Gov. Sam Brownback has probably been thinking of the old adage: “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.”
His putsch against moderates of his own party was supposed to be the removal of one last barrier to his full agenda being rubber-stamped by the Legislature. Instead, he finds himself in the oddly triangulated position of being on the “tax-and-spend liberal” side of a state budget battle with many of the same folks he helped elect to office over the past two cycles.
It now seems the governor is more man in the middle than king of the hill.
The governor’s plan has been to drastically cut state income taxes and replace a portion of that revenue with sales taxes. Had the governor had all the clout expected, the dispute this session over taxes and spending easily would have been resolved.
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The impasse tells us more about the state of Kansas politics than the seemingly reduced clout of the governor.
When the governor purged moderates, most assumed that the newly elected conservatives would be ideologically similar to the governor. However, many of the new cohort are more conservative than the governor. The Senate, more recently swept by the governor’s forces, is closer to his preferences.
Instead of last year’s two factions, of those aligned with former Senate President Steve Morris and those on Team Brownback, three factions have emerged this session: Team Brownback, Team Chamber and Team Undecided.
The Brownback team knows that elections are coming next year and budget cuts are often unpopular – big budget cuts even more so. But Team Chamber, influenced by former House Speaker Mike O’Neal at the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, is convinced that there will be no push-back for large cuts. Team Chamber has openly defied the governor’s more moderate, for lack of a better word, stance.
Team Undecided is the group that is up for grabs, waiting to see which side will start to dominate proceedings so as not to anger the wrong people in advance of the 2014 elections.
None of the three factions is big enough to exact its will on the rest of the legislative agenda. While most of Team Chamber is wracked with paranoia about primary challenges on the right next year, members of Team Brownback and Team Undecided are more concerned about Democrats knocking them off. The newest members of any Legislature are the most vulnerable, so the fear among those with the most to lose is almost palpable.
That fear from both sides may explain why, rather than unity, we seem to have three factions. As a result, the governor may now be wondering if he actually has gotten what he wished for.