Kansas politics run in cycles.
The question now is, as the ultraconservatives sit at the levers of power, how long will they remain there?
For generations, moderate Republicans held most of the seats in the congressional delegation, statewide offices and the Legislature. The exception was the governor’s office; Kansans preferred minority party chief executives for many years of the last half century.
The middle-of-the-road approach to government seemed invincible. It wasn’t.
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During the last 20 years or so, much of that control has gradually shifted to the right wing of the GOP.
Conservative Republicans won a majority in the Kansas House in the late 1990s. Sam Brownback, a conservative, was elected governor in 2010. Key GOP moderates in the state Senate were defeated in 2012, giving conservatives the edge there.
Add in their successes this year and the juggernaut is in place.
But the pendulum swings, not only in Kansas but around the country.
For four decades, Democrats dominated the U.S. House and, at times, the Senate and the White House. Their grip on the House was broken in the mid-1990s by the GOP’s successful “Contract with America” campaign. Missouri was largely Democratic through decades of its history until John Danforth, later a U.S. senator, ousted a Democratic attorney general in 1968.
That breakthrough was the beginning of a surge that has swept huge majorities into both houses of the Missouri General Assembly.
In Kansas, is the conservatives’ position on a solid foundation?
Perhaps not if you look at the governor’s race this year. Brownback was elected in 2010 with 63 percent of the vote. He won re-election this year — backed by a heavily financed campaign in a beet-red state —by a scant 4 points over state Rep. Paul Davis of Lawrence, the Kansas House minority leader and newcomer to statewide campaigns.
The conservatives’ domination could be short-lived if they fail to overcome a budget shortfall resulting from recent deep tax reductions imposed by Brownback and the Legislature.
But for now, Republicans are in the catbird seat from the governor down; the GOP captured all statewide offices by comfortable margins.
And the GOP won more seats in the Kansas House.
As of late last week, election returns showed the Democrats will occupy only 28 seats in the 125-member lower chamber. That is down from 33 at the opening of the 2014 Legislature. The GOP holds a 32-8 edge in the Senate.
How are the Democrats likely to cope with the change?
In the past, Democrats and moderate Republicans sometimes formed a coalition to override the conservatives on critical issues.
An example: The Senate has adopted a proposed constitutional amendment to abolish the nonpartisan court plan for the Kansas Supreme Court. It stalled in the House this year because it appeared the coalition had enough votes to block it.
With fewer House Democrats, the success of a future coalition is unclear.
Yet the minority party came within an eyelash of winning the governor’s race, a major achievement, considering the GOP sweep.
Joan Wagnon, chairwoman of the Democratic state committee, said in an interview that the minority party has already begun to build on that success.
One objective is to target legislative districts considered to be winnable and find candidates to run in them.
“I’m not giving up,” she said.
Freelancer Bob Sigman, a former member of The Star’s editorial board, writes monthly.