The tea party swept the Republican primaries in Kansas, defeating most moderate GOP incumbents from the state Senate and ensuring a new legislative majority for Gov. Sam Brownback’s conservative agenda.
One of the few moderate GOP senators to survive was Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick. She told The Wichita Eagle she may be the only surviving moderate in the Senate. “Wow,” she said. “What kind of life is that going to be?”
Brownback, who has seen so much of his pro-growth and socially conservative agenda stymied, is now in a position to implement it and show just how conservative governance works in practice.
State Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, was a pretty typical victim. She was challenged by Wichita City Council member Michael O’Donnell, who told Wichita Eagle reporter Dion Lefler that the incumbent “doesn’t want to do anything to stop Obamacare.” Schodorf outraised O’Donnell, $115,000 to $72,000, but the Kansas Chamber of Commerce political action committee spent $36,000 to help the challenger, more than eight times as much as a teachers union spent to help Schodorf. So O’Donnell won, and won easy – 2,745 votes to 1,897 votes, in a district that’s home to about 70,000 people.
I bring all of that up just to demonstrate how far money can go in a small state election. If the Kansas chamber PAC gives a presidential campaign $36,000, it’s a drop in a waterfall. But in a state Senate race? O’Donnell got one vote for every $13 the chamber PAC spent. Low turnout and high partisan intensity against the moderates let smart, well-funded candidates take over the upper House of a state legislature.
Gov. Sam Brownback will now have a radicalized Republican caucus controlling the Legislature and signing off on every extremist scheme the governor can cook up. The state will suffer. But the larger trend is that moderate Republicans, in Kansas and elsewhere, keep receiving an unmistakable signal: Either move sharply to the right, or your career in public service will be over.
Gov. Sam Brownback now has a conservative majority and a voter mandate to finish the job of simplifying the Kansas tax code and maybe phasing out the income tax. Conservatives for the first time in decades next year will have a governing majority with at least 26 of the 40 Senate seats. “This is all about making Kansas a more competitive place to do business,” Brownback said. Voters agreed.
GOP voters want more principled representatives who are willing to fight for a faster and more far-reaching reform of a broken status quo – on everything from education to entitlements to the tax code. The old line is that there’s no education in the second kick of a mule, but ousted Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and his fellow moderate Republicans might disagree.
With the governor’s blessing, two groups backed by the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers – Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce – spent hundreds of thousands of dollars backing conservative challengers to the upper chamber’s moderates. (Koch Industries has backed Sam Brownback’s career for more than a decade.)
The conservatives won. And moderates in other states might start worrying for their own futures.
“It’s not just Kansas,” said Curtis Ellis of the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which targets incumbents of both parties. “Clearly, Republican voters understand that state legislatures are where the action is.”