TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party resigned Friday amid a backlash over comments he made about rebranding the state party’s message to emphasize it is more conservative than the national party.
The party’s executive director, Kerry Gooch, confirmed that Larry Meeker resigned as the party prepared for its annual Demofest convention in Wichita, The Wichita Eagle reported.
“Today I respectfully submit my resignation as Chair of the Kansas Democratic Party,” Meeker said in an emailed statement. “My priorities may be diverting us from our primary goal of electing Democrats and restoring common sense to Kansas government.”
Kathryn Focke of Manhattan, the party’s vice chairwoman, will be interim chairwoman until a replacement is elected.
Meeker, who became the party’s chairman in March, has been under fire since he said earlier this week that he wanted to change the state party’s message to emphasize it’s more conservative than the national party.
“We’re looking to re-message how we speak about our party and our issues. At the end of election cycle, as you well know, we are Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Obamacare, Obama, anything bad they can figure out going on in Washington, and the Republicans brand us,” Meeker said Wednesday. “That’s not who we are. Kansas Democrats are very different from Massachusetts Democrats or California Democrats.”
Meeker said Kansas Democrats were fiscal conservatives and the state party should emphasize that it welcomes members who disagreed on its stands on such issues as abortion rights and same-sex marriage. He said that message would be “a pickup line” in a more conservative state.
The comments drew criticism from several Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka, who called Meeker’s rebranding idea a waste of time.
“Situations like this are not easy but I think Larry Meeker made the right decision, I thank him for his willingness to serve, and I’m ready to move forward,” Hensley said in a statement Friday.
Tom Witt, a gay rights activist and member of the party’s executive committee, had suggested Meeker read the party’s platform, which includes support for same-sex marriage and opposition to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I look forward to supporting a chair who will support our party’s platform,” Witt said Friday.
Gooch said some sponsors for this weekend’s Demofest had pulled out after Meeker’s comments but he didn’t say how much money the party had lost. He said Friday he respected Meeker’s decision to “put the priorities of the Kansas Democratic Party first.”
The Kansas Republican Party on Friday issued a release mocking the opposition party.
The release from state GOP chairman Kelly Arnold said moderate Democrats are “being dragged down by their extremist base with its unrelenting focus on income redistribution; group identity politics; abortion on demand, including defending Planned Parenthood’s barbaric conduct; blanket amnesty; environmental regulations; and driving religion out of the public square.”
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