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HPPR Government & Politics

Brownback asserts a “Kansas Purpose” in NYT interview

Kansas Office of the Governor

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is quoted as avowedly pursuing “a strategy that builds a strong state in the future on the red state model,” in a recent New York Times article on his administration to date.  According to the article, Brownback has delivered on his promise of a “conservative revolution” but the results and benefits to the state aren’t yet clear. 

Since taking office, he’s eliminated taxes on small businesses, sharply reduced individual income taxes, expanded gun rights, added restrictions on abortion, sharply reduced welfare rolls and increased voter-registration scrutiny.  He’s also brought the Republican-held legislature further to the right by working to oust moderate Republicans who opposed portions of his plan during his first year in office.

Much of his agenda is aimed at stimulating the Kansas economy and is based on the theories of economist Arthur Laffer and the public policy work and Americans For Prosperity.  The New York Times article by reporter John Eligon reviews the current economic state of the state and concludes that voters will be “assessing a mixed scorecard of achievement” when they vote on a second term for Brownback this fall. 

Unemployment is at a five year low and new business filings set a record in 2012 but personal income and gross state product are growing at slower rates than the national average.  Tax rates have been cut steeply but the tax burden on the poor has increased due to the elimination of tax credits.  The state now has over $700 million in cash reserves on hand but a deficit of over $200 million is projected by fiscal 2017 due to the tax cuts and the state is facing court challenges for underfunding education.

But from Brownback’s perspective, “It’s working”, according to the article.  He’s further quoted as noting, “I can tell you where you would’ve been had we not changed the policies. You’d be having higher unemployment, you’d continue to have out-migration in the state of Kansas. You wouldn’t have this level of job growth taking place. You would not have this number of new business formations in the state of Kansas, and you’d still have a broke state government.”

Not all agree, including Democrat Paul Davis, the current House minority leader who is challenging Brownback for re-election. He’s quoted in the Times article as seeing Brownback having another agenda. “He has really set things up on an ideologically based model designed for his own political reasons, to try to gain him a good deal of attention nationally,” Mr. Davis said of the governor. “I don’t think people have reacted very well to that.”  Davis is hoping that a combination of support from Democrats and disaffected moderate Republicans along with a focus on Brownback’s cuts on education funding will be enough to unseat Brownback.

The article, available here, also touches other changes and issues in Kansas under the Brownback administration, including social services, welfare, energy policy and water conservation.  It also notes the fundamental shift from the state’s long Republican tradition of governing from the center to center right, going back to Dwight Eisenhower and Bob Dole.  But Brownback reaches further back in the state’s history to its more radical past in the mid-1800’s, comparing the abolitionist battles of the “Bleeding Kansas” era with the “Summer of Mercy” anti-abortion campaign in Wichita two decades ago.

The article ends with Brownback reflecting, ““A Kansas purpose is how I describe it. Here, you got a mostly rectangular state, in the middle of the country, about three million people, no mountains, no ocean, a lot of wind.  O.K., so what’s so special?  But then you look at what’s happened in the history of this state, and it’s an incredible place.”