Gentler Mud in 1990 Kansas

Topeka Capital Journal
May 14, 1990

It already is beginning to appear that mild-mannered minister Fred Phelps will be at a big disadvantage in the race for governor. The campaign is going to be down and dirty, as in muck and slime, and that’s hardly the place for a soft spoken man of the cloth.

Republican incumbents Mike Hayden and Democrat comeback hopeful John Carlin have started the mudslinging, and they seem to have enough of it to last until November. More than just a race between leaders of the two parties, this is a fight between two men who really don’t like each other.

On the side, sort of, is the shy and retiring Phelps, who would like to get into the thick of the battle, but probably won’t make it. He says he’s an old time Democrat. What does that mean? He explains:

“I’m a Democrat like Democrats were before the homosexuals hijacked the freedom train; before the civil rights marches detoured through Sodom and Gomorrah. I believe unless the Democratic Party unhooks itself from the homosexuals and baby killers, we will never again win a national election and will join the other perverts on the trash heap of his history.”

As you can see, he prefers a low profile, and is unassertive. How can he hope to hold his own in the free swinging brawl that is shaping up for the state’s top post?

Carlin started it when he said, in so many words, that Hayden doesn’t know any more about leadership than a hog Knows about Sunday. Hayden then asked, pointedly, where was Carlin when the bugle blue, calling young men to Vietnam?

Hayden can ask that question because he was there and Carlin wasn’t. Never mind that Carlin has an acceptable explanation of why he wasn’t. That’s the kind of race it’s going to be.

The governor is going to try to make hay out of the fact he was in infantry lieutenant in Vietnam, and Carlin is going to try to counter it by saying Hayden is one of the lower forms of life for questioning Carlin’s patriotism. And, that’s just one item on the mud agenda.

This race could be as interesting as the long-running Texas sideshow that will produce a new governor in November. In the Democratic primary there, Ann Richards, the blue haired darling of the parties 1988 national convention, faced Jim Mattox, another pro.

Richard’s said she wants had an alcohol problem, but hasn’t had a drink since she went into treatment more than 10 years ago. Mattox demanded she tell the voters if she ever used illegal drugs during her drinking days.

She refused to say yes, no, maybe, or I don’t remember because I was drunk at the time. She just didn’t reply, and maybe there’s a lesson there for all politicians, because she won.

Now she faces Clayton Williams, a Republican who says he’s going to teach drug users “the job of busting rocks,” and who also said that paying prostitutes for their favors was part of growing up in west Texas.

I didn’t grow up out there, but I work in Odessa, in the heart of west Texas, for a time, and the prostitutes I see hanging out where, uniformly, homelier than nine miles of dirt road. Clayton Williams must have had awful taste.

The Kansas race may not reach the depths of the Texas carnival, but if it doesn’t it won’t be for lack of effort. Phelps could help it along if he could force himself to become more assertive, and if enough people listened. Here are some of his milder observations:

“People are fed up with state government and the sleaze that’s been going on. The confidence level with the governor and the Legislature is just about zero.”

“The governor and many legislators have hocked their souls to lobbyists and special interest groups. There are 47 fat-cat watering holes in Topeka where decision-making is done well crabmeat, caviar and champagne are being served.”

“Hayden and Carolyn are two peas in a tax-mess pod. Carling sired this tax monster and Hayden birthed it.” Phelps’ solution to the “tax mess” is spelled out of his television commercial:

“Property taxes are hopelessly unfair and should be abolished. Cut bureaucratic waste to make up the loss…John Carlin and Mike Hayden, the tax twins, made this mess, and neither should be governor again…”

What might ask, fairly, where Phelps is getting the money to make and air TV ads. He is touring the state by bicycle, so the answer must be that he is stopping along the way to pick up cans and bottles that can be sold for recycling. Remember, he started this campaign with less than 100 bucks in his campaign kitty.

Phelps has had some kind remarks, too, for the Democratic Party. Hee said that while he was out cycling, Carlin and the other entry in the primary John Finney, were busy scratching for party-hack endorsements. Among the “hacks” were Congressman Jim Slattery and former Lieutenant Governor Paul Dugan.

Carlin had his wife and children at his announcement, in a show of family unity. Real unity would have been to have his two former wives there, too, but that was not to be. One of them was at Finney’s announcement party, and she said she had contributed to Finney’s campaign. It proves, I suppose, that you just can’t count on women.

As the campaign heats up, we can only hope that Phelps will warm up, too. We have the right to expect him to take off the kid gloves and call a spade a spade. One thing is sure. When he talks about the other candidates, and the Legislature, he won’t be hurting for material.

(In 1990, John Carlin was defeated in the Democratic primary by Joan Finney, 47 to 46 percent, in a three-way election that included seven percent for hate-speech showman and Baptist minister the Rev. Fred Phelps. Finney went on to defeat incumbent Republican Mike Hayden (49 to 43 percent) to became the first female governor of Kansas. In the 1990 Texas governor’s race, Ann Richards defeated Clayton Williams 49 to 47 percent. Ed.)


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