Yael T. Abouhalkah

How Johnson County voters can sap Gov. Sam Brownback’s power in 2016

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (left) and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts appeared at a Johnson County Republican election party in 2014.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (left) and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts appeared at a Johnson County Republican election party in 2014. AP

Johnson County voters have helped make it possible for Gov. Sam Brownback to create the financial hell Kansas is in right now.

Residents of the progressive, affluent county supposedly filled with smart voters have elected too many extremist, ultra-conservative Republican lawmakers in recent years.

They packed Topeka with House and Senate members who have continued to support Brownback’s destructive income tax cuts — and the largest tax increase in state history in 2015.

They elected lawmakers who endorsed Brownback’s calls to change public school financing, change the court system and allow guns to be carried almost everywhere.

But the 2016 elections could change the landscape for the better in the state capital.

Johnson Countians will need to go to the polls and elect more moderate Republicans and Democrats to fill legislative seats. They must vote in favor of public schools and against the reckless policies of Brownback.

Johnson County voters can help sap Brownback’s power to do a lot more damage to the state before he leaves office in January 2019.

Yet this is an extremely challenging task.

Consider the Senate districts, filled with far-right Republicans.

Greg Smith needs to go, and he fortunately faces a strong challenge from Dinah Sykes in the Aug. 2 primary.

Jeff Melcher should be ousted, too, and John Skubal is running hard against him in the primary.

In a mildly positive move this week, moderate Republican Barbara Bollier left her House race and took the place of Kay Wolf after she suddenly retired from the Senate.

However, Julia Lynn, Rob Olson and Mary Pilcher-Cook are running in heavily Republican areas.

And Jim Denning has tried to look more moderate in recent months trying to hang on to his seat.

Overall, extremist Republican Senate members could lose a few seats in August — and with any luck one or two more to Democrats in November.

Unlike in the Senate, Johnson Countians have elected a handful of moderate Republicans to the House. They are Stephanie Clayton, Bollier, Linda Gallagher and Melissa Rooker.

About a dozen Republican races will be contested in the Aug. 2 primaries. Moderate GOP candidates are trying to knock off incumbents who have ill-served the county and the state.

In encouraging outcomes for anti-Brownback forces, the results of those contests would include these outcomes:

Patty Markley over Craig McPherson, Leesa Gabel over Keith Esau, Tom Cox over Brett Hildabrand, Jan Kessinger over Rob Bruchman, Joy Koesten over Jerry Lunn, Mitra Templin over Willie Dove, and Donald Roberts over Bill Sutton.

A few positive surprises could occur in other House races in the primaries.

Finally, Democrats in Johnson County hope to capitalize on the negative feelings surrounding Brownback specifically and Republicans generally to pick up some House seats in November.

Warning: Last-minute surprises could see some candidates mentioned here leaving their races — and new candidates coming aboard — because the filing deadline is noon next Wednesday.

Supporters of the conservative movement in Johnson County say it would be shocking if voters in August actually kicked out people like Smith, McPherson, Esau, Hildabrand, Lunn and Dove. The pro-life and evangelical church forces supposedly will be too powerful to overcome. And supporters of moderate GOP candidates will talk big but not bother to vote.

Here’s hoping the Republican extremists are wrong on all those counts.

Kansas can’t take two more years of Brownback and the current Johnson County delegation.

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