Kansas Republicans spoke loudly last week in favor of Gov. Sam Brownback’s vision of a Legislature as conservative as he is. Casualties of the GOP primary included some smart, dedicated and independent-minded members of the Kansas Senate.
It’s too soon to know whether the state’s public schools, poor, disabled and property-tax payers also lost on Tuesday.
There’s always a chance that Kansas Democrats could make some big gains in the November election in the wake of the primary’s near-purge of moderate Republicans from the Senate, and preserve that chamber’s ability to check and balance the House. The primary certainly left some Republicans feeling displaced.
“Where is the Kansas of Eisenhower, Dole and Kassebaum?” asked former state Senate President Dick Bond, in the Kansas City Star.
But when Brownback stands before the 2013 Legislature in January to deliver his third State of the State address, he may feel like he’s looking in an ideological mirror.
It won’t be enough just to be far right in thinking anymore, though. Brownback and his allies now must show they can govern and that their philosophy works in practice.
That will mean demonstrating that the state can afford the huge tax-cut bill, passed despite the better judgment of the Senate’s moderate Republican leaders, and that legislative researchers were all wet in forecasting huge budget shortfalls.
It also will mean reconciling the new fiscal reality and Brownback’s oft-stated belief that educating children is to state government as national defense is to the federal government. It will mean showing how KanCare, the transformation of Medicaid in Kansas into a managed-care system, can save $1 billion in five years without cutting eligibility, provider fees or coverage.
Individual issues on conservatives’ various wish lists still will deserve full public debate, ranging from the statutory and constitutional changes Brownback wants to allow him to handpick the judges on the Kansas Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, to proposals to allow guns on state university campuses, implement an Arizona-style immigration crackdown, roll back the public smoking ban, and pass an anti-abortion bill that could jeopardize the University of Kansas Medical Center’s accreditation.
And what about all the money dumped into the election? Ousted Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, estimated that the total spending of conservative groups against the moderate senators was more than $3 million. Even if you consider only the documented $675,000 that was pumped into the races by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce political action committee, that’s a lot of cash for an election in which just 392,142 of the state’s 1.7 million registered voters chose to participate. And many of those who voted either were Democrats or in districts with uncontested GOP Senate primaries.
The campaign donors will expect something from those they delivered to victory. But the governor and his newly friendly Legislature must take pains to demonstrate that they serve all Kansans, not just those able to spend thousands of dollars on political campaigns.