Maybe nothing is the matter with Kansas in the long run. Republicans obtained firm control over the state government and their policies have turned into a disaster. Now voters appear ready to reject the Republicans. A Gravis Marketing Poll shows independent Greg Orman leading Republican Republican Pat Roberts by 47 percent to 40 percent. Paul Davis leads Sam Brownback in the gubernatorial race by 48 percent to 40 percent margin. A recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll had similar but closer results.
John Judis summarized how the far right wing Republicans took power in Kansas under Sam Brownback:
The midterm elections of 2010 were good for Republicans nearly everywhere, but amid the national Tea Party insurgency, it was easy to overlook the revolution that was brewing in Kansas. That year, the GOP won every federal and statewide office. Sam Brownback, a genial U.S. senator best known for his ardent social conservatism, captured the governor’s mansion with nearly double the votes of his Democratic opponent. And having conquered Kansas so convincingly, he was determined not to squander the opportunity. His administration, he declared, would be a “real live experiment” that would prove, once and for all, that the way to achieve prosperity was by eliminating government from economic life.
Brownback’s agenda bore the imprint of three decades of right-wing agitation, particularly that of the anti-government radicals Charles and David Koch and their Wichita-based Koch Industries, the single largest contributors to Brownback’s campaigns. Brownback appointed accountant Steve Anderson, who had developed a model budget for the Kochs’ advocacy arm, Americans for Prosperity, as his budget director. Another Koch-linked group, the Kansas Policy Institute, supported his controversial tax proposals. As Brownback later explained to The Wall Street Journal, “My focus is to create a red-state model that allows the Republican ticket to say, ‘See, we’ve got a different way, and it works.’”
Brownback established an Office of the Repealer to take a scythe to regulations on business, he slashed spending on the poor by tightening welfare requirements, he rejected federal Medicaid subsidies and privatized the delivery of Medicaid, and he dissolved four state agencies and eliminated 2,000 state jobs. The heart of his program consisted of drastic tax cuts for the wealthy and eliminating taxes on income from profits for more than 100,000 Kansas businesses. No other state had gone this far. He was advised by the godfather of supply-side economics himself, the Reagan-era economist Arthur Laffer, who described the reforms as “a revolution in a cornfield.”
Not surprisingly, things have not worked out well in a state run based upon far right wing principles:
By June of 2014, the results of Brownback’s economic reforms began to come in, and they weren’t pretty. During the first fiscal year that his plan was in operation, which ended in June, the tax cuts had produced a staggering loss in revenue—$687.9 million, or 10.84 percent. According to the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department, the state risks running deficits through fiscal year 2019. Moody’s downgraded the state’s credit rating from AA1 to AA2; Standard & Poor’s followed suit, which will increase the state’s borrowing costs and further enlarge its deficit.
Brownback had also promised that his tax cuts would vault Kansas ahead of its higher-taxed neighbors in job growth, but that, too, failed to happen. In Kansas, jobs increased by 1.1 percent over the last year, compared with 3.3 percent in neighboring Colorado and 1.5 percent in Missouri. From November to May, Kansas had actually lost jobs, and the labor participation rate was lower than when Brownback took office. The cuts did not necessarily slow job growth, but they clearly did not accelerate it. And the effects of Brownback’s education cuts were also glaring larger class sizes, rising fees for kindergarten, the elimination of arts programs, and laid-off janitors and librarians.
After looking at how Brownback is now struggling in his reelection campaign, Judis concluded, ” If the state’s voters are faced with a choice between a mild-mannered, cautious Democrat and a Republican crusader with a Bible in one hand and a check from Koch Industries in the other, history favors the Democrat.”
This is not to say that Kansas will support liberal Democrats, but as Sean Sullivan argued on Friday, the state may be more moderate than meets the eye. Or perhaps they are just sane enough to recognize failed policies. Hopefully this will overcome any temptation to cast a vote against Obama as many in red states are likely to do.