TOPEKA, Kan. | After 16 years in Washington, Republican Sam Brownback is coming home to be governor of Kansas.
Brownback on Tuesday defeated Democratic state Sen. Tom Holland to reclaim the office held by Democrats for the past eight years.
Brownback replaces Gov. Mark Parkinson who assumed the job in 2009 when then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius resigned to become secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services.
Holland and Brownback focused on the economy during campaigns, offering differing views on how to make Kansas government more efficient and reduce the state's unemployment rate, currently at 6.6 percent.
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That rate is down from 7 percent in September 2009, but job creation has been slow to develop. Uncertainty remains, including the future of Wichita aviation manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft. The general aviation firm is restructuring its operations in an effort to be more efficient and maintain as many of its 6,000 jobs in Kansas as possible.
Joshua Spell, a 29-year-old postal worker in Wichita favored the Democrats on his ballot, but voted for Brownback. He said he didn't know much about the Democratic candidate in the governor's race. He said that as a senator, Brownback seemed “to put Kansas first” whether it was a Republican or Democratic issue.
“I think he will do a wonderful job as governor,” said Spell, adding he voted against his union recommendation in that race.
Brownback, a fiscal and social conservative, campaigned on creating a better business climate, freezing government spending and repealing laws and regulations impeding growth. His platform is likely to receive a warm reception from a Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature.
Holland's message focused on growing jobs in renewable energy, biosciences and health care. He said Kansas has emerged as a leader in those areas and is poised for more expansion.
Brownback will be faced with a fiscal challenge right from the start. A group of economists and researchers gave a fiscal forecast for the remainder of the current fiscal year and next, showing the shortfall could be as large as $500 million in 2012. That's despite a 1-cent increase in the sales tax rate that took effect in July.