Repass stepped into political spotlight in 2022 during campaign for secretary of state
TOPEKA — Elective politics newcomer Jeanna Repass won the race Saturday to take over as chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party in a close contest against former state Treasurer Lynn Rogers.
Repass, of Overland Park, stepped into the political arena in 2022 with an unsuccessful campaign for Kansas secretary of state. She lost the general election showdown in November by nearly 200,000 votes to incumbent Secretary of State Scott Schwab. There was subsequent criticism of Repass regarding an allegation she didn’t properly compensate one of her campaign workers.
Repass won the top party post by leveraging endorsements from Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes and House Minority Leader Vic Miller to secure 122 votes to Rogers’ 107. The recommendation by Kelly was particularly striking, because Rogers was elected lieutenant governor on the 2018 ticket with Kelly.
The written endorsement by the four elected officials pointed to Repass’ “electric energy and bold optimism” and an ability to engage a new generation of Kansas Democrats. They lauded Repass’ commitment to building relationships among Democrats statewide.
“I’m a lifelong Democrat,” Repass told delegates. “I believe that we need to communicate with each other openly. We need to have transparency in everything we do. As your chair, nothing will be done in the dark. You will be a part of this every step of the way.”
Repass, who has worked as a radio station executive, said reelection of Kelly to a second term gave her hope in the future of Kansas politics. She said work of Democrats in the Legislature, which has a supermajority of Republicans, also inspired her. But division among Democrats across the state served to undermine the party’s potential, she said, because “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
“We don’t have to like each other. I get that,” Repass said, “The people of Kansas need us to be allied and to stand firm for them.”
Repass’ mother was a civil rights activist and her father a veteran of the Vietnam war who worked in law enforcement after his military career. She said her parents instilled in her a belief that the right to vote shouldn’t be manipulated in a partisan manner to divide people.
Vicki Hiatt, who had served as party chair since 2019, decided against seeking another term when Repass disclosed her candidacy. Hiatt made her decision public after state Democratic Party executive director Ben Meers resigned in January amid allegations by former colleagues that he fostered a toxic work environment at the party’s Topeka office.
Rogers, the former state treasurer, lieutenant governor, senator and Wichita school board member, said he was well-equipped to take a leadership roll in the Democratic Party. He was appointed state treasurer by Kelly in 2021. In the November election, he lost a campaign to retain the post by 120,000 votes to Republican Steven Johnson.
“I have stepped up every time the Kansas Democrats have asked me to,” Rogers said. “I have heard from Kansans all over the state. They have the same message. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”
He said his candidacy wasn’t about himself or Repass, who he said he “highly respected.” He said it was about preparing Democrats for the 2024 election cycle and the elections that would follow.
“Kansans deserve an alternative to the far-right extremists and cultural warriors who continue to take rights away and harm our future,” Rogers said. “I want a strong Democratic Party in all 105 counties.”
Earlier this month, the Kansas Republican Party selected a new chairman. Mike Brown, a former Johnson County Commission member who lost to Schwab in last year’s GOP primary for secretary of state, was chosen over Helen Van Etten, a former Republican national committewoman. Brown prevailed with 90 votes to Van Etten’s 88.
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