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Chapman Rackaway: Political pendulum ready to swing back in Kansas?

Rackaway
Rackaway

Politics is like a pendulum. It can swing as far to one side as possible, but eventually it makes its way back to center.

Over the past three election cycles, Kansas politics has swung increasingly to the right. Just when we thought it could go no further after 2012, conservative Republican legislative victories in 2014, coupled with Gov. Sam Brownback’s re-election, showed that the pendulum could actually go further right.

So perhaps there is still room for conservatives to add more victories in the 2016 cycle. But more than likely, the pendulum should start moving back to the center.

To do that, center-right Republicans have to figure out their mission and develop their own alternative to the state party machinery.

A number of individual candidates have decided to run in the GOP primaries for 2016 versus conservative Republicans who have won office during the rightward swing Kansas has experienced since 2010. More center-right candidates are likely thinking that their time to run is now.

But the real test of moderate Republican strength will come in their ability to coalesce around a single organized leadership structure and message.

One significant advantage Brownback’s allies have had during the past three elections is a revived state GOP apparatus. From voter files to interest group connections, and from campaign plans to staffing, the Kansas Republican Party has been a support network for the legion of candidates that swept the Legislature.

Moderates don’t have a state committee of their own right now to shore up their candidates’ efforts.

Center-right Republicans seem to be stuck in neutral today. No single group has emerged to become the organizational structure around which center-right candidates coalesce. Republicans who oppose the state’s current rightward trajectory also seem to lack a vision of what they want to do beyond getting rid of Brownback and his allies.

To emerge as the voice of moderate Kansas, centrists need to develop a message defining what they are – beyond not being Brownback-style conservatives.

What, essentially, does it mean to be a centrist in the state of Kansas in 2015? We have little idea.

Conservatives, by comparison, can unite behind a single brand and a popular message of tax reduction, giving them a significant advantage.

Without a strong message and stronger support, the pendulum will stay to the right in Kansas for some time to come.

Chapman Rackaway is a professor of political science at Fort Hays State University.

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