Senior Leverhulme Research Fellow
Department of Sociology
Coventry CV4 7AL
RE: The Voices of Moderation (a.k.a. “The Vital Center”)
On Tuesday night, September 3rd, there was a vote taken by the Prairie Village City Council that was a paradigm of the political changes that have taken place in Johnson County and Kansas.
Larry Winn, III, had previously voted as a member of the Shawnee Mission School Board to close a neighborhood school in the heart of moderate country. (Some estimates put the cost of renovations to the school at $4,000,000; improvements which were finished right before it was closed and put up for sale.)
Winn, a local development lawyer, is a product of the former Bennett, Lytle law firm, which was the nerve center of the Mod-Squad in the good old/bad old days. (Bennett, Lytle for years paid the operating costs of the office of the Johnson County Republican Party, which was only fair since it was an important profit center for the law firm.)
A former member of the firm told me that the Bennett, Lytle “mafia,” as it was not-so-fondly known, was living proof of evolution, always a hot topic here in the Sunflower State. He explained that the late Robert Bennett, the firm’s founder, promoted policies as Prairie Village mayor, state senator, and Kansas governor that primarily benefited the public good, and only incidentally his personal financial interests. Dick Bond, another former partner and moderate state senator, promoted policies that primarily benefitted his own personal financial interests, but incidentally also served (occasionally) the public good. Larry Winn, III, on the other hand, only promoted policies to line his own pockets with no pretence of serving the greater good. This may have been reverse evolution, but it was a form of evolution nonetheless.
After six hours heated debate on Tuesday, with hundreds of Prairie Village residents packing the meeting hall, the project, a huge nursing home and retirement complex, was turned down (for now, at any rate!), in its rezoning application. The hearing was handled by John Petersen, another former law partner of Winn’s, on behalf of the Tuterra Group, the developer. (Petersen has been described as a “kinder, gentler” version of Winn. He is also another leading “Moderate Republican,” as well as a former staffer for Bob Dole, the GOP 1996 presidential nominee.)
What we have here is the ultimate “politics makes strange bed-fellows” illustration.
None of the leading “moderates” can be described as a liberal, all have served as hand-maidens of real estate developers and other corporate interests, and all have continued to back the national GOP ticket and cultivate close ties with Republican White Houses. If you cannot back someone for Johnson County sheriff if he’s not pro-choice, how on earth can you support Republican presidential candidates who appoint Supreme Court justices who are committed to overturning Roe v. Wade?
Moderate State Senator Barbara Allen said it was acceptable for Reagan, Bush, Dole, McCain, et al. to take socially conservative positions because, “They don’t really believe them and are just saying them to get elected.” Local conservatives, she implied, actually believe in the positions they take and thus are dangerous extremists and must be stopped.
Again, Doctor Alex, are these really the kinds of political allies the Mainstream Coalition wants? (Where for instance was Steve Rose, the self-styled conscience of Johnson County moderates, in this whole controversy over the school?) To paraphrase Bob Dylan: “Because something is happening here. But you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr. Rose?” Highway 61 Revisited.
I eagerly await your response.
Dwight Sutherland, Jr.