That’s right. There are only two more weeks until America decides if it will be led by Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. It has become what is probably the ugliest race for president in the nation’s history. There have been calls for imprisoning or killing a candidate; there have been accusations of infidelity and sexual assault; and the rhetoric has focused on racism and misogyny. Sadly there has been almost no discussion of policy. Our social media lives have been inundated with messages of hate and baseless accusations. For those of us who live and breathe in the world of politics and policy, it is, as Dickens would say, “the worst of times.”
Kansans Have Had Enough
Ready to Finish the Job on November 8
But here in Kansas, our legislative races are a little different. Kansans are ready for change. Already one congressional incumbent has fallen and now another appears to be in serious danger. In the state legislature, conservative Republicans took a beating in the August primary and expectations are that more of them will fall to Democrats this November.
The explanation for why is probably best expressed in this editorial by Wichita State University political science professor H. Edward Flentje:
With the approach of upcoming elections I am reminded of a private conversation five years ago with Gov. Sam Brownback’s chief of staff, who mused: “The real issue is whether conservatives can govern.” At that time I held out hope that the relatively new governor and his legislative allies could govern effectively. I was wrong.
The Brownback coalition dominated by far-right ideologues has left Kansas government in a state of despair. Their fanatical vision of boosting the economy by eliminating the state income tax, cutting taxes on the wealthy and exempting businesses from taxation has not worked. Their delusion has wrecked state finance and caused grim repercussions for most state services.
Brownback and his allies were foolhardy to believe from the start that handing big tax breaks to a few of the highest-income taxpayers would magically trigger an “adrenaline shot” to the $150 billion Kansas economy. That has not happened. The economy has fallen behind in job and income growth. Indeed, recent numbers suggest we may be going backward.
The radical tax policy has left formerly well-managed state finances in shambles.
This far-right faction claims to be “conservative” but has repeatedly adopted unbalanced budgets, spending more than is taken in. A budget balance of $700 million only a few years ago has been depleted, leaving not a penny in the state’s pocket. Last spring lawmakers had the audacity to adopt a budget $100 million out of balance and then adjourn. Our state now behaves like a deadbeat by not paying bills on time.
Tax policy now benefits the wealthy to the detriment of other taxpayers. Business owners pay no income tax while their employees do. Lawyers pay no income tax but their secretaries do. Two sales tax increases have made the state’s sale tax on food the highest in the nation, a heavy burden on lower-income Kansans. Over this period property taxes have risen by $550 million statewide, not counting the bills taxpayers will see later this year.
A conservative posture in the use of debt has been abandoned, as current obligations are pushed onto future generations. State taxpayers have been saddled with new, long-term liabilities, and the state’s debt load has ballooned to an all-time high of $4.5 billion, a jump of 50 percent in two years. Statutory caps on borrowing were suspended to issue $400 million in highway debt, which was immediately swept from the highway fund to pay for tax cuts. Financial mismanagement has resulted in repeated downgrades of the state’s credit rating.
As a consequence of this financial mess public schools have been shortchanged, highway maintenance has been deferred, and university budgets have been cut, forcing hefty increases in student tuition, fees and debt. Support for our state’s most vulnerable citizens has suffered from inattention and poor management:
- The state is failing to ensure the safety of children in foster care according to auditors.
- A state hospital decertified last year for failure to protect patient safety continues to cost the state $1 million each month in lost federal funds.
- Private contractors hired by the state have backlogged thousands of applications from eligible clients for health care services over the past year.
- State cuts in Medicaid have diminished services by health care providers throughout the state and resulted in the loss of tens of millions in federal funds.
The list goes on and on.
Brownback and his legislative backers have failed at governing. In the upcoming elections our state desperately needs new leaders who can break out of the ideological fog, address state issues with an open mind and govern with realism and common sense.
Kansans appear to be united in one desire: the quest to return this great state to common sense governance and away from the Brownback economic disaster it has become.
Brownback Still Working on a Power Grab
Don’t Give Him the Supreme Court
But there is still one election on the November ballot that is turning out to be the “Trump v. Clinton” of Kansas. This is the retention election of Kansas Supreme Court Justices.
Five of the seven Kansas Supreme Court justices are up for retention elections. This is when the voters are asked whether or not a justice should stay on the Court or be replaced. Normally, this vote gets no attention but not so this year.
Governor Brownback has long tried to get control of the Court. He is, simply put, sick and tired of a Court that rules against the state in school finance cases. The Governor and his allies have systematically stripped the state of revenue and they don’t want to have to actually fund a state service as big as the education system. They want a Court answerable to Brownback and ALEC.
They’ve tried over 55 bills designed to limit the Court’s authority. They’ve tried to pass constitutional amendments to change justice selection from merit selection to unilateral gubernatorial appointment. These efforts have failed.
So now they have launched a big money campaign to convince voters that four of the five justices need to be removed. They call their campaign “All but Stegall.” Why does Stegall get to stay? He was Sam Brownback’s counsel and his appointment to the Court.
What does Brownback want? The removal of any justice that was not appointed by Brownback.
If this campaign is successful, Brownback will be recruiting his friends and ideological allies to toss their hats in the ring for a Supreme Court appointment.
For the first time since the creation of merit selection in 1948, there will be a litmus test of Supreme Court justices. This is an unprecedented power grab by Sam Brownback and the very same ideological zealots that the voters are tossing from the legislature.
The mail program is being fronted by Kansans for Life who want you to believe that this is about abortion. It is not. It is about power. It is about stacking the Court with like-minded ideological zealots. It is about putting an end to a fair and impartial court in Kansas.
If they are successful in this campaign, future judicial retention elections will become high dollar political campaigns and our courts will no longer be there to protect the public from political overreach. Instead justices will be beholden to those who funded their campaigns.
We’ve seen this in the legislature. A majority of the members of our legislature have been devoted solely to the ALEC/Koch campaign funders and not to their constituents. This year those constituents have awoken to the fact that legislators are there to represent them, not their corporate funders.
We can’t let those corporate funders buy our courts for Sam Brownback.
Vote to retain all Supreme Court justices.