Local Columnists

Steve Kraske: Gov. Sam Brownback is linked to the ‘R’ word

Balancing the state budget has been a challenge since Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature cut income taxes in 2012 and 2013, even after raising sales and cigarette taxes in 2015 to boost revenues.
Balancing the state budget has been a challenge since Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature cut income taxes in 2012 and 2013, even after raising sales and cigarette taxes in 2015 to boost revenues. The Associated Press

She hung out at the truck stop, occasionally hitchhiked to work and confounded lawmakers.

One time, Kansas lawmakers went to the governor’s mansion for breakfast to discuss issues. Democratic Gov. Joan Finney stayed in another room and played the harp.

Another time, she vetoed a $138 million tax bill pounded out after months of negotiation, leaving lawmakers practically gasping with astonishment.

“Never-never land” is how Sen. Wint Winter of Lawrence described it at the time.

Words like “inexplicable,” “erratic” and “idiosyncratic” were liberally applied to Finney, and that was within five months of her taking the oath of office. A long four years it was.

But pretty entertaining.

One word that never was attached to her was “recall,” as in, the voters of the state were ready to rise up and kick her out of office.

Strange behavior is one thing. But with a strong Republican Legislature at the time serving as a check, Finney was relatively harmless, even though some regarded her as the worst governor of modern times.

Then Sam Brownback came along and some people have started reconsidering that worst governor rating and whether the word “recall” might have new relevance.

An editorial the other day by Patrick Lowry of The Hays Daily News caught me. At the end of his piece chronicling the economic chaos gripping the state, Lowry broached a subject that I had been wondering about, and that is whether some columnist or editorial writer in Kansas would take on the idea of removing the governor.

“Voters are the final check and balance for the faulty policies in place today,” Lowry wrote. “If Kansas citizens do not have the stomach for recall proceedings, the next best alternative is to rid the Legislature of members who refuse to deny Brownback’s agenda.”

There it was in black and white. Lowry didn’t hit the idea head-on. But he used the “R” word for all the world to see in a development that marks something of a turning point in the ongoing discourse about Brownback. He remains controversial. He’s changing the trajectory of state government, probably for decades to come.

And now some folks are saying, “Enough’s enough. He’s got to go.”

Two of my colleagues at The Star, Dave Helling and Yael Abouhalkah, have pointed out how difficult a recall is to pull off in Kansas. In short, you need hundreds of thousands of signatures, and then Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, would get to decide whether the issue deserved to be on a state ballot.

In other words, it’s not happening.

Still, an editorial writer from rock-ribbed GOP territory in western Kansas, and not a Democratic special interest group, has raised the specter of recalling a governor whom polls show to be the most unpopular chief executive in America. He’s even more unpopular in Kansas than President Barack Obama, and that’s saying something.

His term has three years to go.

Makes you pine for the days of Joan Finney.

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