The postmortem on the primary election in Kansas is still going on. How did moderates oust so many incumbent conservatives?
One big reason is the unexpected emergence of a couple of grassroots education groups in Johnson County, especially one that sprang up just a few months ago.
On primary election night, Johnson County Republicans were gathered at the Marriott, their traditional place.
One by one, moderates picked off conservative seats in the Kansas House and Senate.
And in one corner, a group of moms was a little giddy.
They had just flexed political muscle they didn’t quite know they had.
"We are, very truly, just very well connected in our community and at the same time very passionate about our schools," says Patty Logan, one of the organizers of Stand Up Blue Valley.
Logan is an emergency room doctor by training and political kingmaker in the Kansas legislature, at least a little bit, by accident. "We, more or less, made it up as we went along, and what sounded good to us, we did it and got lucky."
Stand Up Blue Valley organized last year to back a candidate in a local school board election.
Education and how to fund it is a driver in this year’s legislative elections in Kansas.
So, Logan says they decided to see if they could defeat conservative lawmakers, whom they saw as anti-public education.
But there may be another reason Stand Up and its slightly older cousin, Game On Kansas, which is a steady lobbying presence at the Statehouse, had so much success this year. "I think the reason it worked so well this time is you had a lot of representatives in Topeka who were not doing their jobs in a service capacity," says Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a moderate Republican from Overland Park. She did not have a primary but does have a Democratic opponent in November.
Some conservatives have accused both Stand Up Blue Valley and Game On of being front organizations for the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) and other mainstream educators.
How can a bunch of stay-at-home-moms, the argument goes, be so adept at politics?
This rubs Clayton the wrong way.
"With that implication being that a stay-at-home mom or a stay-at-home dad has somehow checked their brain, their education and their professional experience and just locked it up in a little box," she says.
Logan says there’s corporate marketing experience on her team. There’s someone with a journalism degree. There’s financial services experience. "I can’t even tell you how many college degrees we have between us."
All of the skills needed to raise money, endorse candidates and develop a website.
So now that Stand Up helped shape the primary election, the question is: can the group do that in the general election?
Many politicians say yes.
Logan says they are targeting Rep. Amanda Grosserode from Lenexa and Rep. James Todd from Overland Park.
Grosserode didn’t respond to an email but Todd did. He says he feels no additional pressure knowing he's in Stand Up's sights. "I would say no. From the beginning of the year Democrats have put me out on a target list as well."
Todd is in a competitive race in a swing district that went for Democrat Paul Davis for governor two years ago.
While he votes almost exclusively with conservatives, he does point out that he’s for closing the LLC income tax loophole. "I think I’ve worked hard to represent the people of my district. Be independent when I need to be."
While Logan says Stand Up Blue Valley has no plans to go statewide, it will make endorsements in the Kansas Supreme Court retention race.
But the true test of Stand Up’s influence will come in November. Can these moms oust conservatives in a general election?
Sam Zeff co-hosts of the political podcast Statehouse Blend and covers education for KCUR 89.3, which is a partner in a statewide collaboration covering elections in Kansas. Follow Sam on Twitter @SamZeff.