Columns & Blogs

May 2, 2014

Gov. Sam Brownback suffers a political brownout

In the wake of an FBI probe, plummeting revenue and a bond rating downgrade, there are new doubts about the Kansas governor’s ability to win a second term in a state that’s as red as any in the nation.

Just how deep of a hole does Sam Brownback find himself in?

This week the Kansas governor suffered a series of hits that raise new doubts about his ability to win a second term in a state that’s as red as any in the nation.

It’s that bad for Brownback.

Sunday brought the news that the FBI was investigating some of the Republican’s closest political confidants. Investigators want to know if pressure was applied to ensure that those top advisers received lucrative lobbying contracts.

That David Kensinger, Brownback’s right-hand man for so many years and the architect of conservative dominance in the state, appears to be a focus is simply devastating for the governor.

On Thursday, Moody’s announced it was downgrading the state’s bond rating. The reason was the state’s sluggish economic recovery compared with other states. One result of that sluggishness is plummeting state revenue that fell an astonishing $92.8 million below projections for April.

For months, the governor argued just the opposite. He said the big tax cuts put Kansas ahead of the pack.

Any of these stories would rank as setbacks. Together, they place Brownback in a position he’s never been in before in a startlingly successful political career that saw him rise from state agriculture secretary to congressman to U.S. senator to governor. It seemed he could only win. He ran for president in 2008 and was expected to try again.

Those prospects dim daily.

There were times in recent weeks when Brownback seemed to be turning the corner. He managed to tame his fellow conservatives who ran amok early in the legislative session and put him on the defensive. As the session rolled along, Brownback appealed to moderates who will determine this year’s election with proposals to aid the disabled, boost local school funding and add all-day kindergarten.

Those moves might have jump-started a heavily favored campaign. Ten days ago, the Brownback crowd pointed to a new Rasmussen poll that showed the governor leading Democrat Paul Davis 47 to 40 percent. Even that news came with a giant caveat: Brownback was still short of 50 percent. Any credible political analyst will tell you that a guy as well known as the governor is hurting if he’s under 50.

This campaign has a way to go, and Davis still must answer tough questions. But know this: The 2014 race for governor is a referendum not on Davis, but on a man who has been the dominant force in Kansas politics in the post-Bob Dole era.

Today that dominance is in peril. Brownback’s in deep.

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