For political reporters, watching lawmakers in election years is like can’t-miss TV.
Kansas was no exception this session, stumbling to a close at 3:28 a.m. last Monday. I’m still shaking my head.
I’m talking about the antics of Republicans, who rule the roost in Topeka, and Democrats, too, who just can’t find their way out of the political wilderness.
Let’s begin with the GOP’s decision to abdicate its authority and leave Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to make $200 million in budget cuts and fund sweeps.
“Some people said, ‘Well, you’re making him do some stuff,’” said House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell. “Well, yeah, we are making him do some stuff….”
The “stuff” Brownback is doing is taking lawmakers off the hook. Brownback is already buried deep in the polls, more unpopular than even President Obama in Kansas. He’s not on the ballot in 2016. Lawmakers are.
So GOP legislative leaders decided to let the governor take on the unpopular task of budget-cutting. That the balancing of budgets is also the job of lawmakers apparently wasn’t a strong enough sentiment to carry the day.
Then there are the Democrats.
Ever since Brownback and his Republican allies passed those sweeping tax cuts in 2012, Democrats have hammered him. He’s undermining poor folks, they said. He’s harming schools. He’s harming state hospitals and highways and prisons and law enforcement.
So what happened?
The House defeated a rare chance to roll back a portion of those tax cuts that exempted pass-through income to about 330,000 Kansas businesses.
For Democrats, here’s the rub: Despite all their table-pounding, only half of the House’s 28-member Democratic caucus voted to reimpose those taxes. Half.
The Democrats who voted for the status quo to keep the tax cuts in place had their reasons. Among them: The vote was nothing more than a political ploy designed to get them on record supporting a big election-year tax increase. Then their political opponents would slam them for it this fall.
Still, insiders had noticed that Brownback’s team wasn’t working against this repeal as it did a year ago. In other words, there were signs that just maybe Brownback would have gone along with this plan had legislators signed off on it.
But some Democrats balked. Now Brownback can boast that four years after his controversial tax cuts went into effect, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers still support a big chunk of them.
Democrats, meantime, face a key question: What is it that they stand for? If not this, then what?
You’ve got to stand for something. No wonder they remain stuck in oblivion.
Steve Kraske is a columnist with the Kansas City Star.