Anatomy of a Hatchet Job: How the Smoky Hill Gang Removed Larry Meeker...with a Hatchet

Note: The blogs and news articles to this story have been provided in the Resources section of this post in order to prevent their destruction or other alteration. 



Back in 2015, Chris Reeves used a deceptive and dishonest blog post (PDF) on the progressive blog Daily Kos to kick-off a hatchet-job on then-Kansas Democratic Party Chair Larry Meeker - a post that required a disclosure regarding Reeves' involvement with Smoky Hills Strategies. Reeves failed to make that disclosure, and he personally benefitted from the maneuver. Indeed, he continues to personally profit - or "self-enrich" - from the move today. 

The intent of Reeves' post on the Daily Kos was to create a re-shuffle on the Executive Committee of the Kansas Democratic Party. The reshuffle ultimately created notoriety and opportunity for Chris Reeves to fill an open seat for Democratic National Committee Man on the Kansas Democratic Party's Executive Board.

In his post on the Daily Kos, now-DNC man Reeves cited a poll from "Smoky Hills Strategies." Yesterday, we provided information that substantiates that Chris Reeves is a consultant and / or partner with "Smoky Hill Strategies" AKA "The Smoky Hill Gang." Indeed, Reeves admitted as much on Twitter after our post was made on social media.

Getting paid on both sides of the deal? While that's pretty lucrative, it's also incredibly dishonest and unethical. It also happens to be a practice that we do not believe Daily Kos would endorse if they knew the truth


Opening the Playbook: The Anatomy of a Smoky Hill Gang Hatchet Job 

Step One: Turn Internal Party Matters Into External Party Matters

On Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - two weeks in advance of the fall state committee meeting, Demofest - the Village Voice's Kansas City edition, The Pitch, published a story titled "Kansas Democrats are seeing red, but not the for the reasons you'd expect." (PDF)

From The Pitch:

Kansas Democrats, still smarting from a disappointing 2014 as they head into a crucial 2016 election cycle, are considering a rebrand. Instead of referring to the statewide party as the staid Kansas Democratic Party, they may start calling themselves Red State Democrats.

That's the idea promulgated by new KDP Chairman Larry Meeker, the former Lake Quivira mayor and banker who took over for Joan Wagnon in March. Meeker got the nod over former Kansas Rep. Dennis McKinney, a western Kansas Democrat who didn't want the job.

"It's a statement of predicament," Meeker tells The Pitch. "We'd like to be blue or purple, but it's a statement about our conservatism. We're fiscally conservative."

More important in that story is the source of the actual story itself. 

Party leaders plan to discuss the rebranding idea this week, ahead of Demofest in Wichita, the second-largest confab of Kansas Democrats after Washington Days, which was held in Topeka in March.

Not everyone is thrilled with the idea.

"I don't like it," says Terese Johnson, the Sedgwick County Democratic Party chairwoman. She presumably knows something about what's in a name — she prefers to go simply by "T." "I think there are more effective ways of rebranding the Kansas Democrats."

T McGuire Johnson, who remains the Sedgwick County Chair today (and also nominated John Gibson for Kansas Democratic Party Chair at the Washington Days), was the source for the first story. However, T Johnson never makes another appearance again in a string of subsequent stories, including the Reeves blog. See here, herehere, here and here

This point is important, because there was an apparent inconsistency within the original reporting. Larry Meeker said there "was a misunderstanding" and that he wasn't trying to rebrand the party as "red state Democrats." When The Eagle's Bryan Lowry asked The Pitch's Steve Vockrodt in a subsequent story if Vockrodt stood by his story, due to the inconsistency between Larry Meeker's statement and Steve Vockrodt's original reporting at  The Pitch. See here

Step Two: Introduce Deception 

The following day, on Wednesday, August 19, 2015, now DNC-man Chris Reeves and known financial partner to Smoky Hills Strategies (see yesterday's post for substantiation), wrote a blog for the popular progressive digital platform Daily Kos

Chris Reeves' post to the Daily Kos was a deceptive blog with a deceptive headline

"Kansas Democratic Party Considers Not Being Democrats, While New Poll Suggests a Different Path."

Reeves begins the post by saying:

[T]he party commissioned field focus groups where members of the party were encouraged to attend and discuss the issues that motivated them.

Meanwhile, an outside consulting group, unaffiliated with the party, Smoky Hill Strategies, commissioned PPP to conduct polling research and data. The two groups have reached significantly different points of discussion. Smoky Hill Strategies looks at the data and believes now is the time to fight for progressive issues. State Party Leadership has announced to the press an intent to rebrand, deciding to make the party more conservative. 

In the headline and first two paragraphs of the Daily Kos story, Chris Reeves makes five distinct deceptions. We detail how these statements were deceptions below under "Dissecting the Deception." For brevity, we have provided those deceptions, in order here. Those deceptions are:

  1. That there was consideration given to "Not Being Democrats";
  2. That Smoky Hills Strategies is "unaffiliated with the party";
  3. That "State Party Leadership has "announced to the press" an intent to rebrand";
  4. That State Party Leadership has decided "to make the party more conservative"; and 
  5. That Chris Reeves himself is unaffiliated Smoky Hills Strategies (which we showed to be false yesterday). 

Chris Reeves cites The Pitch as the source for his story - not Larry Meeker or T McGuire Johnson.

Reeves piles on, saying:

In an appearance at the Kansas Federated Democratic Women's Club annual gathering, the state party chair took the time to address the audience:

'Let's be honest: if we're in California, we'd likely be Republicans. We are not as liberal as Republicans make us out to be.'

Reeves continues the web of deceptions by citing a poll that he and his partners upon the Kansas Democratic Party's Executive Committee ("The Smoky Hill Gang"), in fact, commissioned in the Daily Kos story by saying:

Smoky Hill Strategies put forward data with a much different message: no, if we were in California, we'd still be Democrats...we'd just win more often.

Reeves closes the post with a plug for, none other than, Smoky Hills Strategies:

Smoky Hill Strategies has reserved a large ballroom in order to present a "Progressive Pavilion" which will feature campaigns, advocacy groups, and three main events: a 9:30AM State of the State Briefing, a 1:30PM meeting to discuss the PPP Poll and the direction of Democratic Messaging for 2016, and a 5PM DailyKos Connect! Unite! Act! event, where video clips and an update on the growth of the party into the remainder of Kansas is announced.

Step Three: Give Credibility to the Lies

One day later, on August 19, 2015, following the Daily Kos blog post made by Chris Reeves on Wednesday, August 19, 2015,  then-Wichita Eagle Topeka Bureau writer Bryan Lowry follows with a story in the Wichita Eagle that, at least in part demonstrates the inaccuracy of information, but nonetheless gives credibility to Reeves' DailyKos deception from the day before with a headline that proclaimed: 

Kansas Democratic Party chairman: 'We are red state Democrats'   (PDF)

According to archives of the Wichita Eagle story:

The Eagle asked the Kansas Democratic Party last week about rumors that it was considering changing its name to "Red State Democrats" as a way to appeal to Republican and independent voters. The party said no name change was in the works.

The Kansas City Pitch reported Tuesday evening that the party was indeed weighing the name change and that it was being pushed by Meeker, who was elected state party chair in March. 

Meeker said the Pitch misunderstood and that no name change was being considered. He said the word "Kansas" is the most important part of the party's name, but he also confirmed the party was in the process of working on its message to appeal to voters in a red state.

When pressed by Bryan Lowry of the Wichita Eagle, Steve Vockrodt, who wrote the The Pitch article the day before, journalist said he stood by his story. 

As a side note, both Lowry and Vockrodt now write for the Kansas City Star

Step Four: Turn Organized Labor Against or, More Accurately, Create a Perception Thereof

After manufacturing credibility for the lie and / or lies, Party Bosses create a perception that Organized Labor is against the target. 

In the case of Larry Meeker, this is evidenced in a follow-up story to Bryan Lowry's original story from August 19th. In Lowry's  August 21, 2015 story ("Kansas Democratic Party chairman resigns"), Lowry reports:

Some sponsors for Demofest at the Wichita Marriot pulled out this week after Meeker's comments to The Eagle and other media, said Kerry Gooch, the party's executive director. He would not say how much money the party lost. 

In a phone conversation with Larry Meeker, Mr. Meeker could not remember who the "sponsors" were that had pulled out, but he did reveal that he knew of only "two [Wichita] Unions" who opposed his continuation as the chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party, but he could not name those two local unions.

According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), there are more than 300 local Unions in the state of Kansas. This number does not include public employer local unions, which fall under state jurisdiction as opposed to the federal government's jurisdiction under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). 

Step Five: Party Leaders Pressure Resignation

Again, the August 21st Wichita Eagle story announcing Larry Meeker's resignation, cited several sources of pressure for the resignation. 

Without mentioning or otherwise disclosing Chris Reeves as the writer of August 18th Daily Kos blog, the Wichita Eagle story read:

The liberal blog the Daily Kos called Meeker's rebranding idea a "white flag of surrender." 

Tom Witt, Kansas Democratic Party Executive Committee member and, as we know from yesterday's post, financial partner to KDP Executive Committee members Chris Reeves and Ryon Carey at Smoky Hills Strategiesrelied entirely upon Larry Meeker's rebranding effort to support claims that Mr. Meeker didn't support the party's platform, which includes broad support for gay, lesbian and transgendered rights. 

Tom Witt, a gay rights activist and member of the party's Executive Committee, said Meeker should read the party's platform, which includes support for same-sex marriage and opposition to discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

"I look forward to supporting a chair who will support our party's platform," Witt said Friday when asked about Meeker's resignation. 

Senator Anthony Hensley, also a member of the KDP Executive Committee by virtue of his position as Senate Democratic Leader, followed much the same strategy of deception, relying entirely upon the "red state Democrats" statement to, by negative inference, placed Larry Meeker in the same camp as the those who do not value "education," "working people," and "women." 

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, who had nominated Meeker for party chair in March, called the rebranding idea a waste of time on Wednesday. 

"It's well understood that the party stands for education and for working people and women," Hensley said Friday, and against what he called Kansas' unfair tax structure. 

"We already have a Republican Party in this state, and it has moved so far to the right that it's turning people off," Hensley said. "We need to stand by our values."

The problem with each of these above statements made to the Wichita Eagle, however, is that those comments are factually inaccurate, if not deceptive, on all counts.

See more below the break under "Dissecting the Deception" for further explanation of these critical deceptions.

Step Six: Executive Session of the Executive Committee to Pressure Resignation

Under a section ironically (or not) named "Facts of Political Life," Bryan Lowry's Wichita Eagle story from August 21st provides this glimpse into the playbook:

On Friday, the party executive committee closed its meeting at the Wichita Marriott to the public, including elected officials, according to Rep. John Carmichael

"I was startled when I arrived here to learn that the doors had locked to members of the Legislature. Let alone, that the press and public had been thrown out," said Carmichael, who previously served as the party's secretary. 

Carmichael called Meeker's resignation necessary. "There had been talk for weeks that he was going to advocate renaming, rebranding the party and there were a number of us who were very disappointed to hear that," he said. 

Step Seven: Resignation. (Revised Edition: Recall.)

Resignation was Larry Meeker's fate.

When I talked to Larry by telephone recently, he told me that he had always sought to be a change-agent, a man that sought an organization that needed change to get better. Meeker said, "I never cared about the credentials [of being KDP Chairman.]" 

As a former Vice President of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, it stands to question, then, whether it was the Party Leaders that cared about his credentials, not vice versa?

After nearly a one-hour phone call, Meeker told me that:

"I just wanted to make things better."

The provisions of "Recall" under Article XIII of the Kansas Democratic Party's Bylaws (PDF) were added only recently; however, we cannot provide a date, because those rules were not distributed to the state committee in advance of the meeting. Instead, as is tradition, a written copy of those rules are distributed only moments before the State Committee is asked to adopt the rules. While these rules have occasionally been distributed by paper copy to the members, tradition is for these rules to appear upon an electronic presentation screen before the body. 

The Bylaws of the Kansas Democratic Party don't reflect amendment dates on a section-by-section basis. Instead, those bylaws only provide a single revision date - on the front page - without a reference to what specific provisions have been amended and when those provisions were amended.

It's almost as if there are no Democratic legislators with the season upon the board to know that revisions are tracked through annotations to the bylaws. Indeed, state statutes include such historical annotations.

But the truth of the matter is that Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley is the longest serving member of the Kansas Legislature ever - in our 159 year statehood - and also serves upon the Executive Committee of the Kansas Democratic Party. Anthony Hensely held the seat on the KDP Executive Board since became the leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus in 1996. 

As I pointed out in my first post to the ICTindivisible platform on Monday, playing hide the football with the Rules and Procedures of the Kansas Democratic Party is past-time. Perhaps for good reason.

If you haven't had the chance yet, I'd strongly suggest you to read my post about how the Kansas Democratic Party and party bosses, including then-Chairman Lee Kinch and KDP Executive Board member Ryon Carey of the Smokey Hill Gang, attempted to stack the deck in the KS-04 Special Election for Dennis McKinney

Dissecting the Deception

Tallying the Carnage: A Den of Lies

In a hatchet job performed upon Larry Meeker, there were seven specific deceptions:

Chris Reeves' Daily Kos blog, in the headline, states that there was consideration given to "Not Being Democrats." 

This is demonstrably false. The original Pitch article only mentioned the fact that the Sedgwick County Chairwoman, T Johnson, didn't like the label of "Red State Democrat." For any other writer, I would assume cheeky hyperbole was the motive for the false statement. However, Chris Reeves had a demonstrable financial motive to lie: to create a re-shuffle upon the Kansas Democratic Party's Executive Board - a reshuffle that made Chris Reeves a member of the Democratic National Committee and a member of the Kansas Democratic Party's Executive Board.

Smoky Hills Strategies is "Unaffiliated with the Party."

Chris Reeves' represents in his Daily Kos post from August 18 that Smoky Hills Strategies was unaffiliated with the party. This is false. 

We illustrated this point to be false yesterday in our post on ICTindivisible about the Smoky Hill Gang. KDP Executive Board members Chris Reeves, Ryon Carey and Tom Witt are all partners to Smoky Hills Strategies. To claim no affiliation with the Kansas Democratic Party was deception.  

State Party Leadership has "announced to the press" an intent to rebrand.

Chris Reeves'  Daily Kos post from August 19 states that state party leadership had announced to the press an intent to rebrand. There was no announcement. Rather, Reeves' statement is based upon the statement provided to The Pitch by T Johnson, the Sedgwick County Chairwoman. 

State Party Leadership has decided "to make the party more conservative."

In the second paragraph of Chris Reeves' Daily Kos blog from August 19, 2015, "Reeves states that the state party leadership is deciding to make the party more conservative." The Pitch article, however, from August 18, 2015 contains no statements reflecting a desire on Mr. Meeker's part to "make the party more conservative."

Chris Reeves himself is unaffiliated Smoky Hills Strategies (which we showed to be false yesterday).  

We're considering this one asked and answered. KDP Executive Board members Tom Witt, Ryon Carey and Chris Reeves are affiliated with Smoky Hills Strategies, as we substantiated yesterday.

Tom Witt's statement that he looks "forward to supporting a chair who will support our party's platform."

In the Wichita Eagle's August 21st story, KDP Executive Board Member and Smoky Hills Strategies partner Tom Witt provided a statement that he was looking "forward to supporting a chair who will support our party's platform." The implication being, of course, that Larry Meeker did not, in fact, support the platform of the Kansas Democratic Party. There was no evidence or other substantiation of this claim offered to support this claim. 


Mr. Meeker's Sin? Doing His Job. 

Despite what many may say about him, Larry Meeker is, by all accounts, a good man who served our nation and state with dignity and honor.

Born and raised in Kansas, Mr. Meeker retired as Vice President of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City and is, also, a former mayor for Lake Quivira in Johnson County. Mr. Meeker holds a Doctorate in Business Administration from KU. And, by all accounts, a genuinely nice and authentic man who is as smart as they come. 

But the Smoky Hill Gang painted a very different picture on the blogs of the Daily Kos

Larry Meeker's sin? He said we were "red state Democrats."

Sometimes the truth offends folks, but Kansas Democrats haven't held a legislative majority since 1993; elected a single Democrat to a statewide office since 2006 (Sebelius & Morrison); and, finally, haven't elected a member of Congress since 2008. The results are terrifying -- and offensive. 

So it stands to reason: We are Democrats in a Red State. But this isn't Larry Meeker's fault. Larry Meeker's tenure lasted less than six months after he was elected at Washington Days in Topeka in March 2015. 

Instead, fault lies squarely at the feet of the individuals who have made the decisions on behalf of the Kansas Democratic Party for the last decade. 

I am ashamed of the way the Kansas Democratic Party behaved to remove Mr. Meeker from a post the state committee elected him to represent. 



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