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Chapman Rackaway: Resolve to have better political year in Kansas


In Kansas, the new year of renewal is punctuated by a new legislative session, which gaveled open last week. What New Year’s resolutions have Kansas political figures chosen? I have some ideas.

▪  The Legislature: Stop procrastinating. The House should have learned from last year’s exercise in hubris that it must address issues early. Waiting until late in the session to produce a budget and panicking into overtime gave the Legislature a black eye from which it has not recovered. In an election year, legislators simply cannot afford more bad publicity. The Legislature should vow not to waste daylight in 2016.

▪  The Consensus Revenue Estimating Group: Adopt a new forecasting model. The “glide path to zero” tax plan has been brutal on the Kansas budget, but the optics of revenues are worthy of attention as well. The group has overestimated state revenues for almost every month of the past two years. News reports of below-expected revenues have dogged the Brownback administration and called into doubt the group’s ability to forecast. It’s hard enough to budget under declining revenues, but when income fails to make expectation, it’s even harder.

▪  The Kansas Democratic Party: decisiveness. Democrats in Kansas have a decision to make. Go all-in on trying to pick off state legislators in 2016 or continue working on their organization in preparation for an all-out assault on the governor’s mansion for 2018. But the time to decide is now. After snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in 2014, Democrats in the state have had some time to lick wounds and reflect on their missed opportunities.

▪  Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer: Get to know me. Lieutenant governors are often as visible as Wonder Woman’s plane, and Colyer has been an exception only when his contributions to the Brownback re-election effort came under scrutiny. But Colyer has recently raised his profile, largely testing the waters for a 2018 gubernatorial run. Colyer’s tenure has been undistinguished, but in a multi-way Republican primary his connections to the state GOP machinery could be a significant advantage. If Colyer is serious about a run in 2018, he needs to start sharing his story with Kansans.

▪  Moderate Republicans: aggression. Since being decimated in 2012, moderate Republicans have kept a low profile, which some interpreted as their demise. However, five moderate Republicans have already filed against incumbents for the August primaries, suggesting that the center-right might be in play for a return to the Legislature in 2016. To do so, though, they will need a strong candidate base, and even stronger campaign infrastructure.

Kansas is facing great challenges, and looking back on the travails of the past five years gives political figures a good opportunity to figure out how to make 2016 a better year. For all our sakes, best of luck to them all.

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