When I ran for Governor in 1978, the closest thing to anything negative was the Republican line attacking my plan to address the soaring cost of utilities. They thought it was nothing but misleading politics or maybe something more colorful. For the record, it included taking the sales tax off utility bills at a time when rates were soaring and Wolf Creek was coming on line. Also, at that time, there was no way for the Kansas Corporation Commission to avoid either bankrupting the builders of Wolf Creek or dumping all the cost on the users. Compromise was not possible. But with legislative support that was changed, the sales tax came off utility bills, and the law was changed so a compromise could be found between the Utility and customers.
As Governor, I vetoed the death penalty four times and it was never really used against me. In the 1982 race for re-election with Sam Hartage, the main dispute was over my Severance Tax versus his increase in the gas tax. I think we would all agree that would not happen today. In my 16 years—eight in the House and eight as Governor—aside from my two years as Speaker, Republicans dominated, and yet much got done. It wasn’t without politics, and I’m sure some would think of it as a contact sport then as well, but we got things done. My major achievements had to have significant Republican support, especially all the constitutional amendments (parimutuel gambling, the lottery, liquor by the drink, property tax reform, and allowing state support for internal improvements) all of which required a ⅔ vote from both Houses to send them to the public vote (all carried by close to two to one).
In my opinion, the political change from a Kansas perspective started in the early 1990’s. Former legislator David Miller led successful efforts to install very conservative Republicans into leadership positions at the local level and then, in time, took over the state party leadership. It was the beginning of splitting the Republican Party into the Mods and far-right Conservatives. It also was the beginning of a big use of special interest money and not all of it focused on the truth.
So where are we today? For the second election in a row, Kansas has Democrats and moderate Republicans working under the banner of Save Kansas and backed by four former Governors (Hayden, Graves, Sebelius, and myself). The 2016 results were positive, electing enough new legislators to overturn the Brownback Tax Experiment and start the process of returning Kansas to the respect it has had in the past. In this election year, much of the big money will be with the far-right, playing loose with the facts. It will be up to moderate and sane Kansans to take a stand and help elect legislators willing to lead the state back to success. Oh, how much politics has changed.