Kansas Sen. Barbara Bollier, at odds with GOP over Trump, LGBT issues, turns Democrat

SOURCE: Wichita Eagle

A Kansas state senator has switched parties from Republican to Democrat, saying she cannot be complicit in supporting President Donald Trump.

Sen. Barbara Bollier’s switch was dramatic but not entirely surprising. The Mission Hills lawmaker has a long history of bucking Republican leadership, and had endorsed Democrat Laura Kelly for governor. Her district also leans Democratic.

She cited Trump as a factor in her decision, as well as a state Republican party platform change on transgender identity. She has also clashed with Republicans on a number of issues, from Medicaid expansion to gay rights.

“I cannot be complicit in supporting that,” Bollier said, referring to Trump’s presidency. “I can’t call it leadership. I don’t even know what to call him. He is our president, but he is not representing my value system remotely.”

While there are examples of state lawmakers across the country switching parties because of Trump, Bollier is the first in Kansas.

In February, the state party adopted a resolution opposing efforts to validate transgender identity. The resolution was controversial at the time, and in June the party inserted language into its platform that says: “We believe God created two genders, male and female.”

“That was my final, last straw. I support the people of Kansas. I do not condemn whoever they are,” Bollier said.

Bollier said she had been a registered Republican for decades and had been a moderate for all of that time. But the party is “hell bent” on removing moderates, she said.

After Bollier’s public support of Democratic candidates earlier this year, Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, stripped her of a vice chair position on the health committee. Bollier is a retired physician who often focuses on health legislation, including support for Medicaid expansion.

“That is my expertise area and what the state needs from me … I need to be able to work in those areas,” Bollier said.

Wagle said Bollier had a voting record more liberal than some Democrats. It’s “no shock she joined the party of Nancy Pelosi,” she said.

“The only surprise is that she didn’t end her façade of being a Republican sooner,” Wagle said.

When Wagle removed Bollier as vice chair of the Senate’s health committee in July, she called Bollier’s endorsements of Democrats “embarrassing” and said she had no choice but to strip her of the leadership position. Bollier had lost credibility within the Republican caucus, Wagle said.

“While we respect differing opinions in our caucus, it is unacceptable to betray members of your own party by publicly endorsing leftist Democrats,” Wagle said at the time.

Striking a more conciliatory tone, Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said it is unfortunate to lose a member of the Republican caucus, but said the change would be healthy for Bollier personally, her constituents and the Republican caucus. “I wish her the best,” Denning tweeted, adding that he looks forward to continuing to work with her.

Gov-elect Kelly said Bollier is a friend and ally. In the run up to the November election, Bollier had been an outspoken supporter of Kelly, and spent election night at her watch party.

“I applaud her courage. She has always demonstrated a commitment to working across the aisle and standing up for Kansas families. I look forward to working with her as we rebuild our state,” Kelly said in a statement.

Democrats will now control 10 out of 40 state Senate seats. In the House, Democrats control 40 of 125 seats.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, welcomed Bollier to the caucus and called her a “longtime friend and respected colleague with the best interests of Kansas at heart.”

Bollier served in the House from 2010-2016 and has been in the Senate since 2017. She will be up for reelection in 2020.

Bollier’s district often votes Democratic. Every Democrat running for statewide office in 2018 won her district, according to Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas. Bollier received 54.3 percent of the vote in her last election, in 2016.

“Even amongst average voters, moderate Republicans are disappearing. Liberal Republicans are disappearing. They’re leaving the Republican Party and in many cases becoming Democrats,” Miller said.

Across the country, suburban districts — like the one represented by Bollier — moved to the left in the November election as voters vented anger at Trump. The shift contributed to the defeat of Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder.

And in at least a handful of instances, elected officials have jumped parties as Trump upends the nation’s politics.

The governor of West Virginia became a Republican in 2017. In July, a Republican commissioner in Oregon became a Democrat. And in October, a Maryland Republican state representative became a Democrat, citing Trump.

Bollier said she votes for her district and will continue to do so.

“They elected me as a moderate knowing nine years of voting history that I do not vote along party lines,” Bollier said. “Never have, never will.”

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