Has the red state of Kansas’ most populous county become a no-go zone for conservatives?
That’s the impression some are getting, after an upcoming rally for conservative candidates in Johnson County had to be moved allegedly after the host church received threats of damage and violence to the staff.
The “Kansas First Rally,” planned for Sept. 23, was panned in a tweet by Democrat state Sen. Cindy Holscher, retweeted by sitting Johnson County Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick, in which the rally’s scheduled speakers were called “extremists.”
“Several State and County candidates have aligned themselves with Kobach & Hayden – some of the most radical figures in the state,” Holscher wrote, referring to attorney general candidate Kris Kobach and Sheriff Calvin Hayden. “We can’t afford to have extremists like this in office.”
“This type of personal attack is what makes people hate politics,” Maria Holiday, a scheduled rally speaker running against Hanzlick, told The Heartlander in a written statement. “Calling people names to deflect responsibility is an old game.”
“I was shocked” at being called an extremist, says Stephanie Berland, scheduled speaker and county commission candidate against incumbent Michael Ashcraft. “I’ve even had some people say, ‘Well, you should have known; you should have known that this is how it is.’ This shouldn’t be how it is, because it’s slander.”
Berland says she’s just a normal Kansan – a married mother of two and one of 11 children from Ellis County – who wants to rein in taxes. The CPA says she doesn’t even know what Holscher and Hanzlick mean by the term.
“I mean, you know, just call them ‘extremists’ and you don’t have to explain.”
But The Heartlander invited Holscher to do just that, and she gamely did.
She claims the other speakers on the rally’s roster “aligned” themselves with Kobach, calling him “a known extremist.” In truth, while Kobach has lost in court – and has even been sanctioned and ordered by a judge to take classes on the law – his signature issue is ending illegal immigration. And while Holscher argues that Kansans have bigger fish to fry, Gallup reports that 60% of Americans worry about illegal immigration, 41% of them a great deal. That’s hardly out of the mainstream.
Holscher also maintains that some of the rally’s scheduled speakers had affiliations with the local chapter of parents’ rights group Moms For Liberty, and calls the group extremist. She notes that when New Hampshire allowed the public to report teachers who teach divisive material, Moms For Liberty there offered cash incentives to do so.
Berland, invited to speak at one of the local chapter’s events, strongly disagrees with Holscher’s wholesale characterization of Moms For Liberty.
“The intelligence and procedural competence of this group stunned me and renewed my faith in people,” Berland says. “They want parents to be involved in educational decisions. I think this goal is mainstream.”
Berland suggests Holscher attend a local Moms For Liberty meeting, adding, “I am certain she would be welcome.”
Local conservative activist Steve Snitz says “extremist” is the latest buzzword out of Democrats in Washington, D.C.
“Calling people names is a game they play, hoping that the recipient will bite on it and focus on refuting the extremist label, rather than sticking to what they’re for,” Snitz says. “If I’m voting for somebody, I want to know what I’m going to get, not what somebody else has called them.
“This is the ugly underbelly of politics, and we don’t like to think of it being in Johnson County, but frankly, the media won’t report it, so people are comfortable thinking it doesn’t exist.”
Yet, it’s bigger than boilerplate slurs, Snitz argues. It’s about whether conservatives can even find a home in Johnson County outside of their own homes. Indeed, supporters of the Value Them Both amendment were careful not to publicly advertise locations of their events for fear of left-wing threats and violence.
“The essential thing is, conservatives have a hard time even finding a place to meet if it’s not in somebody’s house,” Snitz said.
“If you’re conservative there are very few options to speak without some kind of damage or [negative] press,” Berland adds, saying the rally’s first venue host received threats that forced it to cancel. Another venue is being lined up.
Sheriff Hayden said he could not confirm threats against the prior venue for the Kansas First Rally, but said, “I hear that some people harassed the church.”
“I believe in the people,” Holiday writes. “I will trust them to decide if my message regarding transparency, controlling spending and creating a sustainable budget that ensures Johnson County is a safe place to work and live is extreme.”
The Heartlander reached out Hanzlick and the church.
“Honestly, all I want is less taxes,” Berland says. But she said rhetoric like Holscher’s and Hanzlick’s can unfairly get people in trouble at work – and she had to do “damage control” after being labeled.
Meanwhile, Berland says, there are serious questions about accounting practices in Johnson County government – questions which she says prevent accountants there from maintaining a CPA license.
“Right now, families in Johnson County are struggling as a result of the decisions of my opponent,” adds Holiday. “Seniors are struggling to pay the increase in property taxes. Parents are struggling to help their children catch up after being mandated out of a year or more of education. Business owners are struggling to find employees. Crime is up while law enforcement is deliberately underfunded.
“Enough is enough. We need a commissioner that will listen to their constituents and vote for fiscally responsible decisions. It’s hard to imagine how that could be considered extreme.”