The radical right-wing governance of Sam Brownback is the target of newspaper editorials and op-ed page commentary across Kansas these days. The Republican governor is often painted as a gambler, not unlike a character out of 19th-century Dodge. Use your imagination a bit and you see him, smugly playing fast and loose at the town saloon.
By BOB SIGMAN
Special to The Star
Fast forward to the 21st century. The ante has changed. Brownback has plunked down his chips on a scheme to make Kansas a small-government model. Or, perhaps, unwittingly, a wasteland.
His incessant drive to abolish or lower taxes is stacked against financing for the education of Kansas’ young people, the welfare of its working poor, its elderly, its disabled, its fragile.
Is there an alternative to this madness?
It is highly unlikely that Brownback could be defeated in a GOP primary next year. The ultra-conservatives simply outwork their moderate counterparts in late summer elections.
Could a Democrat beat Brownback in the general election?
At this point, that is the best possibility of ousting him.
The Democratic Party, based on registration, can’t win a gubernatorial election in beet-red Republican Kansas.
In times past, a successful Democratic candidate for governor has won by attracting a good many Republican and unaffiliated votes. Plus a hefty campaign war chest.
Beginning in the last half of the 20th century, Democrats have used this formula well.
George Docking was a pioneer, serving from 1957 to 1961. In the ensuing years, Democrats have held Kansas’ highest elective office more years than Republicans.
When I thought of prospective Democrats for 2014, Jill Docking of Wichita came immediately to mind. The Docking name is legend in Kansas politics. George Docking’s son, Bob, served four two-year terms as governor beginning in 1967. With his “austere but adequate’’ budgets, Docking won the hearts of fiscally conservative Kansans. It was a memorable episode in Kansas politics.
Tom Docking, Jill’s husband and Bob Docking’s son, served a term as lieutenant governor in the late 1980s. He lost a gubernatorial primary in 1987.
Jill Docking herself has been on the political/governmental scene in Kansas. She lost a U.S. Senate race to Brownback in 1996. That is quite awhile back. Yet there are plenty of Kansans around who hold the Docking name in high regard.
More recently, Docking was a member of the Kansas Board of Regents, where she served as chair. She also has been active in civic affairs.
In a phone conversation I had with her a few days ago, she expressed concern about the course of the state under Brownback. Years of careful work to maintain Kansas’ viability as a well-governed, relatively progressive state is being uprooted, she said.
“I am very worried about (Kansas) five to 10 years from now,’’ she said.
Docking was especially critical of Brownback’s funding level for higher education. While she was a regent, Docking said, the board carefully managed fiscal issues, holding the negative impact of the Great Recession to a minimum.
Under Brownback, the universities are being subjected to a permanent recession, she said.
“We are losing talent, (both) students and faculty,’’ she noted.
As she warmed to the issues, Docking took on the air of a candidate.
But when I asked her if a candidacy were possible, she said “at this point I’m not” running.
But Docking, who opened a blog with a political bent earlier this year, said her current position does not dampen her passion about trying to rescue a Kansas she sees in perilous decline.
If she were to change her mind, Docking, whose career is in the finance field, would bring a world of private sector experience to the job. That is in contrast to Brownback, who has spent almost all of his career on the public check.
Freelance columnist Bob Sigman, a former member of The Star editorial board, writes in this space once a month.