Does Sam Brownback ever experience 3 a.m. regrets?
As a restless sleeper myself, I wonder about this. In those dark hours when you can’t do much except worry, does the governor of Kansas contemplate the awful mess confronting his state and think, “What have I done?”
Or is that serene demeanor he projects the real thing? Brownback is a self-professed man of faith. Perhaps that extends to a certainty that his experiment in supply-side economics will eventually bless Kansas with jobs and enough revenue to finally balance the budget, even though three years into the venture there is no end in sight to deficits and deteriorating services.
Personally, I think the serenity is a pose. If Brownback really believed things were fine in Kansas, he wouldn’t have devoted so much of his State of the State speech to casting blame for real and imagined problems.
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This week, KCUR radio featured an interview with Kirk Thompson, director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Thompson disclosed that 20 percent of the felony cases referred to the statewide police agency don’t get investigated because there are too few agents to do the work.
That seems like a clear threat to the public safety of Kansans, as do reported acute shortages of prison guards and Highway Patrol troopers.
Brownback was silent about those issues, choosing in his speech to focus on a much more remote specter: radical Islamic terrorists.
President Barack Obama has placed “the feelings” of radical Islamic terrorists over the safety of Americans, the governor declared. Hence Brownback’s executive order barring state agencies from helping to resettle refugees “from countries where potential terrorists can arise.” Which would seem to be just about anywhere.
Brownback also slammed Obama for wanting to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which could mean a transfer of some detainees to Fort Leavenworth. And he blamed Obamacare for the financial problems besetting Kansas rural hospitals.
Even if, like me, you found most of Brownback’s ideas appalling, you could give him credit in his first term for having plans and the political muscle to push them through.
But a year into his second term, his administration has an aimless feel.
Brownback rarely addresses the structural imbalance in state finances that every few months requires more cost-cutting. He seems to have no long-term proposal for fixing the budget or lifting the state out of its economic malaise.
When cornered, Brownback simply says that everything is fine. Unemployment is low and Kansas sports teams are winning. What’s not to like?
“The State of our State is strong,” the governor said in his annual address.
But it isn’t.
The federal government has cut off Medicare payments for new patients at Osawatomie State Hospital after its inspectors found shocking security violations at the facility for mentally ill people who pose a danger to themselves and others.
A legislative committee has ordered an audit of the state’s foster care system.
Schools are bracing for another year of holding positions open and possibly ending classes early for cash flow purposes.
There is no money to solve problems, much less invest in Kansas’ future.
Plenty of conservative lawmakers and sycophants. such as the folks at the Kansas Policy Institute, are happy to bolster the governor’s morale. To tell him that shrinking government is good and the 6.5 percent sales tax rate Brownback was forced to sign into effect last year represents a desirable shift to a tax structure based on consumption.
But deception is easier in the daytime. Things usually look worse in the dark.
Or maybe Brownback really is managing to sleep straight through the disaster he is making of his state.