TOPEKA — Paul Davis hopes he can sway moderate Republican voters to support a Democrat for governor. He’s going to have some help.
More than 100 former and current Republican officials announced their support for the candidate at an event in Topeka on Tuesday, citing frustration with Gov. Sam Brownback’s policies.
The list includes three former Senate presidents, such as Steve Morris, who was ousted from office in the 2012 Republican primaries when conservatives swept out moderate incumbents to take control of the Senate.
The newly formed Republicans for Kansas Values would like to return the favor and oust Brownback, announcing its endorsement of Davis, the House minority leader, at the Ramada Topeka Downtown Hotel and Convention.
“The guy that organized this group is Sam Brownback. He’s the recruiter. He’s the reason we’re here,” said Dick Bond, a former Senate president who also was on the Board of Regents.
“And every day he’s going to be adding to our number,” Bond said. “As he said just very recently, he’s going to ‘double down’ on the tax cuts. He brings in an extremist like Rick Santorum to Kansas, who is as far right as you can get. And Kansas has not had that kind of tradition. We value higher education. We value K-12. And we’re abandoning that in the name of some kind of extreme policy.”
In response, a Brownback campaign spokesman said the governor “is focused on leading Kansas by growing the economy, investing in education for future generations, and preserving the bedrock values of hard work, faith and family.”
“Kansas kids have 676 more certified teachers in the classroom, and recently provided $84 million in property tax relief for hard-working families,” spokesman John Milburn added.
Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, dismissed the group’s support of Davis as “sour grapes,” noting that there are few current officials and that some lost races in recent elections.
“A lot of them represented an older generation of political thought that the voters rejected in 2010 and ’12,” Barker said in a phone call. “When’s the last time any of them walked a precinct and talked to voters and said, ‘What do you care about?’
“You don’t see even the people who are described as moderates running today; you don’t see them endorsing Davis, because that would be political suicide,” Barker added.
Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger is the only current state official in the group, and she is not seeking re-election. There also are a handful of local officials from around the state, including Goddard school board members Kevin McWhorter and Sara McDonald.
Praeger said she supports Davis because she is “tired of seeing special interests running the state agenda. I think it’s time to say wait a minute, the people of Kansas deserve to be listened to and we need policies that focus on what’s best for Kansans.”
Chris Pumpelly, spokesman for the Davis campaign, said the Davis event showed a marked contrast between the two campaigns, coming a day after Brownback made two appearances with former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, who is popular with conservatives but is a controversial figure with moderates and Democrats.
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said on Twitter: “I await the Brownback list of Democrat endorsements of his re-election.”
But Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, noted the age of Davis’ GOP supporters, saying on Twitter “and they really raided the nursing home for some of them.”
Joan Wagnon, chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party, criticized Claeys for that.
“I suppose I could chalk this comment up to a cheeky, partisan comment by a young, immature man, but the fact that he is also a legislator and a policymaker is troubling,” Wagnon said.
“Never in Kansas history have so many Republican leaders declared a state of emergency and organized to oppose a sitting Republican governor,” she said.
Several people cited concerns over the state’s finances as the reason for supporting Davis.
“We’ve got members saying, ‘I’m joining because Sam Brownback’s a liberal,’ ” said Wint Winter Jr., a former senator from Lawrence. “They say, ‘He’s spending more than he’s taking in.’ It’s one thing to cut taxes, but if you do it, you have to cut spending, and he hasn’t.”
Ed Rolfs, a former representative who was revenue secretary under Gov. Mike Hayden, said it was ridiculous that the Brownback administration blamed President Obama when the state missed revenue projections by $338 million.
“I mean, you can’t basically destroy the income tax base and then blame some spurious thing from the federal government. When you cut taxes, you lose revenue. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it works,” Rolfs said.
The Kansas Department of Revenue has blamed federal changes to the capital gains tax for causing the shortfalls. The nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department has said the state underestimated the full impact of Brownback’s tax cuts.