Big Losses in November Fuel a Kansas Republican Party Changeover in February

Topeka, KS— Spurred on by frustrations over losing high-profile races to Democrats, Kansas Republicans on Saturday picked an aggressive conservative to lead the party into the 2024 election cycle.

Party officials elected Mike Brown, a former Johnson County commissioner, to party chair during the Republican state convention. He beat out Helen Van Etten, a longtime party activist and former national committeewoman with the backing of the state’s most prominently elected Republicans, to replace outgoing chair Mike Kuckelman.

Brown portrayed himself as a forceful outsider taking on the Republican Party’s establishment. He lobbied for the leadership post saying the party needed a change after recent losses in the governor and 3rd Congressional District races to Democrats Laura Kelly and Sharice Davids.

He vowed that won’t happen again.

“We’re going to get the governor’s seat back,” Brown said. “We’re going to get CD-3 back. And we’re going to get control of this mess.”

Brown won the position by just a two-vote difference out of 178. His election comes despite his recent failure to sway Republican support in the party’s primary for Secretary of State, where he attacked current incumbent Scott Schwab over election security.

Now after a lackluster Republican performance in the midterm elections last fall, he’s taken over the Kansas GOP.

Brown said he wants to improve the party’s fundraising and make sure it is more responsive to its members. Along with winning state and federal races, he also promised conservative victories in local and school board elections.

“Bold conservative Republican leadership wins,” Brown said. “It is time to take back our party.”

Despite the close vote and apparent infighting, practically all of the party members called for unity moving forward. Kuckelman said unity will be most important to win back some voters the party lost in those key races.

“Attacking and labeling people doesn’t help,” Kuckelman said.

Kuckelman also defended his team’s work to help Republicans earn elections in recent years. He noted the Republican Party continues to hold a supermajority in the Legislature, where lawmakers can override Kelly’s vetoes if they stick together.

The party also holds three of the state’s four U.S. House seats, both the seats in the U.S. Senate and all of the statewide elected offices except for governor.

“We have built a hell of a foundation for keeping Kansas red,” Kuckleman said, “and I hope that (the new leadership) will build on that foundation.”

But Kuckelman agreed the party’s messaging needs to change to win more. Especially in Johnson County, the most populous area of the state. Kelly and David’s victories hinged on the mostly suburban area shifting toward Democratic candidates.

Maria Holiday, a Johnson County delegate who voted for Brown, said she trusts Brown to make that happen. She said he will also unify the party with his passion for conservative issues.

“I’ve known Mike for 30 years,” Holiday said. “When he says he’s going to get something done, he is.”

Dylan Lysen reports on politics for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanLysen or email him at dlysen (at) kcur (dot) org.

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