The 2016 elections must be used to wrest the Legislature from the grips of Gov. Sam Brownback and the ultra-conservative GOP lawmakers who are ruining Kansas and its future.
Some of the most crucial battles will be waged in Johnson County, the supposedly progressive area that unfortunately has been overrun since 2010 with extremist GOP House and Senate members.
Moderate Republican and Democratic candidates have huge opportunities to return some sanity to Topeka.
The filing deadline for state offices is at noon Wednesday, adding some last-minute intrigue that voters eventually will have to sort out.
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Here are three storylines swirling around the important Aug. 2 primaries in Johnson County.
Power is addictive
Let’s start by looking at why big, needed changes might not happen.
The governor and the forces that have propped him up his first five years in office won’t go down without a fight. It could get nasty and expensive, especially if the Koch brothers and others weigh in with lots of campaign cash to keep extremist GOP legislators in power.
Some Johnson County church leaders will whip up their congregations to stay in line.
The right-to-life forces unfairly will make abortion a social wedge issue.
Four years ago, Brownback led the charge to purge moderate Republicans in Johnson County and other parts of Kansas who stood in his way. He didn’t fully succeed but did ensure that the Legislature would continue to back absolutely disastrous economic policies.
After that — despite all the negative stories and attacks by moderate Republicans during the 2014 elections — Kansans gave Brownback a second term.
And even two years later, some of the most extreme voices in the Legislature have no or nominal opposition in the upcoming elections, including in Johnson County. That’s a shame.
Brownback’s huge mistakes
The Sunflower State can’t take two more years of Brownback getting his way with a compliant Legislature.
Johnson County — the economic engine of Kansas — especially needs the governor’s powers to be curtailed so the county can continue to offer excellent schools and attract a diverse workforce.
While the governor is not on the 2016 ballot, voters must seize the chance to boot as many of his allies as possible out of Topeka.
The anti-Brownback forces have a helluva good case to make.
Brownback’s reckless and costly 2012 income tax cuts are still intact, draining the state of more than $600 million a year in revenue that could be used to help provide public services for 3 million Kansans.
To balance the budget, the Legislature and/or the governor in recent years have diverted more than $1 billion from road funding, sliced university monies, delayed a large pension payment and radically changed the K-12 school funding formula. They blew through $700 million in reserves. Meanwhile, the state has lost jobs over the last 12 months.
Kansas has become an even bigger national joke than it was in the 2014 election cycle.
Candidates must step up
Heard it once, heard it 1,000 times in Johnson County: Moderate Republicans don’t go to the polls in the summer primaries. But the fanatical conservatives do.
The contention is partly true, but it also has given moderate forces a convenient excuse to not work as hard as they should have in previous campaigns.
The 2016 elections better be different.
Johnson Countians who complained about Brownback need to donate money to candidates who aren’t part of his status quo. The few moderates in the county delegation — including Stephanie Clayton, Melissa Rooker and Linda Gallagher — can be valuable mentors for other candidates in their races.
Other keys to potential victories for the moderate GOP forces: They must take the time to go door to door, use data to identify key voters, push advance voting, raise money, become good on the stump and in debates, and constantly bat down the lies being told by conservative forces.
These are large challenges, no doubt.
Here are the candidates who need to stay on task — and require the help of other like-minded business executives, civic leaders, soccer moms, pro-school forces and all the other Johnson Countians who desperately want a change in Topeka.
In the Senate primaries, they include Dinah Sykes and John Skubal.
In the House, they are Patty Markley, Leesa Gabel, Tom Cox, Jan Kessinger, Joy Koesten, Mitra Templin and Donald Roberts.
If moderate forces take back at least five House seats in Johnson County, that could be enough to make real changes in Topeka in the 2017 legislative session.
We don’t mean to slight the Democrats today, but they will have a lot more to say about the quality of leadership when the general elections occur.
For now, Republican voters who go to the polls in August have a responsibility to restore some sanity in Kansas. They need to make it much more difficult, even impossible, for Brownback to ram through his destructive agenda before he has to step down in early 2019.
Moderate GOP candidates can start that ball rolling if they persuade enough voters to oust extremist Republican lawmakers in two months.