Just as many historians view World War I and World War II as one long war, with a brief interlude, so historians may conclude that the Kansas legislative wars between conservative Republicans and moderate Republicans are also one big war waged between the elections of 2012 and 2016, with no end in sight.
In 2012, moderate Republicans were swept from the House and Senate by an army funded by the billionaire Koch brothers and with coordinated logistics provided by Gov. Sam Brownback and his campaign experts. President Barack Obama was the albatross that was hung around the necks of moderates, labeled as liberals.
The same tactics were tried this year, but failed. Voters were too engaged, too angry and too cynical to buy into that simplistic nonsense. This time it was Brownback, with his abysmal statewide approval ratings, who was the albatross, hung around the necks of conservative incumbents, rightly labeled as destructive extremists.
It was a revolution in 2012 and a counter-revolution in 2016. And Johnson County was the epicenter. It was in that one county where a bloodbath for conservatives took place.
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It is no coincidence that in Johnson County, in almost every contested Republican legislative race where an incumbent was involved, moderate challengers scored wins with between 54 percent and 57 percent. (Tom Cox scored 61.5 percent.) Although there was no centralized coordination of candidates, there were lots of grass-roots organized efforts and lots of hard work by all moderate candidates. They also boosted voter turnout by about 10,000 above recent norms, which almost certainly helped moderates.
Moderate Republicans and Democrats now have a real shot at controlling the agenda in the Legislature — if not controlling, at least impacting heavily. Depending on how Democrats do in November against conservative Republicans, it is not out of the question that a combo of moderate Republicans and Democrats could total 21 out of 40 in the Senate and 63 out of 125 in the House, both majorities.
The big winners on Tuesday, besides the entire state, were schools and the courts. With their new clout, pro-education legislators are almost certain to increase funding for schools, without balking over court orders, and to approve a new, constitutional funding formula that is kind to Johnson County. As for the courts, any effort to change the way justices are selected just died a quick death.
Change is coming, no doubt. But change is likely to be incremental. The damage that has been done to Kansas under Brownback and his allies will take a decade or more to repair.
One exception to that rule is the urgency to plug the tax loophole that allows the owners of more than 300,000 Kansas LLCs to pay no state income tax. State services need those funds to function.
Here are a few possible outcomes from the changing of the guard:
▪ Some expansion of Medicaid.
▪ Elimination or reduction of the sales tax on food; Kansas has the highest rate in the nation, which unfairly burdens the poor.
▪ Rollback of the law that next year would allow for open carry of guns on campuses and state hospitals.
Moderate Republicans, especially in Johnson County where they dominated, should not be lulled by their amazing feat.
Extremists will want control back. The next time, the Koch brothers could double or triple their campaign funding, and conservative organizations could redouble their efforts. All the while, moderates could easily retreat to their normal apathy in August elections.
Beware. This war is not over.
Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org.