Kansans won an important victory Thursday when Gov. Sam Brownback approved a measure restricting guns at public hospitals and state mental health facilities.
Brownback didn’t sign the bill, but he let it become law without his signature. “This bill does appropriately address safety concerns at state mental health hospitals,” he said in a statement.
The decision is welcome news for all Kansans, but especially for officials with the University of Kansas Health System, who have worked tirelessly to keep patients, visitors, and staff members safe. The hospital can now prohibit concealed weapons without installing expensive and complicated screening procedures.
The announcement is also good news for a governor who could use some. The bitter battle over taxes hasn’t gone away.
Thursday morning, The Star revealed details of a private conversation involving Brownback and state lawmakers. In that meeting, the governor appeared to say his political prospects took precedence over enacting sound tax policy in Kansas.
On June 6, the governor met with a handful of state lawmakers to discuss the stalled effort to pass a tax bill to cover a $900 million budget deficit.
Legislators had passed a tax package, but the governor had vetoed it. Frustrated, the lawmakers asked Brownback to attend the morning session to discuss a tax bill he would accept.
Instead, according to three people inside the room, Brownback said he’d rather see his veto overturned because it would be better for him politically.
Some were astonished.
“It was so frustrating to have our governor refuse to lead in this situation,” said state Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Republican from Wichita. “He would rather protect his own personal political interests than be a statesman and stand up and do what’s right.”
Kansans who have watched Brownback’s career were probably not surprised at all. The governor often puts his own political prospects ahead of the well-being of the state he serves.
The original Brownback tax cuts are a perfect example. His promotion of sweeping tax cuts for the wealthy were widely interpreted as a nod to the governor’s interest in higher office.
After the tax cuts passed, the governor toured the country promoting their benefits. He wrote opinion columns calling the measure a “shot of adrenaline” for the state’s economy. He gave interviews and speeches.
Within a few years, though, the state’s deficits grew. By 2015, as lawmakers grappled with a $400 million shortfall, the governor was reduced to tearfully asking lawmakers to rescue the state by raising sales taxes. But he still refused to consider any rollback of his signature “achievement” on taxes.
That stubbornness has hurt Kansas. The Legislature’s enactment of a $1.2 billion tax bill this year, over the governor’s veto, sent an unmistakable message that Brownback’s focus on his own political prospects has made him a non-entity in some policy debates.
Happily, that concern did not extend to the concealed weapons measure. We congratulate Brownback for making the right choice, and not bowing to gun rights activists.
Brownback’s decision to recognize the wisdom of state legislators in the gun matter might prove to be a template for discussions in other areas, if the governor decides to stay in Kansas for the rest of his term.
There is room for compromise in Topeka, and all sides found it on this issue.