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A Kansan With Conviction

Attorney General Sees Abortion Records Fight as Matter of Principle

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page A03

Phill Kline, Republican attorney general of Kansas, is determined not to be defensive. Making headlines with his subpoena of abortion records and his closed-door discussions of evolution with State Board of Education members, the former scholarship wrestler comes across as well satisfied with what he has wrought.

He has a job to do, Kline explained during a break at a meeting of attorneys general in Washington. Principles are at stake, he said, and liberals who dismiss the conservative values agenda as a political stratagem really do not know what they are talking about.

Kan. Attorney General Phill Kline, left, holding a book, is followed by a phalanx of law enforcement officers, as he heads for a session of the state House in February. (Ann Williamson -- Topeka Capital-journal Via AP)

Phill Kline

Born: Dec. 31, 1959, Kansas City, Kan.

Education: Political science, public relations degrees from Central Missouri State University; law degree from University of Kansas School of Law, 1987.

Career: litigator, Blackwell Sanders, Kansas City; elected to Kansas House, 1992; elected Kansas attorney general, 2002; chairman, Republican Attorneys General Association, 2003.

Family: Wife, Deborah; daughter, Hillary.

Take Kansas-born Thomas Frank, author of last year's political bestseller that put Kansas's red-state politics on the map.

"Mr. Frank," Kline said, "kind of mocks conviction as a guidepost for one's life, basically stating that those who have convictions are too ignorant to understand convictions don't matter; what matters is economics. And that those who claim conviction publicly are smart enough to manipulate those who are too dumb to understand convictions shouldn't exist."

Frank's book is called "What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America." These days, a number of liberals and Democrats point to Kline himself as an example of what ails a small, conservative state that continually makes news.

"This is one of the most extreme anti-choice politicians, who's invading people's most private medical information," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "He believes government should have control over your personal records and your personal decisions, and he's willing to use the subpoena process. It's a form of intimidation."

"If we didn't know where he stood on the abortion issue, we might see him as sincere," scoffed Caroline McKnight, executive director of the Mainstream Coalition and a frequent foe. She said Kline, satisfying his political base, believes "it's time to remind people that he's there and working hard for the regressives of the state."

On the surface, at least, Kline smiles at the slights. Quick to clap someone on the back and slow to become rattled, he is a confident speaker who once worked behind a microphone at a radio station. Equipped with degrees in political science, public relations and law, he wraps aspirations and jibes alike in the vocabulary of faith, truth and liberty.

"Kansans know that freedom does not mean license and that values do matter," Kline, 45, wrote in an op-ed article in the Kansas City Star last week. His theme was "what's right with Kansas."

"For if we lose these common threads, common truths, then all liberty is truly in danger," Kline continued. "Kansans know that democracy without virtue is two wolves and a sheep deciding what is for dinner -- the sheep will always be eaten."

Kline, a fifth-generation Kansan, spent eight years in the Kansas House, adding an extra "l" to his first name to avoid mix-ups with a senior legislator with the same name. Becoming known as "Little Phill," he sponsored laws on crime victims' rights and was named legislator of the year by the state's developmentally disabled and mental health communities, according to his Web site.

He also helped write a state law restricting late-term abortions, the issue now winning so much national attention from friends and foes.

Kline edged Democrat Chris Biggs in the 2002 race for attorney general, winning by one-half of 1 percent. His name routinely surfaces in speculation about the 2006 governor's race, although Kline in the interview said it was "very unlikely" that he would run.

As attorney general, Kline sought to require Kansas health workers to report sexual activity of girls younger than 16, the age of consent. The workers filed suit, and a federal judge blocked the request. Kline then persuaded a state judge to back the subpoena for records of more than 80 women and girls who received abortions in 2003 at two clinics. He described it as a search for evidence of illegal late-term abortions and child rape.

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