Bob Sigman: Brownback’s support erodes, but a Democrat for governor is still a long shot

06/17/2014 1:39 PM

06/17/2014 1:39 PM

Will a Democrat, namely state Rep. Paul Davis of Lawrence, defeat Gov. Sam Brownback in the November election? It looks like a long shot at the moment.

Kansas is one of the reddest of the red states. All statewide offices are currently held by Republicans. Republicans hold large majorities in both houses of the Legislature; the congressional delegation is all Republican.

Yet recent opinion polls show Davis, the minority leader in the Kansas House, running with surprising strength against the one-term Republican incumbent.

How could this be? Brownback, an ultraconservative elected four years ago with hardly a whimper from the Democrats, has cut taxes and worked at slowing state spending. He claims that his economic policies have created more jobs and will eventually resuscitate a dwindling employment base.

With a friendly tea party-style Legislature at his side, the former U.S. senator has signed numerous bills on hot-button issues such as abortion and gun control. Together Brownback and conservative legislators struck back at “activist judges.” They handed appointment authority of Kansas Court of Appeals judges to the governor, replacing a plan that involved a citizens’ commission.

These Brownback actions please his conservative constituency. But they do not sit well with a lot of more moderately minded Kansans, including many members of Brownback’s party.

Davis and the moderate Republicans contend that Brownback’s tax cuts have put the state’s fiscal health at risk.

A recent analysis bears that out. A Topeka Capital-Journal news story quoted Duane Goossen, former state budget director, as saying that revenue shortfalls of more than $300 million in April and May make it doubtful that the state can finance the budget recently approved by the Legislature for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1.

Further evidence of the financial plight came to light when Moody’s Investors Services downgraded Kansas’ fiscal status in the spring. Moody’s pointed to tax cuts and other problems.

Brownback’s critics also take issue with his failure to support proper funding for K-12 education. Funding to get our schools out of trouble is one of the rallying points for Republicans who are abandoning Brownback.

Six leading women in Kansas politics have formed a bipartisan effort to provide a source of information for voters. Their website, www.rerouteroadmap.org, outlines the areas where they think Brownback’s policies are failing.

The leaders of this coalition have long been active in Kansas politics. The Republicans are Rochelle Chronister, former chair of the Kansas Republican Party; Sandy Praeger, state insurance commissioner, and Sheila Frahm, former lieutenant governor. The Democrats are Jill Docking, the running mate of Paul Davis; state Sen. Laura Kelly, and Joan Wagnon, chair of the Kansas Democratic Party.

A very hard-fought campaign is expected. What effect will Jill Docking’s presence have? Based on the Docking family’s past political successes, she should be a positive factor.

History shows that Kansans are amenable to electing a Democratic governor. However Democrats cannot do it alone. Voter registration proves the point. On June 1, the secretary of state’s office showed there were 421,536 Democrats, far fewer than the 762,676 Republicans and even under the unaffiliated count, which was 531,670.

It behooves every voter to watch the campaign closely and make an informed decision. Together, the Republicans, the Democrats and the unaffiliated have the power to determine the best route to the future.

Bob Sigman, a former member of The Star Editorial Board, writes monthly.

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