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National

Conservative Effort To Shake Up Kansas Supreme Court Falls Short

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Much of America moved to the right in last Tuesday's election. In deep-red Kansas, voters moved the state back towards the middle. As Sam Zeff from member station KCUR reports, that move included keeping four state Supreme Court justices after a bitter and expensive campaign.

SAM ZEFF, BYLINE: Conservatives led by Republican Governor Sam Brownback thought this was the year voters would boot four justices over rulings on the death penalty, abortion and school finance. But University of Kansas political scientist Burdett Loomis says conservatives were way wrong.

BURDETT LOOMIS: The electorate - it took a pretty sober look and said, you know, we're not happy with the way Brownback has operated.

ZEFF: More than a million dollars was spent by both sides on TV, radio and postcards, a record for a retention race in the state. Kansans for Justice led the anti-retention forces, buying over a half million dollars in TV time, mostly claiming the targeted justices were soft on convicted killers by overturning a number of death sentences.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Kansas families want justice. The good news - you can send the bad ones packing.

ZEFF: But the voters didn't come close to sending them packing. And in a year where 40 conservative lawmakers were defeated, dramatically changing the balance of power in the state house, Kansans for Justice spokesperson Amy James suggests anger with Brownback may have played a role.

AMY JAMES: There are some very loud and powerful organizations coming from the Democratic side, and maybe perhaps that had some influence on the type of voter that came out.

ZEFF: Ryan Wright from Kansans for Fair Courts agrees. He ran the campaign to retain the justices and says voters were tired of Brownback's policies and even more weary of conservatives beating up on the Supreme Court.

RYAN WRIGHT: This was as much a statement in my opinion about protecting the fair and impartiality of our courts as it was about a rebuke of this governor.

ZEFF: For NPR News, I'm Sam Zeff in Kansas City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.