Thursday, September 18, 2014

FELTS: Finch supporter? Or just a fluke?

By TOMMY FELTS, Voices From the News | 8/1/2014

We at The Herald always have found Bob Fluke to be a sincere, authentic man, regardless of his views on the political topics of the day. That’s why Fluke’s recent campaign rhetoric is so troubling.

In his bid to unseat freshman state Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, in Tuesday’s primary race for Kansas House District 59, Fluke has resorted to pointed — though often misleading and even flat-out false — attacks on his opponent’s political record, which now have devolved into mudslinging at Finch’s personal and professional character. At a July 22 candidate forum, for example, Finch defended himself against claims by Fluke and outside groups that the incumbent has been dishonest about his pro-life voting record. Fluke then essentially called Finch a liar without offering any evidence to back it up. That’s a recurring theme we’ve seen from Fluke and his surrogates in the weeks leading up to the election.

We at The Herald always have found Bob Fluke to be a sincere, authentic man, regardless of his views on the political topics of the day. That’s why Fluke’s recent campaign rhetoric is so troubling.

In his bid to unseat freshman state Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, in Tuesday’s primary race for Kansas House District 59, Fluke has resorted to pointed — though often misleading and even flat-out false — attacks on his opponent’s political record, which now have devolved into mudslinging at Finch’s personal and professional character. At a July 22 candidate forum, for example, Finch defended himself against claims by Fluke and outside groups that the incumbent has been dishonest about his pro-life voting record. Fluke then essentially called Finch a liar without offering any evidence to back it up. That’s a recurring theme we’ve seen from Fluke and his surrogates in the weeks leading up to the election.

This isn’t the Bob Fluke we came to know during his seven-month tenure as Franklin County Republican Central Committee chairman. That Fluke always was open, honest and helpful when we called looking for local comments to state and national political stories. On numerous occasions, he spoke highly of Finch, even telling us with pride that when he had questions about legislation in Topeka, one of the first people he would call was Finch.

So it was a surprise last week when, during a sit-down interview with Herald editors, Fluke struggled when asked where he and Finch have common ground (besides on Second Amendment issues where Finch has a solid gun rights record and National Rifle Association endorsement).

“Maybe on local control?” Fluke said. “I’ve really focused on where we’re not on common ground, not where we are, because I think that’s what voters are more interested in.”

But gun rights and local control aren’t the only areas where Fluke voiced support of Finch’s politics in the past. Earlier this spring, for example, Fluke joined Finch in his skepticism of and public opposition to an education funding bill that was rushed through the Statehouse by arch-conservatives with little review and ultimately took away teachers’ due process rights.

(Finch, you might recall, was the one who days earlier helped craft an education bill in the House that gained broad bipartisan support and the approval of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback before being scuttled by GOP leadership in favor of the bill that ultimately passed — much to the chagrin of both Finch and Fluke.)

So ... the two might have more in common than Fluke now wants to admit. But why?

Though Finch boasts a 93-percent conservative voting record, according to his campaign, Fluke says he’s a moderate — a dirty word to some, especially in Franklin County Republican Central Committee circles. Upon filing for office, Fluke explained he was challenging Finch because the incumbent’s record hadn’t reflected true representation of House District 59’s conservative Republican-majority electorate.

“I don’t believe moderates are a majority in this particular district,” Fluke emphasized to editors last week.

He also pointed to Franklin County’s other local legislator — state Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville — to draw a contrast between Finch and true conservatives in the Statehouse.

“Why are the people in Wellsville and the people in Pomona being represented differently?” Fluke said. “Looking at [Jones’ and Finch’s] voting records, they don’t match. You have to ask why.”

A quick analysis of local lawmakers’ votes on bills signed into law this session by Brownback, as published in The Herald, indeed shows a gap between the two legislators’ votes, but Finch voted exactly the same as Jones about 83 percent of the time. And he voted with state Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker — on whose campaign Fluke served as treasurer in 2012 — about 80 percent of the time.

One might assume then that Fluke wouldn’t be happy with Finch’s votes unless he sided with both Jones and Tyson — considered by many as “real” conservatives — on 100 percent of the votes. But that would have been impossible: Tyson and Jones voted differently than each other about 83 percent of the time too.

And consider this: Figures by KanFocus, a vote tracker touted by Fluke supporters, show Finch voted with Kansas Democrats 90 percent of the time, but they also showed Wellsville’s Jones voted with Democrats nearly 80 percent of the time. Heck, even conservative stalwart and House Speaker Ray Merrick voted with the opposition 84 percent of the time. This is Kansas, after all. (When Sunflower State Republicans and Democrats vote together, that means the system is working. It’s the opposite of the partisan gridlock in Washington that we all rail against.)

Simply comparing votes clearly isn’t a true barometer of how conservative or moderate a politician might be — and it doesn’t take into account the minutia or complexity of bills that sometimes causes legislators to vote for or against legislation.

When Fluke became chairman of the local Republicans in December, he voiced concern and support for Finch ahead of the 2014 election cycle. Though he noted Finch and Jones both were in fairly strong positions for re-election, Fluke said Democrats likely would try to take them down.

“We know Franklin County is being targeted by our opposition party on some key elections,” he said in a Dec. 12 Herald story. “We need to make sure the Republican base in Franklin County is ready for that, and that none of our legislative candidates are vulnerable.”

A few short months later, however, it’s Fluke who’s targeting Finch — seeking to exploit any vulnerability he can find ... or create.

Again, what happened?

What changed?

Like Finch, Bob Fluke is a caring man who wants what he thinks is best for House District 59. And he’s more than a teacher-turned-politician. He’s someone’s father and grandfather. He’s firm in his religious convictions.

We’re certainly not trying to demonize the conservative candidate. We’re just struggling to understand how Fluke’s support for Finch apparently became just a fluke.

Tommy Felts is Herald managing editor. Email him at tfelts@ottawaherald.com

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