Political Runoff

A periodic look at Kansas politics
Posted September 26, 2017 07:09 pm - Updated September 27, 2017 09:44 am

Tim Carpenter: Feuding of Kansas Democrats zaps energy ahead of 2018 election

Democrats convene Saturday in Wichita at Demofest to resolve demands for ouster of party secretary Casey Yingling. (Kansas Democratic Party)

The annual political celebration of the Kansas Democratic Party is orchestrated under the Demofest banner. 

It could be referred to this year as Demofist. 

This level of dispute dogging Democrats is familiar to the Kansas Republican Party, which elevated factional competitions to a blood sport during the era led by Gov. Sam Brownback. 

The absurd conflict among Democrats reflects a juvenile delinquency that hints at why the party hasn’t held a majority in the Legislature for a quarter century and failed to control a statewide office or congressional seat since 2011. 

Democrats convene Saturday in Wichita to resolve demands for ouster of party secretary Casey Yingling. She ran afoul of peers for allegedly engaging in a conflict of interest. The party’s three other executive officers want her to resign. 

Yingling, who operates a Wichita political consulting firm, is holding her ground. She’s supported by a vocal contingent eager to use Demofest as a platform for change. 

The Topeka Capital-Journal recently detailed some of the party’s internal correspondence in the Yingling case. It included a letter to Senate and House Democrats from Working Kansas Alliance, a coalition of labor unions and activists. WKA’s leadership expressed dismay at aggressive tactics deployed by some Yingling backers, including allegations of verbal threats and bullying. 

Chad Manspeaker, a former Topeka City Council member, asked members of the listserv operated by WKA to obtain a copy of the letter to Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and House Minority Leader Jim Ward. WKA members offered Manspeaker a printed copy, but declined to send it electronically. Manspeaker expressed disappointment, which was reciprocated. 

Amid the stalemate, administrative privileges for the person operating WKA’s electronic mail system were revoked. About 100 people are part of that listserv. 

Ty Dragoo, co-chair of WKA, blamed the outage on Manspeaker and Levi Henry, who are among Yingling’s allies. 

“Not even 48 hours after WKA’s position opposing threats and intimidation tactics was printed in the newspaper, WKA’s ability to communicate internally with its members was intentionally sabotaged by Chad Manspeaker or Levi Henry. This is an insult to every labor union member in Kansas,” Dragoo said. 

Henry and Manspeaker said they didn’t suspend WKA’s listserv administrator. “I adamantly deny I did anything to shut downcommunications,” Manspeaker said. On Monday, the listserv administrator’s link was re-established. 

Democratic Sen. Marci Francisco, of Lawrence, said the dispute among Democrats was awkward and divisive. 

“It’s always hard for a volunteer group to handle personnel decisions,” she said. 

Topeka Rep. John Alcala, also a Democrat, said the focus ought to be on winning elections in 2018. He said opportunity exists for Democrats with departure of the GOP’s Brownback and retirement of U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan. 

“I want to get Democrats elected,” Alcala said. “I want to bring people into the party. Not drive them away.”