TOPEKA –Democratic challenger Paul Davis sought Tuesday to give his campaign for Kansas governor a bipartisan boost by announcing endorsements from more than 100 moderate Republicans who’ve split with conservative GOP Gov. Sam Brownback over education and tax policy.
The disaffected Republicans include outgoing Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, three former Kansas Senate presidents and three former Kansas House speakers. More than half are former legislators, and the list includes former U.S. Rep. Jan Meyers, who represented the Kansas City-area 3rd District from 1985 to 1997.
They announced that they formed Republicans for Kansas Values because of their concerns about the aggressive personal income tax cuts enacted at Brownback’s urging.
They called the reductions a reckless fiscal experiment and suggested Brownback’s administration has been hostile to public education.
Davis’ campaign staged a news conference at a Topeka hotel with 40 of the disaffected Republicans so that the bipartisan tone would draw a sharp contrast with rallies Brownback’s re-election campaign had on Monday in Olathe and Wichita.
Those events featured former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a favorite of Republicans opposing abortion and gay marriage, and were designed to energize the governor’s core, conservative supporters.
“This election should not be about electing a Republican or electing a Democrat, but it should be about electing a moderate, common sense Kansan as governor,” said Dick Bond, of Overland Park, who served as Senate president from 1997 to 2001.
Brownback is facing a tougher-than-expected re-election race in GOP-leaning Kansas after winning the governor’s office in 2010 with 63 percent of the vote. Davis needs to attract support from moderate Republicans and unaffiliated voters to defeat the incumbent, because Republicans hold a significant advantage in voter registration.
The Kansas Republican Party portrayed the group of Republicans backing Davis as an old political guard that held a “big government” philosophy voters rejected in electing Brownback governor in 2010.
Six state senators on the list lost their seats in 2012 primaries to Brownback-favored candidates, including former Senate President Steve Morris, of Hugoton.
Many of the former lawmakers have been out of office for at least a decade.
“When was the last time any of them took a day and walked a precinct to talk with today’s voters about the voters’ concerns?” state GOP Executive Director Clay Barker said.
State Rep. J.R. Claeys, a conservative Republican, was even more dismissive, tweeting, “and they really raided the nursing home for some of them.”
Brownback campaign spokesman John Milburn responded to the new group’s criticism by noting that since Brownback took office in January 2011, Kansas has gained more than 50,000 private-sector jobs. He also pointed to enactment this year of an education funding plan boosting aid to poor school districts.
“Governor Brownback is focused on leading Kansas by growing the economy, investing in education for future generations, and preserving the bedrock values of hard work, faith and family,” Milburn said.
But the new group backing Davis said Brownback’s “experiment” with tax cuts has impeded the economy, with U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that private-sector job growth has been slower in Kansas than in the U.S. as a whole.
The new group also contends spending on public schools remains inadequate.
“They’re going to be very involved in their communities, talking to their friends and neighbors,” Davis said after the news conference. “Every person here has got a network of people.”
Davis, the Kansas House minority leader, is the only Democrat running for governor.
Brownback faces Jennifer Winn, owner of a Wichita landscaping business, in the Aug. 5 Republican primary. Her platform includes legalizing marijuana, but also greater government transparency and an end to targeted business tax incentives.
Winn campaign manager Mike Shatz said Davis is picking up GOP endorsements “due to the immense unpopularity of Brownback’s policies among Kansas voters.”