Kansas has been getting a lot of attention for its plunging revenues amid a sea of states with surpluses, but who knew that “the future of the free world is at stake” in its gubernatorial election?
The source of that silly hyperbole was Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and failed Republican presidential candidate, who spoke at a Monday campaign event for Gov. Sam Brownback at the east-side Warren Theatres in Wichita and headlined a rally at an Olathe car dealership.
Also likening the race to the central conflict in the “Lord of the Rings” films, Santorum said in Wichita: “The other side is like the Eye of Mordor. That eye that’s constantly searching. That eye does not have an eyelid. It doesn’t sleep, it doesn’t stop. It’s constantly searching to try to oppress and defeat.”
There’s a brisk market for overheated nonsense in the GOP, especially as it can be applied to President Obama. It often frames some truth, including the welcome concern about federal deficits and overreach that helped animate the tea party movement.
But Santorum misunderstands Kansas, as well as why Brownback finds himself on the defensive in his bid for a second term in a state that is 44 percent Republicans and 24.4 percent Democrats.
“This shouldn’t be a race,” as Santorum said in Olathe. But it is, with three of four public polls so far showing Brownback behind his Democratic challenger, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence.
The reason is simple: It’s because Brownback and the conservative Legislature decided in 2012 to saw off one leg of Kansas’ balanced 80-year-old three-legged stool of taxation, eliminating income taxes for 191,000 businesses and promising much more, and because as a result the state’s tax collections tumbled $726 million in a year (missing estimates by $338 million), its reserves are dwindling, and Moody’s Investors Service recently downgraded its credit rating.
The Monday event in Wichita exemplified a problem for Brownback beyond his fiscal record – his lousy relationship with public school teachers and questionable claims about his administration’s support for K-12 education. Wherever it came from, and however justified legally, the decision to ask the red-shirted teachers to move their demonstration off the theater’s property looked extreme, reflecting the growing split between those leading Kansas and those teaching Kansas’ kids.
Contrary to Santorum’s pep talk, the future of the free world is not at stake in Kansas’ gubernatorial election. What is at stake is the future ability of Kansas to fund K-12 schools and higher education and to care properly for its poor, mentally ill, foster children, frail elderly and other vulnerable citizens.
That’s why Kansas voters should pay attention to the candidates and issues, and ask Brownback and his legislative allies to account for their actions.