Kansas is not typically a state that gets much attention during an election year. It is generally considered a solid red state; however, that began to change in 2014 when independent U.S. Senate candidate Greg Orman ran a close race against Republican incumbent U.S. Senator Pat Roberts.
In 2016, there is an unusual race taking place in the 1st Congressional District in Kansas. An ag-based area, from which the likes of Bob Dole hale, the rural district doesn't make the news often. In August, however, Republican voters in the district did the unthinkable: they voted out a House incumbent in the primary.
Republican candidate Roger Marshall rode an anti-incumbency wave focused on the policies of the state's governor, Sam Brownback, and his massive experiment in supply-side economics -- an experiment political opponents say has been a colossal failure.
The story does not end there, however. Marshall must now face off with Alan LaPolice, an educator and farmer, who challenged the incumbent in 2014 and with virtually no support, nearly defeated him in that year’s Republican primary. LaPolice has returned, this time filing as an independent.
According to LaPolice, he made the decision to run as an independent when he witnessed both parties dismiss their voter bases in an effort to force who they think should lead on the people. LaPolice says it's obvious to him now that both parties had rigged the system for themselves and had no intention of fixing anything -- "the election, the economy, the legislative process, anything."
LaPolice worked diligently to gather over 9,000 signatures to gain ballot access in the general election. Now, with an open seat up for grabs, he is in a position to turn the political landscape in Kansas upside down: an independent could win a safe Republican district.
No Democrat filed in the 1st Congressional District, which means voters will get to choose between a party nominee and a disaffected Republican that is fed up with the status quo and the establishment-driven politics on both sides of the aisle.
LaPolice may also benefit from the same anti-incumbency wave that got Marshall past the primary, since the party candidate has ingratiated himself to Gov. Brownback, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who helped fund his primary race. The primary became the most costly and most negative primary in the district’s history.
According to the latest voter registration information, there are 119,000 independents in the 1st Congressional District, surpassing the number of Democrats.
Should LaPolice win in this dependably safe district, it would certainly send shock-waves throughout the political world. No independent has occupied the House since Bernie Sanders became a senator in 2007.
In this environment where Congress can’t even pass a simple resolution to fund a Zika response or aid in Flint Michigan’s water crisis, hyper-partisanship has become king and even the greatest of statesmen cannot find common ground as long as they have a D or an R brand.
However, were there to be any independent or third-party members in the House, and if they had the passion to work with both sides, to literally exist in the aisle of Congress to foster some bipartisanship, someone like LaPolice could change the game in Washington.
Members of Congress no longer have a common language to communicate with. They fear that signing on to any legislation not proposed within their own caucus could trigger a primary contest and none of them want that.
But an independent with courage, could in fact arbitrate, he could negotiate, maybe even offer some much needed marriage counseling to members, perhaps even giving them some cover to sign on to legislation that originated somewhere in the middle.
If LaPolice could win this seat, and with the substantial credibility he’d earn as a coalition builder, he could create a bipartisan caucus within the House, one with membership from both sides of the aisle, he could then use this new voting bloc to advance meaningful legislation onto the floor and procure the necessary votes for passage. One must assume that 5o House members or better are eager to sign on to something like this, something productive and honorable that they could genuinely brag about back home.
There is even the narrow but still realistic possibility that Democrats might pick up the 25 or so seats necessary to get to 217, leaving Republicans with an equal 217. This could place LaPolice in position number 218 with the power to choose the next Speaker of the House and subsequently every single committee and subcommittee chairmanship in the lower house of Congress.
One thing is for certain, the political world is most definitely due for a radical change and it won’t originate from within either of the major parties which are guilty of creating the dysfunction. There has simply never been a stronger need for an independent voice in Congress and from the looks of the 1st Congressional District race, there may never be a better opportunity for that independent to gain access. November 8 will be monumental for many reasons; this most certainly may be one of those reasons.