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July 16, 2014 11:58 AM Jill Docking, the Kochs, and the Opportunity for Sweet Revenge

By Ed Kilgore

To tell you the truth, until I was reading up this morning for the previous post on the Kansas governor’s race, I wasn’t aware (or maybe had forgotten) that Democrat Paul Davis’ running-mate is one Jill Docking. Boy, did that bring back memories.

In 1996, Docking was the Democratic nominee in a special Senate election for Bob Dole’s seat (Dole had resigned to avoid controversial Senate votes that were complicating his presidential campaign). Her Republican opponent was a fiery conservative freshman House member name of Sam Brownback, who had beaten appointed Senator Sheila Frahm in the GOP primary.

I was at the DLC at the time, and Docking became our favorite Senate candidate: a very smart professional woman running well in a very red state. Things were looking really good for Docking going into the stretch run of the campaign, until suddenly an avalanche of negative ads blasting her as an “out-of-state liberal” (though she had very deep roots in the state—her father-in-law was a Democratic governor in the 60s—she had been working professionally in New York for a good while) sponsored by a previously unknown group called Citizens for the Republic Education Fund, which in turn was a “shell” corporation set up by a shadowy DC consulting firm called Triad Management Services. Docking never recovered, and Sam Brownback won by a comfortable margin.

It was widely rumored at the time that Triad was a front for Kansas-based Koch Oil. It was impossible to prove, but subsequent investigations established that Triad (and in turn CREF) was being funded by a group called the Economic Education Trust, which had extensive ties to, and was probably being funded by, the Koch brothers.

In retrospect, those were innocent times—nobody had much experience with unnamed groups coming out of the woodwork with giant sacks of cash to change the outcome of a statewide political contest—and a harbinger of things to come, not just in terms of campaign finance practices but of the decision by the Koch brothers to make themselves a national political force dedicated to moving the GOP to the Right while moving the country to the GOP.

So it’s more than a little interesting that Docking is making a political comeback this year on a ticket that could topple the very man who was the spear-edge of the conservative revolution circa 1996. If revenge is indeed a dish best served cold, she’s had plenty of time to chill.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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