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“Undoing The Extremism”: Will The GOP Get The Message In Kansas?

For many political observers, the question about Kansas these days is no longer, “What’s the matter?” so much as, “What the fuck?”

There was the unexpectedly close GOP Senate primary—three-term incumbent Pat Roberts wound up winning by 7 points—and the forced retirement of the Democratic Senate candidate; there’s the fact that Gov. Sam Brownback, whose average margin of victory in state-wide races is 23 points, is now fighting for his political life. Tom Frank made the state famous for illustrating how its citizens elected conservative candidates whose actual policies went against the voters’ economic self-interest; after one term of Brownback’s “Tea Party experiment,” Kansas voters seem to have enlightened their self-interest and want to undo the extremism that Brownback both promised and delivered. The question remains as to whether their Republican candidates will ever wise up to the same conclusion.

There’s no doubt that Brownback’s radically conservative economic policies failed. Schools closed, the deficit ballooned, highways crumbled, jobs disappeared—I imagine ruby slippers were hocked. That failure has the reddest state in the nation blushing blue.

Citing the state’s fiscal woes, moderate and not-so-moderate Republicans have flocked to Brownback’s opponent, Paul Davis, who trails by just 0.6 points. On the Senate front, independent candidate Greg Orman, who may be forced to caucus with the Democrats by default (RNC chair Reince Preibus has said his caucusing with the GOP would be “impossible”), is reaping the benefits of that Tea Party-weighted primary. “Traditional Republicans for Common Sense,” made up of 70 Republican moderates who served in the Kansas legislature, endorsed Orman and he is favored by independent voters by a margin of 30 points.

In the face of this, both Brownback and Roberts have chosen not to battle for the wide swath of Kansas voters who identify as moderate Republicans (47 percent, versus 38 percent “conservative Republicans”), but to move further to the right. In a just world, Roberts’ violation of Godin’s Law (warning that “our country is heading toward national socialism”) would mean that we could simply ignore him from here on out. But his lumbering lurch toward the Ted Cruz tin-foil-hat convention should instead be an object lesson for Republicans to come. (Brownback can’t really be said to have shifted right but rather has celebrated already being there.)

It’s true both races have tightened, with Roberts eking out a lead: 5 points in an average of the latest polls. Their still-slim chances of victory, however, hardly validate the GOP’s decision to double-down on the hard-right voters who have yet to make the connection between the false populism of tax cuts and their own dire straits. For those seeking to figure out a long-term strategy for Republican victories in Kansas, shouldn’t who supports him matter less than the masses of voters who have left both him and Brownback?

Think about it: If a ruinous adventure into Laffer-land has already alienated many Republican voters, won’t a further march into the barren fields of zero-tax-revenue put off even more? Combine this possibility with the inevitable demographic erosion of the GOP’s base and one has to wonder not just if the Republican leadership is shooting itself in the foot, but why it is. Is it misplaced, or at least short-sighted, cynicism, which might have them believe that their old white guy coalition (if you can call it that) will sustain them a few more cycles? (At least long enough to pass voting restrictions?) Or is it a form of psychosomatic blindness, a function of such deeply held, incorrect perceptions, that the party leaders literally cannot imagine the need to change their tactics, much less their policies?

The motivations matter mostly because understanding them can help progressives sharpen their arguments, or maybe let us know if the argument is even worth having. In other words, are we dealing with cynics or zealots?

Obviously, one hopes for the former. Cynics respond to defeat, for one thing. Cynics and opportunists look at polls. Cynics are the lifeblood of representative democracy. Cynics will do anything to save their own skin, even change their minds.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, October 24, 2014

October 27, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Kansas, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Does Ruining A State Reflect Moral Turpitude?”: The Ultimate Question Kansas Voters Will Answer This November

Kansas’ embattled right-wing Republicans probably think they got a divine assist from the revelation that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul David received a lap dance sixteen years ago.

But I dunno. Ruining a state’s fiscal condition, and damaging its schools, as Gov. Sam Brownback has done, not as the indiscretion of a single man “in the wrong place at the wrong time” but with malice aforethought and as the perfect expression of his values, strikes me as worse. Here’s how WaPo’s editorial board put it:

Mr. Brownback has cherry-picked the statistics to suggest that things aren’t as bad as they seem, while arguing that it’s still too early — more than a year and a half after his cuts were enacted — to gauge their full impact. Meanwhile, Wall Street’s bond rating agencies, taking note of plummeting tax revenue and a siphoning off of the state’s reserves to cover current and projected deficits, have weighed in with their own verdict: Moody’s cut Kansas’s credit rating last spring, and Standard & Poor’s followed suit last month….

[S]pending reductions have been sufficiently draconian and divisive that large numbers of Kansans, including more than 100 current and former GOP elected officials, have expressed alarm and are supporting the man trying to unseat Mr. Brownback, Paul Davis, the Democratic minority leader in the state’s House of Representatives. There have been particular expressions of anxiety about cuts to per-pupil expenditures in public schools, which have dropped more than 10 percent since 2008.

Is conducting the kind of “experiment” Brownback has undertaken with such disastrous results an offense reflecting moral turpitude? That may be the ultimate question Kansas voters will answer this November.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 22, 2014

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Kansas, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Moderates Fight Back”: Middle-Of-The-Road Republicans Are Now Attacking The GOP From The Outside

The missing component in the machinery of American politics has been moderate-to-liberal Republicanism, and the gears of government are grinding very loudly. You wonder if Kansas and Alaska have come up with a solution to this problem.

In Kansas, Democrat Chad Taylor shook up the Senate race by dropping out last week, giving an independent candidate, Greg Orman, a clean shot at the incumbent, Pat Roberts.

At least one poll showed Orman with a 10-point lead over the 78-year-old Roberts in a two-way race. Republicans are so afraid of Orman that Kansas’s Republican (and unabashedly ideological) secretary of state, Kris Kobach, used a technicality to keep Taylor’s name on the November ballot anyway. Taylor is challenging the decision.

In Alaska, Democrat Byron Mallott ended his candidacy for governor and chose instead to run for lieutenant governor on a ticket led by an independent candidate, Bill Walker. By combining forces, Walker and Mallott hope to oust Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.

Because of the revolution in Republican politics spearheaded by the tea party, these should not be treated as isolated episodes. They are both signs that moderates, particularly moderate Republicans, are fighting back.

The safe journalistic trope is that both of our major parties have become more “extreme.” This is simply not true. It’s the Republican Party that’s veered far off center. To deny the fact is to disrespect the hard work of conservatives in taking over the GOP.

By contrast, there are still plenty of moderates in the Democratic Party. They include Sens. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mark Begich in Alaska, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Kay Hagan in North Carolina. All of them are threatened in this fall’s elections by conservative or right-wing Republicans. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia is another moderate on the ballot this year, but so far, he seems safe.

On the other hand, outright liberals have been losing primaries in the Republican Party since the late 1960s, particularly in Senate races. In the House, the few remaining liberal Republicans (one thinks of Maryland’s Connie Morella and Iowa’s Jim Leach) were defeated because Democrats in their districts finally decided that electing even Republicans they liked only empowered the party’s increasingly conservative congressional leadership.

As for the Republican establishment, it may have overcome many tea party challenges this year, but it is increasingly captive to the right wing.

This summer, conservative writers Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru offered an insightful analysis of the tea party-establishment dynamic in an article in National Review appropriately titled “Establishment Tea.” Lowry and Ponnuru argued that the establishment candidates who triumphed did so largely on the tea party’s terms, though the authors put the matter somewhat more politely. “Candidates who make the case that they will fight for conservative ideas, and not just serve time,” they wrote, “can win tea-party support.”

What’s happening in Kansas is particularly revealing of the backlash against the right from moderate Republicans. Although Roberts is not a tea party candidate — indeed, he defeated a tea party challenger in last month’s primary — the Senate race could be influenced by the state’s contest for governor, one of the most important in the country.

Incumbent Republican Sam Brownback has championed an unapologetic tea party, tax-cutting agenda and has sought to purge moderate Republicans who opposed him from the state legislature. Many GOP moderates have responded by endorsing Brownback’s opponent, Democrat Paul Davis. A Brownback defeat would be a major blow to the right.

“The moderates have said, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,’ ” said Dan Glickman, a moderate Democrat who represented the area around Wichita in Congress for 18 years. In an interview, Glickman argued that the rightward tilt is antithetical to the GOP’s history in Kansas, a state that sent both Bob Dole and Nancy Landon Kassebaum, in her day a leading GOP moderate, to the ­Senate.

“The Republican Party in Kansas was always a heartland, common-sense, moderate or moderately conservative party,” Glickman said, adding that at times, it has had a strongly progressive contingent as well.

Orman has been almost maddeningly disciplined in not revealing which party he would caucus with if he defeated Roberts. With national Republican operatives pouring into the state to save the three-term incumbent’s floundering campaign, the battle will get a lot tougher.

But already, Republicans are learning that the cost of driving moderates away could get very high. What middle-of-the-roaders could not accomplish inside the party, they may achieve by attacking from outside the gates.

 

BY: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2014

September 8, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Moderate Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Explosive Failure”: Brownback ‘Experiment’ Blows Up Laboratory Of Democracy

When Louis Brandeis wrote in 1932 that a “single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country,” he was suggesting that state innovations might advance reform on the federal level. The progressive Supreme Court justice surely wasn’t imagining anything quite like Brownbackistan.

Under Governor Sam Brownback, however, the old Brandeis metaphor is especially apt for Kansas, where a highly publicized “experiment” in extreme tax cutting has just blown up the entire laboratory. As Kansans peer through the still-smoking ruins, they evidently don’t much like what they see.

What makes the Brownback blowup feel so familiar is that the same experiment was mounted more than three decades ago, on the federal level, under the rubric of Reaganomics – by some of the same people. It crashed miserably then, too. But the Republican right has a special knack for dressing up old mischief as fresh policy. To put this one over, Brownback has enjoyed heavy support from the Koch brothers — chief financial backers of the ultra-right Tea Party — whose industrial empire is headquartered in Kansas.

The statewide tax cut that Brownback pushed through the legislature in 2012 certainly benefited the most wealthy Kansans – people just like the Kochs – while inflicting higher taxes on middle income and working-class families through sales and property tax increases. Proceeding with expert advice of Arthur Laffer, author of the “supply-side” theory underlying the Reagan tax cuts, the gung-ho governor promised that these regressive changes would promote rapid economic growth. He predicted that his plan would produce 23,000 new jobs and over $2 billion in new disposable income for Kansans. Their tax payments were supposed to offset the loss of nearly 8 percent of state revenues.

But the results have yet to justify the hype. Today, the fruits of Brownback’s experiment include a state budget deficit of nearly $340 million this year; a decision by Moody’s to lower the rating on Kansas bonds; a growing gap in education funding at every level, from kindergarten through college; a ruinous reduction in state and local workforces across the state; and a future that promises even larger deficits and service cutbacks to come.

Advocates of the Brownback cuts – who are much more likely to be found in New York and Washington think tanks than in Kansas itself – insist that with patience, the governor’s vindication will come. Noting that the tax cuts took effect less than two years ago, they say that with time will come the jobs and revenues that Kansans expected. But over the past several months, as most states have added jobs, their state has fallen behind.

The Kansas City Star, leading newspaper in the state, recently analyzed federal employment data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics – and published an editorial comparing Kansas with other states in seasonally adjusted, non-farm total job growth. The bottom line was not encouraging. From January 2011 through June 30, 2014, job growth for Kansas at 3.5 percent was lower than its four neighbors, other Midwestern states, and even “extremely high income tax” New York, not to mention the national average of 6.1 percent. “Kansas has had one of the nation’s poorest rates of employment growth during Brownback’s time in office,” noted the Star editorial, “including since the first tax cuts took effect in 2013.” Moreover, the state actually had fewer jobs at the end of June than it did seven months ago.

As a creature of the Koch machine, Brownback naturally blames this embarrassing data on Barack Obama, the devilish socialist in Washington. But polls show that whatever Kansans may think of the president, they aren’t so easily bamboozled by such arguments anymore. Their opinion of the governor is declining almost as quickly as the state’s revenues — and in some polls he is trailing the lesser-known Democrat, Paul Davis, who bravely challenged him this year. Even some prominent Republicans recently declared they would rather elect Davis than continue the destruction that Brownback is inflicting on their state.

Nationally, the Republican Party still promotes Brownback as an innovator with expertise in growing the economy. The Koch brothers will deluge their home state in dark money and Tea Party propaganda before they let him fall. But if the voters boot him in November, this latest experiment in extremism will be ranked as an explosive failure.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor-in-Chief, The National Memo, July 25, 2014

July 27, 2014 Posted by | Kansas, Koch Brothers, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Moderate Revolution In Kansas”: The Center Is Fighting Back And The Right Wing Is Getting Pretty Nervous

A surprising political revolt is now brewing in Kansas, one that could provide a model for breaking the stranglehold of the hard right on the Republican Party — if enough people join in.

Moderates and Tea Partiers have jousted for several years in Kansas, just as they have elsewhere, and the right wing has largely won, ousting moderates from school boards, county commissions, and the Capitol. But now the center is fighting back, summoning an aggressiveness that like-minded Republicans have rarely employed at the national level or in other states.

On Monday, 104 moderates did something unthinkable, banding into a group called Republicans for Kansas Values in order to endorse a Democrat, Paul Davis, in his campaign to oust Gov. Sam Brownback from office. The main reason was Mr. Brownback’s ruinous tax cuts, which, as The Times editorial board noted on Monday, have severely reduced the state’s revenues, leading to a credit-rating reduction and less money available for schools and roads.

“Kansas has not had that kind of tradition,” said Dick Bond, a Republican and former president of the Kansas Senate. “We value higher education. We value K-12. And we’re abandoning that in the name of some kind of extreme policy.”

But the group’s bill of particulars against Mr. Brownback — a mini-Declaration of Independence for moderates — goes far beyond what it calls a “reckless tax experiment” that actually raised middle-class taxes and pushing the state’s economy below all of its neighbors. It points out that the governor’s refusal to expand Medicaid had hurt Kansas hospitals and driven people out of rural counties. It accuses him of trying to end the state’s merit selection process for judges so that he could install his own appointees.

And most powerfully, it says he damaged the Republican party by purging those who disagreed with him — exactly the method favored by Tea Party leaders across the country.

“Brownback shrunk President Reagan’s ‘Big Tent’ Republican Party by joining with special interests to campaign against and beat Republicans who disagreed with his policies,” the group’s statement says. “Brownback’s extreme agenda makes Kansas appear intolerant and backward. Brownback’s hand-picked legislators have spent two straight legislative sessions focusing on social issues that sparked national negative press and embarrassed Kansas. Brownback’s Washington D.C.-style approach downgrades Kansas’ character and brings embarrassing headlines.”

This is tough stuff in a conservative state, and the far right is regrouping fast. One state legislator, noting the many former politicians in the group, said it had “raided the nursing home” for its members. Rick Santorum flew in this week to campaign for Mr. Brownback, and actually said “the future of the free world is at stake” in the governor’s re-election, because liberals — whom he compared to the “eye of Mordor” — were trying to destroy true patriots.

“The New York Times has no idea where Kansas is,” he said, according to the Wichita Eagle, “but they’ve written several articles hammering Sam Brownback, because Sam is a descendant of the American Revolution.”

When the hyperbole reaches the level of Tolkien, you know the right wing is getting nervous. Moderate Republicans have been silenced in state after state, too afraid of a vicious backlash to speak their minds. But now, coming from a very unexpected place, there is an example of courage to follow.

 

By: David Firestone, Taking Note, The Editorial Page Editors Blog, The New York Times, July 16, 2014

July 17, 2014 Posted by | Kansas, Right Wing, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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