In recent years Kansas has become frequent fodder for late-night comedians, and two former governors on Saturday placed the blame squarely on current Gov. Sam Brownback’s shoulders.
At a luncheon sponsored by Women for Kansas, former Democratic Gov. John Carlin (1979-1987) and Republican Gov. Mike Hayden (1987-1991) lambasted Brownback and the Legislature as the root of the state’s problems.
In 2012, Brownback slashed income taxes in the state, promising the move would provide “a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” The state has had problems balancing its budget since then.
“They should be ashamed,” said Hayden, whom Carlin referred to as a conservative. “We either need to get a reversal in course or we need to get new people in public office.”
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A spokeswoman for Brownback on Saturday said he is “not interested in having a debate with (Hayden and Carlin).”
“Governor Brownback has a great deal of respect for all of his predecessors,” Eileen Hawley said.
The former governors – who were invited to speak at the event alongside a cadre of social-justice nuns, a judge and health and budget analysts – had strong criticism for the intense partisanship in Kansas and national politics.
Hayden said partisanship has driven Kansas into a “financial ditch.”
“The state of affairs today is such that we have virtually no reserves,” he said. “We virtually don’t have a penny in our pocket, and that’s a very sad state of affairs.”
Every governor is entitled to experiment, Hayden said. “Sometimes it works out good, but sometimes it’s a failure.”
“The current experiment in Kansas is failing,” he said.
The current experiment in Kansas is failing.
Former Republican Gov. Mike Hayden, on Brownback tax cuts
The former governors pivoted to specific issues in which they felt the current administration and Legislature are falling short – from Medicaid expansion to public school funding and partisanship in the judiciary.
Carlin, the Democrat, decried the influence of partisanship in the judicial branch.
“The judicial branch has never been under attack in the history of this state, nothing compared to the last few years,” Carlin said. “The thought that we would make a change to a more partisan, money-influenced judiciary is scary as hell.”
Both governors criticized the Kansas GOP’s proposal to oust members of the Kansas Supreme Court.
“If we allow the Supreme Court to be thrown out … it will take us down directions we don’t want,” Carlin said.
Carlin said Kansas has a rich history of funding public education, but that that history has been tarnished in recent years.
He said it plays into the state’s favor economically to have state-supported higher-education options in addition to well-funded K-12 schools.
“We’ve got to elect legislators who understand investing in education is a wise investment,” he said. “The thing that drives me crazy about people who want to cut taxes and downplay funding of education, thinking we’re saving money – you’re actually paying more. As a taxpayer, you’re still paying a lot of taxes, but you’re not getting as much for your investment.”
Asked for comment Saturday, Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, had this to say about Hayden and Carlin:
“A former Governor who served under (Gov. Kathleen) Sebelius and sided with the Obama Administration over Kansas Farmers and a Congressional candidate who was crushed by Sam Brownback in 1994’s congressional election, it’s no wonder they are trying to find relevance on the democrat side of the ticket,” Arnold said.
“For two election cycles in a row, Kansans have soundly supported Governor Brownback and rejected the high-tax, high-spending policies of all his predecessors.”
Brownback’s office would not comment on any specific criticism by his predecessors.
“The liberals who are organizing these events are the same people who tried to use long forgotten elected officials to defeat the Governor in 2014,” Hawley, his spokeswoman, said. “This effort is likely to be equally ineffective.”