With elections on the way, this year promises to be jam-packed for Kansas politics fans. The governor’s office will roll out major policy proposals, new districts will be drawn, and an all-out war brews within the state’s Republican Party.
The administration is putting the final touches on a proposal to transform Medicaid from the current fee-for-service system to a case-management approach that accepts competing bids from private service providers. Does the Brownback administration have the credibility to pull off this reform? First, it will have to erase the sour aftertaste from recently departed Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Rob Siedlecki . Also, watch for policy proposals reflecting Brownback’s signature issue: encouraging marriage.
Brownback’s goals for a new school base funding formula are no less ambitious. The administration has suggested a simpler new formula to eliminate the “weighting” of per-pupil funding, which currently adjusts for factors such a district’s percentage of low-income students, non-English speakers, high transportation costs for rural districts, and so forth. A proposal to eliminate the cap on locally raised school revenue will make Johnson Countians happy. Yet local school districts in the rest of the state may look upon the proposed changes as a Trojan horse for funding cuts, and they have allies in the Legislature.
On the elections front, the Legislature will draw new districts for themselves, the state school board and Kansas’ four U.S. House seats. Will the Legislature follow precedent by having the House “sign off” on the map the state senators draw for themselves, while House members return the favor? Probably so, but don’t discount the possibility of a knock-down, drag-out battle between Republican factions over the Senate map.
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Conservative Republicans are gunning for several prominent moderates in the Senate, and their crosshairs rest on Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton. Decimated in the past few elections, Democrats may not have enough votes left to capitalize on these GOP splits.
The easiest way to draw four new U.S. House districts would be for each incumbent House member’s office to quietly suggest a hoped-for new district to the Legislature, which will then stitch the four proposed districts together into something coherent. Voters have to come out of the growing Kansas City-area District 3 and go into the struggling, rural “Big First.” District 2 sits in between them and will inevitably be affected, but there will be a big push to keep Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth together in the 2nd District. This may require some serious gerrymandering.
Speaking of factions, is a new GOP cleavage developing between Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach? While both are self-described conservatives, the governor is notably silent on Kobach’s signature issue: fervent opposition to illegal immigration. The 2012 elections will be the first test of Kobach’s new voter ID law. Will Kansas see a marked drop in voter turnout as a result? Fearing this, voting-rights organizations may challenge the law in court.
To sum up, 2012 promises to be a year of major, sweeping policy proposals. The outcome of these debates, and the elections, will be determined by shifts along the fault lines that cleave the state’s Republicans. Kansas’ GOP is clearly a supermajority these days, but hardly a united one.