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My Fellow Kansans: 'Kansas Common Sense'

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Stephen Koranda
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Kansas News Service
Governor-elect Laura Kelly, with her lieutenant governor Lynn Rogers, says she won't be wasting time or taxpayer dollars on partisan fights.

Well, fellow Kansans, it’s over.

Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly, running as the “fix-it” candidate on the premise that Kansas had gone off the rails, beat “full-throttle conservative” Kris Kobach in the race for governor.

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Credit Brian Grimmett / Kansas News Service
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Kansas News Service
It wasn't the late night many were expecting as Secretary of State Kris Kobach conceded the governor's race on Nov. 6.

Her win signaled Kansans’ desire to, if not reverse the state’s turn to the right, at least turn down the political rhetoric and focus on the basics.

“You know, there'll be a lot of talk around America about the ‘blue wave,’ but I don't believe that's what's happened here in Kansas,” Kelly said in her acceptance speech before a crowd of supporters in Topeka. “What happened in Kansas was a wave of common sense.”

Kelly’s win also shows that voters in this year’s race, particularly those in the state’s urban centers, saw Kobach as an extremist candidate, as a Kansas version of President Donald Trump.

That extremism didn’t go over well with moderate Republicans, who were key to Kelly’s victory; she wouldn’t have won without them. Kelly was endorsed by former Republican governors Bill Graves and Mike Hayden, and former Republican U.S. senators Nancy Landon Kassebaum and Sheila Frahm.

But moderate Republicans in Kansas are on the verge of extinction.

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Credit Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service
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Kansas News Service
Kellie Warren, a conservative with the backing of the Kansas Chamber and Kansans for Life, defeated moderate Republican state Rep. Joy Koesten in the August primary. On Nov. 6, she declared her general election victory in the Johnson County district.

The conservative movement fueled by the Wichita abortion protests of the early 1990s is still tugging at Kansas politics. And so are the small government, anti-tax forces that empowered former Gov. Sam Brownback's tax cutting experiment. Kobach’s nomination is evidence of that. So is the fact that conservative legislative candidates this year reclaimed some of the seats they lost in 2016 to more moderate Republicans.

Those are the dynamics Kelly will have to work with when she takes office in January.

Among those heard in this episode:

Laura Kelly, Kansas governor-elect, @senatorkelly

Patrick Miller, University of Kansas political scientist, @pmiller1693

Jim Joice, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party @KansasGOP

Brooklynne Mosley, coordinated campaign director for the Kansas Democrats @Brooklynne84

Joy Koesten, incumbent Republican state representative, @joyforkansas

Jim McLean is an editor and reporter for KCUR 89.3. He is the managing director of KCUR's Kansas News Service, a collaboration between KCUR and other public media stations across Kansas.