Barbara Shelly

Will Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback ever get real?

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback smiles at supporters as he leaves the house chambers after his Inaugural Ceremony Mondayat the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback smiles at supporters as he leaves the house chambers after his Inaugural Ceremony Mondayat the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka. The Associated Press

I keep waiting for Gov. Sam Brownback to get real with the people of Kansas. But he never does.

Consider his inaugural address Monday. My hopes were raised when, after a brief ode to Kansas, Brownback said: “The people of Kansas are always realistic. So we must be honest too. There have been difficulties.”

I thought, here it is! Here is when the governor acknowledges that his tax cuts were a huge miscalculation, that government has its role after all, and that he is determined to fix the mistakes he made in his first term, when he blew a hole in the state’s budget that will cost at least $700 million to fill.

But that wasn’t where Brownback was going. Not at all. If Kansans have difficulties, he said, it’s because they are “in many cases held back by an economy that is growing too slowly or an overly paternalistic big government.”

And then the newly sworn in second-term governor retreated to his comfort zone — family values.

“One difficulty — that often people don’t want to talk about, because it is hard to talk about — is the crisis of the family,” he said. “It isn’t just in Kansas; it is across America. If we are honest, we have to admit there is a crisis of the family in our country. In my view this is a principle issue that must be addressed for us to move forward.

“The crisis of the family must not be seen as an ‘us against them.’ It also is not as simple as going back in time. We have to figure out how in 2015 we can do better to strengthen family in our country. We need to renew our culture around our Founder’s principles of love of God, love of country and love of family. They told us what we needed to truly prosper.”

It’s not that Brownback is wrong about a need to strengthen families. The problem is that his policies run so contrary to his lofty words.

This is a governor who refuses to expand Medicaid eligibility, leaving parents who make above 26 percent of the poverty level to fend for themselves. (To qualify for subsidized insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, an adult must earn 133 percent of the federal poverty level. That creates a huge hole in Kansas.)

This is a governor who brags about “cutting welfare in half,” without acknowledging the hardships that families endure so that he can make that boast. People in Kansas are still poor; for the first time, more than 50 percent of the state’s schoolkids qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. But they’re finding it much harder to get federal assistance channeled through their state government.

This is a governor who, early in his first term, coldly reduced the ability of immigrant families to qualify for food stamps for children who are U.S. citizens but whose parents are undocumented.

Brownback was re-elected, so I suppose there’s a reason he continues to refuse to accept any responsibility for the fact that his state is fiscally broken and unable to invest in its families. Either he sincerely believes his own magical thinking that cutting taxes and forcing poor people into survival-of-the-fittest competition will strengthen everyone’s character, or he believes people can be lulled by his poetic words and empty promises.

When Kansas revenues began coming in far below projections, Brownback blamed it on the federal government. When he received fewer votes than he should have in the Republican primary, he blamed it on President Barack Obama.

Whatever. But it does strain credulity to blame a $700 million budget hole on a crisis of the family.

Brownback is scheduled to give his state of the state address on Thursday night. Perhaps he’ll get real then.


To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to On Twitter @bshelly.