Steve Kraske | Brownback displays his will to win

Steve Kraske
Steve Kraske

Playing for keeps.

That’s what Gov. Sam Brownback is doing these days. Fighting, scratching, clawing. Playing for keeps.

In the last 10 days, through force of will and hardball politics, Brownback resurrected a legislative session that threatened to morph into a political disaster for him. Instead, he set himself up for a win on the pivotal issue of tax cuts.

Walking away without some type of tax cut package would have doomed a Republican governor blessed with solid GOP majorities in both chambers. To come up empty on the issue Brownback has championed above all others would have been a torpedo amidships to his governorship.

Not now. Not after what appears to be one of the most blatant examples of arm twisting under the Kansas dome since statehood.

It paid off. A tax plan is still alive. Considering where he stood the morning of March 21, that’s a minor miracle.

On March 21, the Senate rejected on a 20-20 vote a bill to recalibrate the state tax code by cutting income and sales taxes. It was a defeat for the governor from a chamber that has dogged Brownback all session. Instead of signing off on Brownback’s plan for big cuts to income taxes, Senate leaders balked. They insisted a bigger problem was property taxes.

That Senate leaders weren’t cooperative isn’t surprising. Conservatives have plotted against the moderate-led Senate for months, with Brownback doing nothing to head off a roster full of primary challenges. Among those targeted: Senate President Steve Morris.

We don’t know exactly happened in the two hours following that 20-20 vote. No one is saying. But things changed.

The Senate voted again on the same tax bill and voila! The vote this time was 29-11.

Democrats cried foul, saying senators such as Morris who initially opposed the tax bill “were threatened with all kinds of things,” including a string of Brownback vetoes on all manner of Senate bills if votes didn’t change.

Two days later, something else happened. Despite the Senate’s reversal on the tax bill, which wouldn’t have happened without Morris’ help, the governor issued the first veto of his governorship. He nixed a measure, designed to protect an oil and gas trust fund, that would have benefited Morris’ southwest Kansas district.

In vetoing the bill, Brownback fired a shot heard round the Capitol. Get this: The bill had passed the House 124-0 and the Senate 40-0. But that didn’t stop Brownback, who was sending a message to Morris and other moderate senators bogging down his agenda.

That message: Do. Not. Mess. With. Me.

Call it playing for keeps.