In specific terms, from my perspective, much of where we are today in Kansas is tied to the 2010 election for Governor. In the spring of 2010, leading up to the filing deadline, there was much discussion about who the Democratic Party would have to challenge the well-known and well-financed then Senator Sam Brownback. What stood out for me, and puzzled me at the time, was the number of Republicans concerned about whether the Democrats would have a candidate who could win.
That year, Democrats nominated State Senator Tom Holland to be their candidate for Governor. He is a fine man, talented and understood the issues, but he started with little or no name recognition on a statewide level, and in the end, not enough money was raised for him to really compete. Consequently, Governor Brownback was never really pushed to be clear about his vision for the state. Nothing was said about his initial plan to eliminate income taxes for some Kansans. He won easily, securing for himself a four year term to launch his so called “experiment” on Kansas.
Then, in the 2012 legislative session, the Governor successfully pushed through the legislature a tax cut that dramatically reduced state revenue. Many Republicans were opposed, knowing that this was a version of “supply-side economics” that failed in the 1980s, but in voting “no,” they found themselves out of favor with the Governor. Working with the State Chamber of Commerce and some other special interests, the Governor organized, funded, and—in the 2012 August Republican Primary—helped defeat many prominent, moderate legislators who dared to disagree.
Then comes the 2014 election, the Governor’s re-election, and the resulting limited changes to the makeup of our legislature. How could this be? Many prominent moderate Republicans worked hard to help the Democratic challenger Paul Davis, and the Governor’s negatives were really high. With the benefit of hindsight, some things probably should have been done differently. But the one thing you couldn’t have changed was the timing. The real pain from the 2012 tax cut and other key actions was not yet real for most Kansans.
Now that many of the effects of those dramatic policy changes have come to fruition—and the longest legislative session and largest tax increase in Kansas history are in the books—there will be room for continued dialogue and debate on a number of critical issues in advance of the 2016 legislative session and, ultimately, the 2016 election. What seems to be clear, so far, is that more and more people are feeling the impacts and becoming aware of our current challenges. What remains to be seen is whether the criticism of the current agenda dominating our state government will reach the “mainstream” Kansas voter in a way that connects and inspires action. This is where the role of the citizen becomes crucial to our future.