Last night’s City Council election was poignant and hopeful.
In 2012 I ran against Charles Macheers for the KS Legislature and lost. He had previously defeated a bright and talented moderate Republican during the primary and the tone around the district was one of unabashed conservatism.
Fast forward to the spring of 2014, when Representative Macheers introduced House Bill 2453 to the Kansas Legislature. As described in one of the many articles written about this awful bill: “Businesses could tell gay couples to get lost if an employee or owner believes homosexuality to be a religious sin. Government employees could also refuse service to gay couples. Employers could deny benefits to gay couples or get rid of the employees altogether without recrimination. And if a person so discriminated against filed a lawsuit against the discriminating entity and then lost the case, that person could get stuck not only with their own attorney's bill but also with that of the person or company sued. The measure is an added insult to gays in Kansas, who in 2005 suffered the indignity of a statewide vote to force a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage - something that was already against the law at the time.”
My friend Stacey, who is gay and has been married to the love of her life for several decades, accompanied me to the Capital during this time and we met with Representative Macheers. Stacey wanted him to see the face of one of his constituents; the face of someone who would be harmed by the bill. It was an emotional visit for both of us but one that was necessary.
HB 2453 was scuttled in committee after embarrassing national attention and blowback, but by then Stacey and her wife had decided that Kansas posed a threat to the security of their family and they moved to Colorado as a result.
Charles was defeated during the 2016 Republican primary. He lost his legislative seat to former educator Shelee Brim, a beloved community member with a pragmatic and moderate view of her role as a State Representative. Shelee worked closely with other female legislators last spring to craft a budget to reverse Governor Brownback’s disastrous tax monstrosity. These strong and devoted women came from both Republican and Democratic parties but none were extremists, none were ideologues. They simply believed that in their roles as stewards of our state they needed to work together to salvage our valuable services and to find a way to increase vital revenue that had been eliminated by the Governor and the far right.
Fast forward to last night, when I volunteered as a Poll Watcher for Shawnee City Council candidate Justin Adrian. Justin is gay. While this does not singularly define him, it is important to the story. Justin ran a clean and appropriate campaign, focusing on growth for the City of Shawnee. The race is completely non-partisan and candidates don’t announce their political parties. It is designed this way for a reason, so that City Councilman will work in a spirit of cooperation when elected. His opponent, Dave Myres, utilized multiple ugly mailers taken straight out of the extremist’s playbook. The final mailer was designed to highlight the fact that Justin is a gay married man.
Charles Macheers sat next to me while I was poll watching. He was there representing Dave Myres as a poll watcher as well. We briefly visited (Charles is a mild, unassuming man and quite pleasant to chat with) but when the voting machine counts were tallied Justin had soundly bested Myres, at least at our polling location. The irony was not lost on me.
I headed to Justin’s watch party and after walking in noticed him talking to a petite, spunky blond woman. I recognized her immediately as our Republican State Representative, Shelee Brim.
There is indescribable pressure the western Shawnee far right branch of the Republican Party exerts on moderate Republicans. Shelee’s public support of a gay man (who is a registered Democrat) took courage, particularly when Justin’s opponent proudly boasted of his conservatism. She can most certainly expect to face an extreme right primary opponent next year as punishment.
I’m still trying to wrap my mind around what happened last night, but I know one thing for certain. I have a renewed faith in my community. I know that there are politicians out there with the moral courage to do the right thing, even if it costs them later. Shelee proved that and I will be supporting her if she runs for the legislature again, regardless of the letter next to her name on the ballot.
Stacey, I hope you are reading this. You were in my thoughts last night as the final votes were announced and we realized Justin had won.