With great power comes great responsibility.
—Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man)
As the first "Spider-Man" movie ends, Peter Parker embraces his powers, but only with the understanding that he must use them with restraint and in the public good.
In the wake of the 2010 elections, that might well be the theme for Kansas Republicans, and especially for Gov.-elect Sam Brownback and Sen.-elect Jerry Moran.
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The scope of the Republicans' remarkable victory is already familiar, but these two central players, veteran politicians to be sure, find themselves on unfamiliar terrain. Brownback swept an entire executive branch into office with him, along with 16 more GOP House members.
The broad and deep GOP set of victories means that conservatives have the opportunity to put forward an agenda of social, fiscal and tax issues that have been built up over the past two decades. Unquestionably, many of those items quickly will find their way into law. And they should, in that elections have consequences.
At the same time, Kansas is scarcely in crisis. Its schools generally perform well; our graduation rates and test scores are reasonably good. On almost all measures, the Kansas business climate ranks high. In general, things may need some tinkering, but there's very little that's broken in Kansas. Brownback should understand his power, and the need to act responsibly as he works on behalf of all Kansans to better their health, education and quality of life.
Moran, as one of 100 senators, will have far less direct impact on the lives of Kansans, but he has won far more power than he had as a member of the U.S. House. Even in the majority, representatives have little individual power. As an occasional gadfly, Moran was neither especially influential within the GOP caucus nor in the entire House. Running from a safe district, he could mind his constituents' largely agricultural/rural/small-town interests and lead a pleasant, if sometimes hectic, life commuting between D.C. and Hays.
All this changes for a U.S. senator. Individual senators, for better or ill, have tremendous powers to move issues onto the agenda and especially to stop legislation in its tracks. Senators serve on more, and more important, committees. They have six years to get things done.
Being in the minority does disadvantage a senator, but not nearly as much as a House member. And in all likelihood, Moran will become part of the majority in two years, when a large class of Democrats faces the voters.
So what does it mean to exercise "great responsibility" in the Senate of 2011? As someone who's recently held a conference and edited a book that details the growing polarization of the chamber, I think it means that one's every action is not dictated by party loyalty and obstructionism.
Moran has patiently waited for his turn to serve as a Kansas senator, and he follows in a great tradition of Senate service, from Arthur Capper to Bob Dole. When Dole discovered his talent for leadership, and exercised it in his last 15 years as a senator, he transcended from merely serving to using his power with great responsibility. Let's hope that, from the beginning, Moran strives to make his mark in ways that serve the state, the nation and the institution of the Senate.