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Rogue State: How Far-Right Fanatics Hijacked Kansas

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Dick Kelsey, another of the senators on Brownback's enemies list, could not be questioned for his ideological purity. An evangelical preacher and a stalwart member of the conservative wing of the GOP, Kelsey had first entered politics in Indiana, where he helped recruit socially conservative candidates for Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority in the 1980s. He eventually moved to Kansas to open a Christian treatment camp for drug- and alcohol-addicted youth. When local politicos urged him to run for a newly open state legislative seat, he initially demurred. "But God was good," he says, "and I ran and won."

Kelsey served two terms in the House before shifting to the Senate, and in both chambers, he maintained a reliably conservative voting record on both fiscal and social issues. Then Brownback came into office. Kelsey figures he probably voted with Brownback 98 percent of the time, but he publicly opposed the governor's budget after he realized it would lower his own tax burden to zero. "The bill was designed, frankly, to take care of Koch Industries," Kelsey says. "I could see that it took money from very poor people and benefitted me, personally, too significantly. And I'm not poor."

Groups like Americans for Prosperity outspent Kelsey by $200,000, a huge number in Kansas state politics. (Kelsey spent about $35,000 on his entire campaign.) Thirteen days before the primary, one poll showed Kelsey with a 20-point lead. "But 17 negative mailers later . . ." he says, chuckling ruefully.

Kelsey was also defeated. Of the 22 moderate Senators targeted, only five survived. It was a wholesale rout, a bloodbath. After the primary, Brownback told reporters that voters made a "clear statement . . . I think what you had is, the market functioned on Tuesday."

"I think Brownback is fascinated by how easy it is to change things as governor, as opposed to being one of 100 U.S. senators," a Topeka insider with ties to both parties tells me. "The current Republican legislature watched the moderates get executed by the Brownback machine. They know, and are no doubt regularly reminded of, how Brownback destroyed the career of a solid conservative like Dick Kelsey. And they know he's capable of killing any one of them."

The anonymous, single-story building that once housed George Tiller's abortion clinic sits on an undistinguished stretch of highway service drive in Wichita, just down the block from a used car lot. To get inside, patients entered a gated driveway covered with signs reading "Premises Monitored Electronic Surveillance" and "No Trespassing." The clinic has been closed since Tiller's murder in 2009. On the lobby door, a sticker of a gun with a slash through it remains, once posted to let visitors know they weren't allowed to carry concealed weapons inside.

This spring, Julie Burkhart, a native Kansan who worked alongside Tiller as a spokesperson and legislative activist, decided to reopen his clinic. Since the murder, there have been no abortion providers in Wichita, which has a metropolitan area with a population of 650,000; in fact, the only three abortion providers left in the entire state of Kansas were in Kansas City, 200 miles away.

One afternoon, I met Burkhart at the clinic, still several weeks from opening. An extension cord ran out of the SIGN IN window into a cluttered lobby, where a pile of forceps and a vacuum suction machine sat out from an earlier training. Burkhart is 46, with flowing, abundant red hair and the sort of taste in rings and beaded necklaces that makes her look like a bit of a hippie, which belies a steely tough-mindedness. Tiller's harassment, she tells me, had been steady since the Summer of Mercy. There had been an assassination attempt in 1993, and she recalls sitting in his office and noticing a bulletproof vest.

"We really didn't talk about the personal danger a lot, because I felt like it was maybe challenging for him to dwell on it," she says. "You know, he didn't set out to do this work. But I think the more he was involved in caring for women, the more he became wedded to the idea, and the fact, that women need safe, legal health care. And then it became a matter of principle."

Burkhart introduces me to one of the doctors she has hired, a woman who wishes to remain anonymous. She's been working as an OB/GYN in a small town for the past 10 years, delivering an average of 20 babies a month, and had never performed an elective abortion before. But the rhetoric coming from the right during the last election – "the War on Women, those nasty comments people were making about rape," she says – made her think more seriously about ways in which she could contribute to progressive causes, beyond simply knocking on doors and asking for money. When I ask if any of her friends and family tried to talk her out of taking the new job, she says, "All of them. Most of whom have had abortions. They all want to see this clinic reopen. They just want someone else to do it. My mother had an illegal abortion before Roe v. Wade. Kitchen-table thing. Both of my sisters, too. All were married at the time, practicing contraception. People take precautions, but sometimes precautions fail. The pill is 98 percent effective when used perfectly – if you're a robot. But not everyone is perfect."

The "antis," as Burkhart calls the local anti-abortion crusaders have already begun casing the building, typically in pairs. They've also shown up at Burkhart's home twice, forcing her to take out a restraining order on one local preacher. She shows me a flyer that's been circulating with her photograph on it. ADOPT AN ABORTION-HOMICIDE PROMOTER, it reads, continuing:

As an employee of the late abortionist Tiller, Julie Burkhart is responsible for the mass murder of thousands of innocent children. Now she wants to do it again! Adoption is the loving option, not only for babies, but also for adults who have lost their way. Join us in adopting abortion promoter Julie Burkhart who is conspiring to take the lives of precious children in Wichita again.

Chillingly, the flyer goes on to exhort readers to "do a public outreach" at Burkhart's home – listing her street address – and notes that, "Lastly, please remind her that, 'God hates the hands that shed innocent blood.'"

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