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A Kansan With Conviction

Clinic lawyers made the investigation public last month when they termed Kline's quest a "fishing expedition" and asked the Kansas Supreme Court to intercede on grounds of privacy. Supporters of the clinics -- Women's Health Care Services in Wichita and a Planned Parenthood facility in Overland Park -- noted Kline's hope that Roe v. Wade (the case that resulted in a decision upholding the right to abortion) will be overturned, and said his true goal is to frighten women away from abortions.

Referring to the current battle with abortion clinics, skeptics said that if his ambition were to find criminal cases of underage sex, Kline would have targeted other categories of health workers and focused just as intently on girls who gave birth as on those who had abortions. They also noted that the Wichita clinic is operated by George R. Tiller, who channeled about $150,000 to Kline's opponent in 2002.

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.

In 2003, Kansas doctors performed abortions on 318 girls and women who carried fetuses considered likely to have been viable outside the womb. Additionally, 78 girls age 14 or younger had abortions, Kline's spokesman said.

Kline insisted his goal is to uncover criminal activity, including at the clinics.

"They are a target of an investigation. It's like you show up at a bank robber's house and say, 'Hey, we think you robbed a bank. You have a ski mask inside, a gun and some money.' 'Well, let me go and check, and I'll get back to you,' " Kline said.

In February, Kline sparked complaints from six news organizations after he met behind closed doors with the six conservative members of the Kansas State Board of Education. He held back-to-back sessions, each attended by three members. Had he met with the six together, the media organizations wrote, the state Open Meetings Act would have required the session to be open.

Kline said he discussed education funding and the issue of evolution in both meetings. He said board members -- intent on changing how evolution is taught in public schools -- asked him if it would be constitutional to affix a sticker to textbooks saying evolution is a theory, not a fact. A federal judge in Cobb County, Ga., recently ordered such stickers removed.

"Yeah, it's constitutional. It is theory. I know the difference between scientific law, scientific theory, scientific hypothesis," Kline said in the interview.

Although evolution is commonly termed a theory, most scientists consider the evidence, accumulated over 150-plus years, to be overwhelming, and they say opponents misuse language to mislead the public.

It is a touchstone of Kline's political philosophy that Kansans -- especially conservative Kansans who gave the state to President Bush by nearly 2 to 1 in November -- do not always get the credit they deserve from outsiders, especially liberals.

"As our culture screams, eviscerating words through cheap use, Kansans assess," he wrote in the Kansas City Star. "As national pundits scurry, Kansans think. And as a national focus turns to the latest sexy voyeuristic tidbit, masquerading as news, Kansans decide. Then Kansans act with deep conviction."

In the interview, Kline decried "this almost silencing of dissent and debate . . . out of this false claim that we might be embarrassed by the discussion."

Yet, something is the matter with Kline's argument, contended Frank, who said it is not conviction itself that he disputes, but certain convictions.

Kline's use of "dissent," Frank wrote in an e-mail commenting for this report, "confirms my book's central thesis, that the conservative movement understands itself as a heroic uprising of the downtrodden against the powers that be.

"The day I take that narcissistic image seriously is the day that Mr. Kline goes to the masters of Kansas and tells them he is going to fight the agribusiness conglomerates, zealously defend the right of workers to organize in the state's meatpacking plants, and dedicate his career to ensuring proper education and health care even for the very poorest."

In the spotlight, Kline is taking the bitter with the sweet, and feeling good about it.

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