Editorials

Kris Kobach loses as voters reject the Brownback era — and Donald Trump

Democrat Laura Kelly defeats Kris Kobach to become Kansas’ next governor

Democrat Laura Kelly will become the next governor of Kansas after voters rejected Republican Kris Kobach’s hard-right campaign and embraced Kelly’s promises of moderation and stability.
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Democrat Laura Kelly will become the next governor of Kansas after voters rejected Republican Kris Kobach’s hard-right campaign and embraced Kelly’s promises of moderation and stability.

In an election unthinkable just a few short years ago, Kansans looked past party affiliation Tuesday and elected two well-qualified Democrats to top posts — a U.S. House seat and governor.

It was a stunning statement. Voters rejected failed policies and division in favor of a much-needed new approach.

Sharice Davids won a U.S. House seat, ousting four-term incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder. But the biggest winner was Governor-elect Laura Kelly.

Kelly’s pragmatic, relatively low-key style will serve Kansas well. After eight years of turmoil, confusion, damaging decisions and mangled budgets, voters endorsed a thoughtful and measured candidate to tackle the state’s problems.

The outcome officially brings former Gov. Sam Brownback’s “experiment” with tax cuts to an end. Kansans have stated plainly that cutting taxes for wealthy Kansans, while leaving the middle class behind, is unacceptable — particularly when schoolchildren bear the brunt of the harm.

During the campaign, Kelly said she could increase school funding without raising taxes. She should pursue that as a first priority. She also wants to roll back the state sales tax on food, another worthy pursuit.

Kelly has suggested a need for local property tax relief. We support the effort to provide it, as long as schools are constitutionally funded and other state programs aren’t cut in the process.

Kelly, a veteran of the state Legislature, has promised to try again to expand Medicaid coverage. This may be a tougher task, given the views of the state’s legislators, but we urge her to make the attempt in 2019. She can tell lawmakers that voters have endorsed expansion.

Republican Kris Kobach’s overwhelming defeat is a welcome relief for Kansas and evidence of the wisdom of the state’s voters.

It’s hard to remember a candidate for major office in Kansas who has been so consistently wrongheaded on every issue — taxes, school spending, voter rights, immigration, transparency. His failed defense of a restrictive voter registration law turned Kansas into a national laughingstock, while costing taxpayers money.

He’s also been the foremost example of the worst of Trumpism in Kansas, relying on division, misleading rhetoric, false claims and fear to fuel his political rise. Those tactics may play well on conservative radio and television — where Kobach could be headed, and where he longs to be — but they offend Kansans of common sense and good faith.

Davids, who will become the first Native American woman in Congress and the first openly LGBT representative from the state, made history on Tuesday. Within this decade, Kansas had arguably the most conservative House delegation in America — including Yoder, as well as Reps. Mike Pompeo, Lynn Jenkins and Tim Huelskamp, all well to the right of most other members of the House.

All four are gone. It’s another demonstration that Kansans reject overreach, usually seeking a moderate middle from which to govern.

To be clear: Yoder’s service has been admirable in many ways. He had the bad luck to serve under a president whose actions offended a majority of his district, and Yoder’s solidarity with Trump ultimately cost him.

Kansas is still a conservative state. But it is classically conservative: Voters want the state to pay its bills on time, keep taxes low and fair and protect schools and public resources.

Brownback, Kobach and fellow travelers have spent a decade flouting that conservative approach, in favor of a radical conservatism based on intolerance, resistance to compromise and dangerous budget experiments. That day is over, and for that, all Kansans should be grateful.

There is hard work left to do, but Tuesday’s election marked the end of a troubled era in Kansas and put the state back on the right path.

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