TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two moderate Republican legislators in Kansas became Democrats on Wednesday, capping an unprecedented round of GOP defections in the Kansas City suburbs that soured on President Donald Trump and a close political ally of his in this year's race for governor.
State Sen. Dinah Sykes and Rep. Stephanie Clayton joined two other moderate lawmakers who switched last week. All four women are from Johnson County, which is the state's most populous county and which Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly carried in the November election.
Kelly defeated conservative Republican Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who trumpeted his endorsement by Trump. Kansas City-area voters also showed their displeasure with the president by electing Democrat Sharice Davids, a Native American and LGBT lawyer, to Congress, ousting Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder.
Clayton said her decision to leave the GOP was prompted by concerns that its leaders are not committed to boosting public school funding. She also acknowledged that her constituents, particularly women, are upset with Trump and said her discomfort with his policies helped pushed her to leave the GOP.
Photos of the week: 12/7 - 12/14
Photos of the week: 12/7 - 12/14
Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives at federal court with his wife Laura Shusterman, second right, daughter Samantha Cohen, second left, and son Jake Cohen, left, in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Cohen is heading to prison for three years on a gross miscalculation. He was also ordered to forfeit $500,000, pay a restitution of $1.4 million and fines totaling $100,000. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence meet with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, hugs her husband, Kent in front of Charlottesville Circuit Court after a jury recommended life plus 419 years for James Alex Fields Jr. for the death of Heyer as well as several other charges related to the Unite the Right rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Va., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018.
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Policemen speak with a military in the streets of Strasbourg, eastern France, after a shooting breakout, on December 11, 2018. - At least two people have been killed and 11 critically wounded in a shooting in the French city of Strasbourg, police said, updating the number of victims. (Photo by Frederick FLORIN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. first lady Melania Trump sits beside Nathan Simm while reading a children's Christmas story during her visit to Children's National Health System in Washington, U.S., December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Snow-covered roads made traffic move slowly on I-85 in Lexington, NC on Sunday, December 9, 2018. (H. Scott Hoffmann/News & Record via AP)/News & Record via AP)
Honduran migrant Jonatan Matamoros Flores, 33, who arrived in October with a migrant caravan, climbs the U.S. border wall to stand atop it before returning to the Mexican side in Tijuana, Mexico, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. U.S. inspectors at the main border crossing in San Diego are processing up to about 100 asylum claims day, leaving thousands of migrants waiting in Tijuana, while some are avoiding the wait by crossing illegally to turn themselves in. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: A child stands next to the 'Fearless Girl' after a ceremony to unveil the statue's new location across from the New York Stock Exchange, December 10, 2018 in New York City. The bronze statue of a young girl standing with her hands on her hips has been moved from Bowling Green Park, where it stood across the iconic Charging Bull statue for over a year. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
French President Emmanuel Macron poses before a special address to the nation, his first public comments after four weeks of nationwide 'yellow vest' protests, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. Facing exceptional protests, French President Emmanuel Macron is promising to speed up tax relief for struggling workers and to scrap a tax hike for retirees. (Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials detain a migrant woman and children, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, after they crossed illegally with other migrants from Mexico to the U.S, at International Friendship Park, in San Diego, U.S., December 9, 2018. Picture taken from Tijuana, Mexico. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
LINFEN, CHINA - DECEMBER 08: Icicles hang from rocks at the Hukou Waterfall scenic spot of the Yellow River on December 8, 2018 in Linfen, Shanxi Province of China. (Photo by Lyu Guiming/VCG via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 12: British Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement outside Number 10 Downing Street on December 12, 2018 in London, England. Theresa May survived a confidence ballot in her leadership this evening as Conservative MPs voted 200/117 in favour of her staying on as leader of the Conservative Party. She will now be safe from another challenge from her own party for 12 months. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., left, walk out of the West Wing to speak to members of the media outside of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, following a meeting with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
A firefighter helps a boy stranded in debris following a landslide in Xuyong county, Sichuan province, China December 9, 2018. Picture taken December 9, 2018. China Daily via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump (2nd R) is joined by Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer (2nd L) at the Army-Navy college football game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, U.S., December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Young TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
ADANA, TURKEY - DECEMBER 13 : A cow is seen fallen inside a manhole in Adana, Turkey on December 13, 2018. Cow was noticed after a dog constantly barked near the manhole. (Photo by Eren Bozkurt/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Fire crew work at the site of a fire at the Serbian Mission on Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City, U.S., December 9, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: Ian Madrigal (R) dresses as Mr. Monopoly as Google CEO Sundar Pichai (L) testifies before the House Judiciary Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on 'Transparency & Accountability: Examining Google and its Data Collection, Use and Filtering Practices.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
A boat sail along the Naviglio canal decorated with Christmas lights, in Milan, Italy, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with newly elected governors in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 14: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks during a naturalization ceremony at the Rotunda of the National Archives December 14, 2018 in Washington, DC. The National Archives held the ceremony to mark the Bill of Rights Day. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
SRINAGAR, KASHMIR, INDIA - DECEMBER 10: Kashmiri labourers cover their heads with buckets after dumping soil at the river bank during a cold day on December 10, 2018 in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir, India. Dry, cold weather continued in Kashmir valley with most places in the state recording sub-zero temperatures. (Photo by Yawar Nazir/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge joins some of the children as they take part in Christmas-themed activities during a visit to Evelina London Children's Hospital on December 11, 2018 in London, England. Evelina London, which is part of Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, is preparing to mark its 150th anniversary in 2019. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
A girl laughs while her brother cries being held by Santa Claus at the King of Prussia Mall, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Giant pandas Chengjiu and Shuanghao play in the snow at a zoo in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China December 9, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WEEHAWKEN, NJ - DECEMBER 8: A bride is photographed in front of lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center at sunset on December 8, 2018 as seen from Weehawken, New Jersey. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)
A man carries an infant on a cold winter day in a village of south Kashmir's Pulwama district December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
U.S. first lady Melania Trump is handed a young girl during the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots campaign at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, U.S., December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: A man dressed up as Baby Jesus takes part during the annual New York SantaCon on December 8, 2018 in New York City. SantaCon is in it's 20th year in New York City. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
YAMALO- NENETS, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 11: A Nenet woman is seen in the Obdorskiy Ostrog , center Salekhard town of Yamalo-Nenets autonomous district, Russia on December 11, 2018. (Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's former attorney, arrives for his sentencing at United States Court house in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
STRASBOURG, FRANCE - DECEMBER 12: Soldiers patrol near the Christmas market where, yesterday, a man shot 14 people, killing at least three, on December 12, 2018 in Strasbourg, France. Police have identified the man as Cherif Chekatt, a French citizen on a police terror watch-list. Chekatt exchanged gunfire with soldiers after the attack, is reportedly injured and is still on the loose. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 13: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) hugs his wife Cheryl after delivering his farewell speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate December 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. During his speech Flake said, “Let us recognize from this place here today that the shadow of tyranny is once again enveloping parts of the globe. And let us recognize as authoritarianism reasserts itself in country after country, that we are by no means immune.' (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Virgin Galactic’s carrier airplane WhiteKnightTwo carrying space tourism rocket plane SpaceShipTwo takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, U.S. December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Gene Blevins TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Mandarin Duck, a native species to East Asia, swims in The Pond in Central Park in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Window cleaners, dressed as a dog (R) and wild boar, this year's and next year's Chinese zodiac animals, pose while cleaning the windows of Ryumeikan hotel during a promotional event to celebrate the upcoming new year in Tokyo, Japan, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A visitor is seen walking in a traditional Arabic design lights shop in down town Manama, Bahrain, December 10, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 13: Firefighters work to put out the smoldering remains of an overnight fire that engulfed six businesses on Queens Boulevard, December 13, 2018 in the Queens borough of New York City. A dozen people were injured in the fire, including six firefighters. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu, composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on December 2, 2018 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km). NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
Palestinian wrapped in Hamas flag rides a bike during clashes with Israeli troops at the Hawara checkpoint, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, Friday, Dec. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
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"I hear every day from people who have been Republicans for their lives, lifelong, and they just said, 'I can't do this anymore. This is not what I stand for,' and that's how I felt," Sykes said. "I'm better served to focus on my job than trying to defend the Republican Party."
In Oklahoma, state Rep. Johnny Tadlock , who represents a rural district in the state's southeast corner, switched to the Republican Party. In 2017, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice also switched to the GOP in a state Trump won by nearly 42 percentage points.
Kansas Democrats have had a few high-profile party switches over the past 20 years, most notably in 2006, when Mark Parkinson , a former state GOP chairman, ran as a Democrat for lieutenant governor. He became governor in 2009 when then-Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius resigned to become U.S. health and human services secretary.
But before last week, only five legislators had switched parties in the past 50 years, four of them Democrats who became Republicans. A sixth lawmaker, state Sen. John Doll , a moderate from western Kansas, left the GOP in March and became an independent for an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor.
According to the state library, there's no record of four lawmakers switching parties in such a short span.
Even so, Republicans will maintain supermajorities in both legislative chambers, slipping to 84-41 in the House and 28-11, with Doll as the one independent, in the Senate. Furthermore, the Legislature emerged from this year's elections more conservative, with GOP moderates losing ground to conservatives.
"These are not surprising switches," said Kansas Republican Party Chairman Kelly Arnold, adding that the lawmakers worked and voted regularly with Democrats. "I think they're finally deciding that, you know, they don't need the Republican brand."
Republicans enjoy a 3-to-2 voter registration advantage in Johnson County, but GOP moderates have remained a political force.
Kelly carried Johnson County by nearly 17 percentage points and Davids won there by almost six percentage points. Even Democratic candidates for attorney general and state treasurer who lost by a wide margin statewide narrowly carried Johnson County.
"If there was a blue wave in Kansas, it was in Johnson County," said state Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.
Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas political scientist, saw the results in Johnson County and the party switches as part of an ongoing national political realignment.
"It's been moderate Republicans in suburbs becoming Democrats and conservative Democrats in rural areas becoming Republicans," Miller said. "It definitely predates Trump. It probably blew up and we noticed it more under Trump."
Sykes and Clayton joined state Sen. Barbara Bollier and state Rep. Joy Koesten , who switched parties last week. Clayton won re-election last month as a Republican, but Koesten lost her GOP primary and will leave office in January. Sykes and Bollier are in the middle of four-year terms and face voters again in 2020.
Sykes defeated a conservative incumbent in the Republican primary in 2016 in winning her seat.
Clayton was first elected to the House in 2010 and helped organize a bipartisan Women's Caucus.
"The suburban women that I represent are definitely turned off by the president," Clayton said. "They're disgusted with this burn-it-all-down attitude."