, she’s been unable to even get a hearing, although bills proposed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce have gone to hearings within 24 hours of being introduced.
“The Democrat party stands up for the people,” she said. “Your bills should be considered just like the Chamber of Commerce’s.”
The caucus was also an opportunity for local Democrats to show their support for President Obama.
His was the only name in nomination after the party disqualified Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, a longtime anti-abortion activist who has mounted an insurgent campaign to try to weaken the president’s chances of re-election in November.
When caucus chairman Robert Eastman asked the president’s supporters to move to one side of the room, and those who wanted to send uncommitted delegates to the Democratic National Convention move to the other, so many people started moving to the president’s side that Eastman asked for show of hands instead. The vote was unanimous to support the president.
Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, urged the crowd to vote for the president for “better housing, better jobs with a living wage, education and health care for all people.”
And she chided Democrats for falling into a habit of referring to the president by his last name only.
“It saddens my heart that we’re just saying ‘Obama,’” she said. “We need to give him that respect and say ‘President Obama.’”
Also speaking were retired court services office Robert Tillman, so far the only candidate to file to run against Rep. Mike Pompeo for the 4th District Congressional seat; and Esau Freeman, a house painter who hasn’t filed but characterizes himself as a “congressional applicant.”
Tillman drew cheers when he said “I support President Barack Obama.”
But he acknowledged he hears a lot of boos when he says that on the campaign trail.
“They tell me don’t mention his name, you can get some donations,” Tillman said.
But he said he won’t do that because he is inspired by Obama, the nation’s first African-American president.
He said after Obama was elected, “I woke up the next morning and said ‘Is that a dream?’ I had to look at a newspaper to assure myself that a miracle had occurred.”
He also lauded the Affordable Care Act and said he favors an immigration policy allowing people into the country to do low-wage manual-labor jobs that Americans don’t want.
“Don’t let them make you believe that immigrants are going to take your job,” he said.
Freeman highlighted health care, saying that when he and his wife were looking for a doctor who would accept Health Wave, the state’s medical care plan for low-income children, they went to a physician who began “preaching” to them and urging them not to allow their infant daughter to be vaccinated against the human papilloma virus.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control recommend that girls be vaccinated before becoming sexually active to prevent genital warts and cervical cancer. However, some conservative and religious groups and individuals, including former presidential candidate and US Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., have opposed the vaccine, saying they believe that it’s dangerous.
Freeman said the doctor also lectured them that they should teach their daughter about abstinence instead of birth control.
“We were surprised, like ‘Why are you talking to us about this?’” Freeman said after the caucus. “It was just really weird and something I didn’t think a doctor who was being paid by the state ought to be talking about to me. I mean she’s a 1-year-old.”
One special guest recognized at the caucus was former Kansas Sen. Curtis McClinton Sr., 99. McClinton was the first African-American senator elected in Kansas, serving in that job from 1964 to 1968. At the caucus, he sat next to Faust-Goudeau, the first African-American woman elected to the Senate.
After the caucus, he said he was pleased to see the enthusiasm it brought out and that he was personally pleased to see Tillman, an African-American, running for Congress.
“The Democratic Party does a nice job,” he said. “They’re the party of progress, trying to do the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest period of time.”