Republican State Sen. Roger Reitz crossed political sides to formally endorse Democratic nominee Tom Hawk in the race to succeed him Wednesday. Reitz did more than that; he co-sponsored a fund-raiser for Hawk.
The Democrat is running against Republican Bob Reader, who defeated Reitz in a three-way June primary.
Reitz was only one of four outgoing Senate members who chose Wednesday to endorse Democrats over more conservatively oriented Republican nominees. The others were John Vratil and Tim Owens, both in Johnson County, and Pete Brungardt in Salina. Vratil did not seek re-election while Brungardt and Owens, like Reitz, were defeated in primaries.
At the fundraiser, Reitz and event co-sponsor John Carlin, a long-time Democrat and former governor, expressed their excitement in endorsing Hawk. The Democratic nominee is a former member of the Kansas House of Representatives, representing the 67th district. Both men emphasized his experience and knowledge of the legislative territory.
Event organizers stressed that the night was about solidarity and fostering relationships, and was not in their view meant to pit Republicans against Democrats.
For Hawk, moderation was the theme. He told the crowd that he is uneasy about Gov. Sam Brownback’s agenda, and that if he were elected he would vote like Reitz and former House Majority Leader Joe Knopp, both of whom, he said, have “practical voices.” Knopp, who was also defeated by Reader in the August primary, could not be reached for reaction to Hawk’s characterization.
Hawk said that under Brownback, there has been no room for dissent and that anyone who does not fall in line is dismissed. He cited the defeats of Reitz and 26th District Sen. Dick Kelsey, who, Hawk said, voted with Brownback 99 percent of the time, but disagreed with elements of Brownback’s tax plan.
Reader described himself as “disappointed” but not surprised that Reitz was backing Hawk. “Since Mr. Hawk endorsed Dr. Reitz in the primary and promised not to run if he had won, it is not surprising that Dr. Reitz has now returned the favor,” Reader said. “But I am disappointed.”
Reader has said that he has a good relationship with Brownback but that would not stop him from holding differing opinions.
Hawk said he has been campaigning in Clay Center on the message that as a self-described “conservative Democrat,” he is also a moderate Republican. He said he hopes to take advantage of the fact that, together, Reitz and Knopp received more votes than Reader.
Reitz said he thinks there is a good chance that Manhattan will see Hawk in a favorable light, while Carlin said moderates on both sides are desperately needed to provide balance. “There is no flexibility with (the Brownback) crowd,” he said.
Former U.S. Sen. Sheila Frahm, a Republican from Colby ousted by Brownback in 1996, and Sydney Carlin, the 66th District representative in the Kansas House of Representatives, were also present to support Hawk.