Link to KansasPrairie.net

2/28/2016

ROLLY: THE KOCH BROTHERS: COMING SOON TO YOUR NEIBORHOOD

Filed under: prairie musings, Sam Brownback, GOP — Peg Britton @ 9:21 am

Rolly: The Koch brothers: Coming soon to your neighborhood
By PAUL ROLLY | The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published Feb 12 2016

The Koch brothers’ growing influence, fueled by their billions of dollars worth of enterprise, has become so invasive throughout American life that David and Charles Koch have become household names.

They have spread their money far and wide to buy not only influence but elections, and they proudly played a role in the 2010 defeat of three-term, well-respected Utah Sen. Bob Bennett at the Utah Republican convention, a result that led to the election of tea party extremist Mike Lee.

The Koch brothers, through their super PAC Americans for Prosperity, have flexed their muscle through ads and mailers in Utah to let everyone know that if they challenge Lee for re-election in 2016, they will have to fight against the Kochs’ considerable money and clout.

They helped controversial Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survive a recall election and then bought his way to re-election.

They were huge money supporters of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who rewarded their support with policies that drastically cut taxes — a pet issue for the Kochs — and as a result has basically destroyed the Kansas economy. Polls show that Brownback is the most unpopular governor in the United States.

The Kochs have extended influence to institutions of higher education, setting up grants at universities to hire professors that teach the Kochs’ anti-tax, anti-regulation business and political philosophies to mold young minds to fall in step with the Kochs’ industrial wishes going forward through the 21st Century.

One of their scions, Randy Simmons, was the Charles G. Koch professor of political economy at Utah State University, from 2008 to 2013 and a senior fellow at Property and Environment Research Center, which is funded by the Kochs and Exxon Mobil.

Simmons also supervises a Koch-funded scholarship program and now he runs Strata Policy, which landed the public relations contract for the Utah Legislature’s efforts to wrest control of 31 million acres of public land from the federal government, a quest that is headed by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan.

Ivory recently left his paid position as president of the American Lands Council, a non-profit that accepts dues payments from local governments and others to fight the feds for the land.

And wouldn’t you know it? Ivory has accepted a position with Federalism in Action, a non-profit group affiliated with the Koch brothers and other right-wing activists.

The Koch brothers aren’t just satisfied with national issues that benefit Koch Industries, however. Their tentacles have spread to county government and local politics in Utah.

Americans for Prosperity has for some time now maintained a Utah office, run by veteran Republican activist Evelyn Everton, and it has been busy.

When the Salt Lake County Council recently passed its budget for the next year, it voted to keep collecting the revenue from an expiring 20-year bond that was passed in 1995 for jail expansion and renovation.

The ongoing revenue, which amounts to about $9.4 million annually, will be used for innovations in the criminal and social justice systems to get treatment for non-violent offenders and hopefully reduce recidivism in the jails.

Americans for Prosperity zeroed in on the two Republicans on the council who voted for the ongoing appropriation — Aimee Winder Newton and Steve Debry.

The PAC sent emails to constituents of those two council members, criticizing their vote and accusing them of supporting tax hikes.

It also has implied it may recruit other Republicans to challenge those two incumbents in the GOP primary.

Similar angst has been directed toward Sen. Curt Bramble and other legislators who have taken the lead to force collection of sales taxes from online vendors.

So this super PAC, which doesn’t have to disclose the source of its funding, is now seeping into every pore of Utah government, from top to bottom, and who knows? Maybe some day we can be like Kansas.

11/10/2015

INSIGHT KANSAS: BROWNBACK AND HIS POLICIES ARE OUT OF TOUCH

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, Sam Brownback, GOP — Peg Britton @ 6:30 pm

INSIGHT KANSAS: Brownback and his policies are out of touch
NOVEMBER 5, 2015 BY HAYS POST 5 by H. Edward Flentje

The far-right Republicans who have commandeered the Kansas Republican Party and taken control of the executive and legislative branches of state government are strikingly out of touch with the vast majority of Kansans, including members of their own party, according to the recent annual survey conducted by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs, Fort Hays State University.

The survey indicates that this partisan faction has advanced policies over the past five years that are out of sync with the preferences of Kansans on a broad range of issues, such as block grants for schools, guns on college campuses, Medicaid expansion, same-sex marriage, immigration policy, and election fraud, among others.

However, these partisans are most dramatically insulated from Kansans’ views on what they claim as their signature achievement, their actions to eliminate the state income tax. According to the survey Kansans express opposition to this radical tax policy on a number of fronts.

For starters, 61 percent of survey respondents say that this tax policy has been a failure in terms of economic growth; 30 percent say it has been “a tremendous failure.” Only one in nine Republicans surveyed said that the tax policy has been a success.

Those surveyed also do not believe their tax burden has been reduced. When asked to consider sales, property, and state income taxes, 74 percent say their tax burden has increased. Only 5 percent say it has decreased. These respondents must be aware that income tax cuts have resulted in two rounds of hundred-million dollar state sales tax increases plus tax shifts onto property taxes totaling well into the hundreds of millions.

Nearly two thirds of those surveyed say taxes on top income earners should be increased, a preference in direct opposition to sales tax boosts advocated by Governor Sam Brownback and legislative leaders. The one tax that reaches those with higher incomes is the income tax. Sales taxes shift the tax burden from those with higher incomes onto those with lower incomes.

Over half of the Kansans surveyed also express support for exempting food from the state sales tax, an action that would soften the impact of sales tax increases on those with lower incomes. However, the dire condition of state finance caused by income tax cuts forestalled such proposals in the legislature.

Survey respondents expressed displeasure with the performance of Brownback who has championed the tax plan as his legacy. Dissatisfaction with the governor’s performance has ballooned to 69 percent, up from 31 percent during his first year in office. Over half of Republicans surveyed express dissatisfaction with Brownback.

Positive appraisal of Brownback has fallen every year since the tax cuts first passed in 2012, to the point that only 18 percent of the respondents in this year’s survey express satisfaction with his performance. A meager 30 percent of the Republicans surveyed expressed satisfaction with Brownback’s performance.

What is going on here? Kansas voters elected and reelected these right-wing lawmakers to office in 2010, 2012, and 2014. What explains this chasm between what Kansans say they want and the actions of their elected representative? Several factors are in play.

Interest group funding of thousands of campaign postcards attacking challengers aided these incumbent officeholders. The $17 million in undisclosed, outside money that flooded the 2014 U.S. senate race and demonized the opposition swayed uncertain voters. Some voters were more motivated by social issues such as abortion than state taxes. Primary elections and restrictions on election access also gave advantage to an energized minority. And too many eligible voters simply did not vote.

Only Kansas voters can bridge this gulf between the governed and those governing.

H. Edward Flentje is professor emeritus at Wichita State University.

6/13/2015

BURDETT LOOMIS: LEGISLATURE, BROWNBACK HAVE FAILED THE STATE OF KANSAS

Filed under: political musings, print news, Sam Brownback, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 1:53 pm

Burdett Loomis: Legislature, Brownback have failed the state

BY BURDETT LOOMIS

The Kansas House of Representatives, and by extension the Legislature, and by further extension the GOP-controlled government of Kansas, imploded Wednesday.

After the Kansas Senate cobbled together (and I mean no disrespect to shoemakers) a mean-spirited tax bill to (barely) fill the state’s coffers, the House initially voted down that bill, 44-73, before heading into a death spiral in which support eroded as House leaders kept the vote open – first for two hours, then until Thursday morning, when it finally perished by a 20-95 vote.

In other words, the GOP leadership somehow thought it could arm-twist 20 votes or so to eke out a win on a speculative, regressive tax bill.

In a career as a legislative scholar, I’ve seen a host of tricks, but this may take the cake – all in a useless, losing cause. Seriously, what is the matter with these folks?

The Kansas GOP controls the House 97-28. Yet its leadership could not muster one-half of its overwhelming majority to support a bill that might have balanced the budget for the coming year. The best metaphor that the speaker of the House could come up with was: “This is the last train out of here.” Please. It was both hackneyed and untrue.

After 111 days in session, the House could only manage about half an hour of semi-serious debate. To put it as kindly as possible (as the metaphors keep popping up), the Republican leadership, along with Gov. Sam Brownback, went down in flames. Who, exactly, brings up a bill when it’s going to get a maximum of 44 votes, 19 shy of passage?

The Senate, to its relative credit, at least had 21 votes to pass a patched-together tax bill that its leaders knew would probably not win approval in the House. But, hey, they got to 21.

For much of this session, Topeka lawmakers – and I use that term loosely – have been in some state of altered reality when it’s come to the budget and taxes. On Wednesday evening into Thursday morning, they descended into “Lord of the Flies” territory.

No matter what happens in the remaining days of this session (I can’t believe I just wrote that), we need to be clear: This is what it looks like when a political institution fails.

Make that two institutions, given that the governor bears his full share of the responsibility, as he has backed unrealistic tax policies way past the point of seeing them flounder. Then, remarkably, he drew a line in the sand, saying he would veto any bill that reimposed any taxes on 338,000 Kansas pass-through entities.

Well, the Legislature and the governor will pull themselves together, so to speak. They’ll build some kind of budget, probably doing further harm to the citizens of the state. But make no mistake, on Wednesday evening the Kansas state government failed, big time.

More than 40 years ago, the Legislature won an award as the “most improved” body in the nation. My late friend and academic colleague Alan Rosenthal worked with the Legislature then, as it moved into the late-20th century. From Bob Bennett and Pete McGill and Pete Loux to hundreds of other serious-minded, responsible lawmakers, the Legislature continued to function in the messy but effective way that characterizes such bodies.

No more. On Wednesday night, the Legislature jumped the shark. One more metaphor for failure, and they just keep coming.

Burdett Loomis is a professor of political science at the University of Kansas.

5/4/2015

40 THOUSAND PATHWAYS TO THE AMERICAN DREAM: (KANSAS SCHOOL FUNDING) BY AARON ESTABROOK

Filed under: prairie musings, political musings, Sam Brownback, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 9:34 am

40 Thousand Pathways to the American Dream: (Kansas School Funding)

When it was ratified, the Kansas Constitution acknowledged the responsibility of the state to provide a uniform system of common schools and schools of higher grades for its people. Even before Kansas was officially a state, pioneers settling in harsh conditions pooled their limited resources to build our iconic one-room schoolhouses and hired a teacher. They knew then what we know now. Public Education is the foundation of civilization. As the needs of America expanded so too did the requirements and expectations of our public schools.

Earlier this year, I joined Kansans from across the state and marched more than 60 miles to our state capitol to raise awareness of the political assault on our public schools.  Upon arriving, I sat in the statehouse and said to those gathered that we are fighting a war that we did not start, but it is a fundamental right that we aim to protect for generations to come.

In 2012, Kansas lawmakers at the behest of Gov. Brownback set the stage for the assault on public education by implementing a tax structure that is unsustainable. He called it an experiment. The structure made it possible for the top earners to pay no income tax while middle and low income Kansans pay into the pool while receiving less services. State revenues have steeply declined and public education has been on the chopping block like never before.  Much of this economic mismanagement is defended by thick ideological rhetoric, while facts and reality are dismissed. Real leadership would require introspection and figurative heads to roll for the self-inflicted crisis we now find ourselves in.

Over 40,000 Kansas children will enter kindergarten in August. My daughter is one of them. On a recent trip to a local hardware store she joined me with a few dollars she had earned doing chores around our home. To my amazement, she wanted to buy a small ladder. Her rationale was that she could do more chores and earn more if she could reach higher. Today, in Kansas our state government has created a system of taxation that allows for those who have climbed the economic ladder to pull it up from behind and relish in their treasure.

Each rung on the ladder to the American Dream is laden in education and knowledge. Every dollar we invest now in early education gives children a better chance and saves taxpayers eight dollars later on. It simultaneously opens the door to more employment and higher incomes for working parents today.  The evidence is undeniable that investment in education and expansion of early education is key to fulfilling the tacit goal of America, to ensure that our children can have a better life than we did.

A year ago, Gov. Brownback toured the state and repeatedly said he would fully fund all-day kindergarten. Ever since the “K” was placed in K-12 Public Schools, it has been funded at a half time rate. Nearly all Kansas schools teach kindergarten all day, requiring local school districts to pick up the tab on the other half. Gov. Brownback reneged on his promise.

Last summer, school districts across the state put together an application to apply for “Pre-School Development” grants from the U.S. Dept. of Education. America was about to invest hundreds of millions in pre-school or pre-K programs, and Kansas educators wanted to be ready. Then last fall, Gov. Brownback refused to sign the application, the final step in the process. $226 million was awarded to other states in December and Kansas would have been poised to receive between $15-20 million for pre-school development, but one man stood in the way of more than 40,000 four year olds receiving that opportunity.  Pre K-12 should be the standard for Kansas, for the last 16 years every child in Oklahoma has been guaranteed a pre-school education.

To this day we have no clear answer why Gov. Brownback refused to sign the application to compete for those funds with the rest of America. No economic logic makes sense, so we must conclude that it was an ideological decision. Soon our Supreme Court will rule on the adequacy and equity of our public schools. Evidence points to underfunding, complicated by the extreme ideological decisions by lawmakers who want to pull that economic ladder up from behind them.  I personally have witnessed the impact of extreme ideology as a soldier in Afghanistan. My generation has fought two wars and toppled two governments that were built on extreme ideology. Coming back to Kansas from those wars I never expected to be in the midst of another battle being instigated by extreme ideologues in Topeka. One thing is certain; this generation will not tolerate it. We have sacrificed too much and those extremists in Topeka need to understand that what they have done is simply wake a sleeping giant in form of parents, educators, and moderates all across our state.

Aaron Estabrook
Board of Education
USD 383 Manhattan-Ogden

4/25/2015

ANOTHER LOOK INTO THE TEA PARTY HELLHOLE KNOWN AS KANSAS…

Filed under: prairie musings, Sam Brownback, Kansas, GOP — Peg Britton @ 8:29 am

Another Look Into the Tea Party Hellhole Known as Kansas
— April 22, 2015

From Ring of Fire
Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has pretty much ruined the entire state of Kansas. Brownback has signed numerous bills he says will help the economy, but they actually help the wealthy and hurt the poor.

The Washington Post reported that Kansas will have a $143 million budget shortfall in 2016 and that “the proposals that look most likely to succeed are sales and excise taxes that would be paid disproportionately by Kansas’s poor and working class.”

The Kansas state tax code shifts the heavy tax burden unfairly onto the working poor. The bottom 20 percent of income earners pay 11.1 percent of their income in local, state, and sales taxes. Comparatively, the top one percent of earners in Kansas only pay 3.6 percent of its income.

Essentially, Kansas lawmakers want to raise taxes for those who are least able to afford a tax increase. Groceries are not tax-free in Kansas and Kansans can receive tax rebates on purchases. However, “those who make nothing or too little to owe income tax aren’t eligible.”

Brownback is the enemy of the poor and middle-class. VICE reported that Brownback signed a law that bans Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients from withdrawing more than $25 from an ATM at one time. The law is part of Brownback’s effort to make sure that welfare recipients get as little out of their aid as possible.

“By signing this bill into law, Gov. Brownback has added to the burden that the poorest Kansans already carry,” said Kansas Action for Children president Shannon Cotsoradis. “It’s always been hard to be poor in Kansas. Now, it’s going to be a lot harder.”

Brownback is responsible for the largest tax cuts in Kansas history, all of them favoring the wealthy. He called it a “real live experiment.” However, his actions dropped the state’s Standard and Poor credit score.

As per the usual Republican agenda, Brownback’s economic plan isn’t to help the majority. He only seeks to give the rich more money, and he’s damaging the state’s economy in the process.

10/24/2014

THE GREAT KANSAS TEA PARTY DISASTER from ROLLING STONE

Filed under: prairie musings, Sam Brownback, Kansas, GOP — Peg Britton @ 6:46 am

The Great Kansas Tea Party Disaster
Victor Juhasz
Extremist Republicans turned their government into a lab experiment of tax cuts and privatization. And now they may be losing control of one of the reddest states in the nation
ROLLING STONE
By Mark Binelli | October 23, 2014

The Republican party headquarters in Wichita, Kansas, shares space in a strip mall with Best Friends Pet Clinic, a cowboy-boot repair shop and a Chinese restaurant called the Magic Wok. Inside, on a recent Wednesday afternoon, a modest gathering of party faithful mill about, I’M A BROWNBACKER stickers affixed to their blouses and lapels.

It’s a terrible slogan. Four years ago, when Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback first took office, you might’ve wondered if these people, on some subliminal level, actually wanted to be humiliated by a filthy-minded liberal activist looking to add a new “santorum” to Urban Dictionary. As a senator and a failed presidential candidate, Brownback was already one of the nation’s most prominent social conservatives, “God’s Senator,” in the words of a 2006 Rolling Stone profile. But Brownback turned out to be even more radical when it came to economic policy. In 2012, he enacted the largest package of tax cuts in Kansas history, essentially transforming his state into a lab experiment for extreme free-market ideology. The results (disastrous) have reduced the governor to making appearances at grim strip malls like this one in a desperate attempt to salvage his re-election bid.
The last time I came to Kansas, in March 2013, Brownback could often be found wandering the halls of the state Capitol, sporting one of his signature sweater vests, smiling and nodding at passing strangers or offering impromptu lectures to schoolchildren paused in front of the oil painting of John Brown, the fearsome Kansas abolitionist, that hangs outside his office. Here in Wichita, though, he looks exhausted. When he takes the stage, he squints out at the audience through puffy eyes. His Texas counterpart, Gov. Rick Perry, stands behind him, having been summoned north to help bail out Brownback’s flailing campaign.
Brownback gently teases Perry about how “now we have a small-business climate in Kansas that is better than Texas.” Perry flips up his palms and silently makes his oops! face.
Then the Texan steps to the podium and delivers a version of a speech I saw him give earlier this year in Kentucky, where he had been mobilized on a similar mission for Mitch McConnell. After boasting about all the jobs his policies have drawn to his state, Perry praises Brownback for placing Kansas on a similar “upward trajectory,” insisting to the Wichita Republicans that for the past three years, his own team of poachers no longer even bothers trying to lure companies from Kansas – Brownback’s radical economic reforms had simply made Kansas too attractive to business. “You go fish,” Perry drawls, “where the fish are.”
There are a couple of problems with Perry’s speech. First of all, he happens to be delivering it in Wichita, where, this summer, Boeing, for decades the largest private employer in the state of Kansas, shuttered its entire operation, shifting those jobs to cities like Seattle, Oklahoma City and San Antonio, Texas (oops).
The larger problem, of course, is that Perry wouldn’t even have to be here in Kansas if Brownback’s economic plan had not already proved catastrophic. Back in 2011, Arthur Laffer, the Reagan-era godfather of supply-side economics, brought to Wichita by Brownback as a paid consultant, sounded like an exiled Marxist theoretician who’d lived to see a junta leader finally turn his words into deeds. “Brownback and his whole group there, it’s an amazing thing they’re doing,” Laffer gushed to The Washington Post that December. “It’s a revolution in a cornfield.” Veteran Kansas political reporter John Gramlich, a more impartial observer, described Brownback as being in pursuit of “what may be the boldest agenda of any governor in the nation,” not only cutting taxes but also slashing spending on education, social services and the arts, and, later, privatizing the entire state Medicaid system. Brownback himself went around the country telling anyone who’d listen that Kansas could be seen as a sort of test case, in which unfettered libertarian economic policy could be held up and compared right alongside the socialistic overreach of the Obama administration, and may the best theory of government win. “We’ll see how it works,” he bragged on Morning Joe in 2012. “We’ll have a real live experiment.”
That word, “experiment,” has come to haunt Brownback as the data rolls in. The governor promised his “pro-growth tax policy” would act “like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy,” but, instead, state revenues plummeted by nearly $700 million in a single fiscal year, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’s credit rating, and job growth sagged behind all four of Kansas’ neighbors. Brownback wound up nixing a planned sales-tax cut to make up for some of the shortfall, but not before he’d enacted what his opponents call the largest cuts in education spending in the history of Kansas.
Brownback hardly stands alone among the class of Republican governors who managed to get themselves elected four years ago as part of the anti-Obama Tea Party wave by peddling musty supply-side fallacies. In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich – whose press releases claim he’s wrought an “Ohio Miracle” – has presided over a shrinking economy, this past July being the 21st consecutive month in which the state’s job growth has lagged behind the national average. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, whose union-busting inadvertently helped kick off the Occupy movement, cut taxes by roughly $2 billion – yet his promise to create 250,000 new private-sector jobs during his first term has fallen about 150,000 jobs short, and forecasters expect the state to face a $1.8 billion budgetary shortfall by mid-2017. A recent analysis by the Detroit Free Press, meanwhile, laid out how the tax policies of Gov. Rick Snyder, a wealthy entrepreneur who campaigned in Michigan as a nerdy technocrat, have resulted in businesses paying less ($1.7 billion less per year, to be exact), individuals paying more ($900 million per year) and – here’s the kicker – job growth slowing every year since Snyder’s cuts have been enacted.
Snyder and Walker remain in dead heats with their Democratic opponents, with Kasich holding a comfortable lead over his own. Of all these geniuses, though, Brownback exists in a class of his own, thanks both to the vainglorious scale of his project and the inescapable reality of its flop. And what must have longtime Brownback patrons like the Koch brothers most freaked out is how starkly his failure highlights the shortcomings of their own ideology.
Brownback’s policies have been so unpopular, in fact, that a group of more than 100 moderate Republicans, nearly all of them former or current state officeholders, have publicly backed his Democratic opponent, state Rep. Paul Davis, who, until the race’s recent tightening, had been leading consistently in polls. Calling themselves Republicans for Kansas Values, the moderates released a manifesto of sorts, which reads in part, “We are Republicans in the historical and traditional sense of the word.

Yet in today’s political climate in Kansas, traditional Republican values have been corrupted by extremists, claiming to be agents of change. It is a faction which hides behind the respected Republican brand in an effort to defund and dismantle our state’s infrastructure. . . . The policies [they] espouse are radical departures. . . . They jeopardize the economy and endanger our children’s future with reckless abandon. . . . We reject their extremist agenda.”

Or as one of the founders of the group, a lifelong Republican with the improbable name of Wint Winter Jr. – old Lawrence money, former state senator, runs the family bank – told me, “From my perspective? When I look back at my time in the Legislature and then at the present day, I think, ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore.’ ”
Meanwhile, as Brownback struggles to survive, the race for a Senate seat Kansas Republicans have held for decades unexpectedly came into play. Since 1996, it has  belonged to an unremarkable 78-year-old named Pat Roberts, who, after fending off a Tea Party primary challenger over the summer, hoped he’d coast to re-election. But by September, to the horror of the national GOP establishment, polls began showing Roberts trailing one of his opponents in the general election, a multimillionaire investor named Greg Orman who made his money by creating an energy-efficient lighting company (though he’s also close friends with, and a business partner of, disgraced insider trader Rajat Gupta, who is currently serving a two-year federal prison term). Orman, running as an independent, has vowed to caucus with whichever party holds the majority, a prospect that’s sent Republicans into full-panic mode. Though different factors have played into the troubles of Brownback and Roberts this election cycle, it’s hard to imagine the stink coming off the governor’s budget not tainting the Republican brand as a whole.
Roberts certainly hasn’t been helping his own case. In February, The New York Times revealed that the senator, who began serving in Congress in 1981, had no home in Kansas. His voting address in Dodge City turned out to be a friend’s house where, Roberts joked to the newspaper, “I have full access to the recliner.”

“How much time do you think Bob Dole spent in Russell, Kansas, for crying out loud?” a Kansas political insider who wishes to remain anonymous asked me. “Roberts’ campaign handled it terribly, though, and people got pissed. And Roberts looks like an old guy on the trail. He’s tired. This Orman guy seems to be a slightly sleazy businessman. But he’s rich. And Roberts is scared shitless.”
Brownback grew up on a pig farm in a tiny town in eastern Kansas. He attended Kansas State University on scholarship, earned a law degree, and in 1986, at age 30, got himself appointed secretary of agriculture. He ran for Congress eight years later as “the moderate candidate,” Paul Davis, his gubernatorial opponent, told me. “He was pro-choice back then. Then I think he got into office and saw where the winds were blowing. And immediately, he started heading right.” Winter, who worked with Brownback in the late 1980s, when Winter was a state senator and Brownback was agriculture secretary, agrees: “The Sam Brownback governing today is absolutely not the Sam Brownback I first knew.”
In 1996, after Brownback won the Senate seat vacated by Dole, he quickly turned his position on the Judiciary Committee into “a platform for a high-profile war against gay marriage, porn and abortion,” wrote Jeff Sharlet in the 2006 Rolling Stone profile. But while his willingness to deny evolution and hold up drawings by seven-year-olds of embryos during debates about stem-cell research tended to attract the most attention from reporters, it also proved a handy distraction.
From the beginning, Brownback, who married into one of the most prominent families in Kansas, had received support not just from “values voters” but also from the moneyed, quasi-libertarian side of the conservative movement – in particular, Wichita-based Koch Industries. A Koch-linked firm called Triad Management Services pumped $400,000 into his campaign for senator, helping him defeat former Lt. Gov. Sheila Frahm, a pro-choice moderate backed by the Kansas GOP establishment. Since then, no one has donated more to Brownback than the Koch brothers, and Koch-backed groups like Americans for Prosperity provided vociferous endorsements of his tax plan.
Once Brownback was elected governor in 2010, the biggest obstacle to his fiscal agenda turned out, surprisingly, to be a group of senators from his own party,  who recoiled from the most extreme of Brownback’s proposals. The tax plan he had worked up eliminated most state income taxes on nearly 200,000 businesses and sharply reduced taxes on the wealthy.

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts chats with former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole during a campaign stop at a mall in Dodge City, Kan, Monday, Sept. 22th, 2014.
Dick Kelsey, one of the Republican senators who opposed the bill, is a former evangelical pastor who has been a movement conservative since the late 1970s, when he worked with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority – in other words, hardly anyone’s definition of a moderate. “But I could just see that the tax bill took money from very poor people and benefited me, personally, too significantly,” Kelsey told me last year. “And I’m not poor.”
In the end, though, Brownback was able to persuade the Republican senators to allow the bill to move to the House, promising a compromise would be negotiated. But when the House, one of the most conservative in the United States, simply voted the bill into law, unchanged, Brownback signed it – despite the dire warnings of analysts who predicted Kansas would be running a deficit of $2.5 billion within six years. As Rep. Virgil Peck, a Republican from Tyro, gloated to me, “They passed something they didn’t think we’d pass. Basically, it was, ‘You won’t shoot the hostage.’ ‘Oh? Watch.’ And we did.”
Then, with Kansas political observers still reeling from the enormity (and sheer insanity) of the power play, Brownback declared open war on the senators who had crossed him. He and his allies recruited a detachment of right-wing challengers for the 2012 primary and lavished them with funding: Then-Senate President Steve Morris estimated outside spending from groups like Americans for Prosperity at somewhere between $3 million and $8 million, massive numbers for state elections in a place like Kansas. (According to The Wichita Eagle, political-action committee spending in the final 10 days before the 2010 Kansas primary totaled $14,604; for the same period in 2012, that number soared to $797,465.)
Sen. Jean Schodorf, a 64-year-old Ph.D. whose grandmother came to Kansas in a covered wagon in 1883 – Laura Ingalls Wilder once lived on the Schodorf family farm – was defeated by a 27-year-old who’d served for a single year on the Wichita City Council and still lived in his father’s parsonage. Kelsey, who dropped about $35,000 on his campaign, also found himself ousted after being significantly outspent. “It was just massive sums,” he told me. “I became their number-one target, because I was still a conservative – they couldn’t put the moderate tag on me.”
Many observers believe Brownback had been hoping to set himself up for a presidential campaign in 2016. He’d run once before but wound up dropping out before the 2008 Iowa caucus after social conservatives flocked to Mike Huckabee. Perhaps being outflanked as God’s candidate led to a bit of soul-searching. Or perhaps he just felt the winds shifting: Button-pushing “values” issues (like gay marriage) were losing their sway, particularly with younger voters, at a time when  the recession had forefronted economic issues in stark ways for millions of Americans who had yet to feel the effects of any reputed recovery.
Being governor in the midst of a national economic crisis, then, handed Brownback the perfect opportunity to reinvent himself. “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,’ ” he told The Wall Street Journal last year. “We’ve got a series of blue states raising taxes and a series of red states cutting taxes. Now let’s watch and see what happens.”
If Brownback ends up losing in November, one of the things keeping him up at night might be his decision to purge the Senate. In interviews this year, Brownback, with no one to point the finger at, has been reduced to begging for more time, and to switching up his medical metaphors. His tax plan, it turns out, is no longer a Pulp Fiction-style adrenaline shot to the heart. “It’s like going through surgery,” he told a reporter in June. “It takes a while to heal and get growing afterwards.”
Brownback’s education cuts have proved particularly toxic to his popularity. An August poll by Survey-USA had voters who listed education as their top priority favoring Brownback’s opponent by 43 percentage points. Parent-enraging anecdotes abounded in schools across the state: tales of swelling classroom sizes, teachers forced to fill in for laid-off janitors and nurses, libraries unable to buy new books. One group of parents took the extraordinary step of suing the government, a lawsuit Brownback appealed all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court after a lower court described his actions as “destructive of our children’s future.” In March, the Supreme Court ruled the cuts unconstitutional. The case has since returned to district court, which will determine what the proper level of funding should be.
As Brownback’s popularity cratered, nobody was paying much attention to Roberts’ Senate race, certainly not as a possible seat for Democrats to pick up. When a Tea Party challenger, a radiologist named Milton Wolf, emerged, the race got lumped into a broader “Tea Party versus Establishment” story line. But Wolf turned out to have made a series of prior comments too impolitic for the general voting public – in Wolf’s case, on his personal Facebook page, where reporter Tim Carpenter of The Topeka Capitol-Journal discovered he had uploaded X-rays of deceased gunshot victims along with glib commentary. (An X-ray of one victim whose skull had been blown completely apart, for example, was described by Wolf as “one of my all-time favorites.” He also said it reminded him of a scene from Terminator 2, adding, “What kind of gun blows somebody’s head completely off? I’ve got to get one of those.”)

Wolf lost the primary – by only seven points, it’s worth noting! – but not before hammering Roberts for his recliner crack and more generally for rarely spending any time in Kansas. Still, for a moment, Roberts’ primary victory became the story, part of the larger narrative of how GOP establishment figures like McConnell had managed to fend off their primary challengers (Eric Cantor being the notable exception), which, of course, tended to ignore how much McConnell, Roberts and their fellow “victors” had been willing to cravenly reinvent themselves to appeal to the wing-nut fringe dominating Republican primaries.

U.S. Senate candidate Greg Orman talks to workers at a healthcare company in Overland Park, Kansas on Sept. 10th, 2014. (Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP)
Orman, the millionaire independent candidate, started blanketing the airwaves with television ads in July, but few paid his candidacy much notice. Then polls began showing him steadily gaining on Roberts; in head-to-head contests excluding Chad Taylor, the Democrat on the ballot, he was actually the front-runner.
By early September, Taylor had dropped out of the race, and until recently Orman had been steadily leading in polls. And overnight, control of the U.S. Senate suddenly hinged, in part, on the fate of an unloved Beltway mediocrity who could barely be bothered to leave his Virginia home in the middle of a re-election campaign. As John Weaver, a Republican strategist who worked on both of John McCain’s presidential campaigns, told The Washington Post, “He’s basically furniture in the Senate. You could give the average Kansan 24 hours to come up with something Pat Roberts has done [and] even the crickets would be standing there befuddled.”
McConnell, his lifelong dream of becoming Senate majority leader endangered, dressed down Roberts, who fired his campaign manager and imported a team of hardass D.C. fixers led by Chris LaCivita, the ex-Marine notorious for his work on the Swift-boat ads. Though Orman has positioned himself as a centrist – he says he voted for Obama in 2008 and Romney in 2012 – Roberts’ new strategy hinges on linking him to the president and Harry Reid. National Republicans like McCain, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul have also dutifully made the trek to Kansas to stump for the old man.
One morning in Independence, a tiny town near the Oklahoma border, Sarah Palin appears with Roberts at a local museum for a pancake breakfast. It seems like an awkward choice of locations to launch a partisan attack on an independent challenger, but Palin, sporting a purple Wildcats sweatshirt, plunges forward, attacking Orman as a “wishy-washy” candidate unwilling to “pick sides” and giving Roberts what must be one of the greatest endorsements in Kansas political history when she tells the crowd a vote for the senator is a vote “for unity’s efforts, for the reason of unity, knowing that united we’ll stand.”
Indeed. After the speeches, a long line forms at the pancake griddle as Palin and Roberts don red aprons to serve up breakfast. Only Palin doesn’t end up doing any serving, because everyone in line wants to either have her sign something or pose for a cellphone picture. Roberts, meanwhile, sporting a checked shirt and looking every bit his age, is almost completely ignored by his constituents. It’s a depressing spectacle. As the line starts to back up, Roberts is left holding a pair of sausage tongs and a styrofoam plate of pancakes. His hands shake. Occasionally, a star-struck Palin fan forgets about the food altogether and starts to walk away, prompting Roberts to thrust out the plate and call after them.
Although Democrats still have no chance at taking back the Kansas Legislature, Brownback’s follies seem to be hurting other top-ticket Republicans. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a handsome lawyer with a fancy education (Harvard, Oxford, Yale) and national political ambitions – as an adviser to Mitt Romney in 2012, he became infamous for coming up with the notion of “self-deportation” – has seen a seven-point lead over his Democratic opponent disappear since the summer. That opponent, incidentally, happens to be Jean Schodorf, the primaried Republican moderate, who came away from her dealings with Brownback so soured she switched parties.
“It was very hard for me to leave the GOP,” Schodorf says. “But I saw things in Kansas becoming more like the national party – a party of intolerance and disrespect for people with slightly different ways of thinking. In the Senate, I always worked with Democrats. When Brownback got into office, the first thing he said in our caucus was, ‘I’m going to pass a budget, and I don’t want any Democrat votes.’ He wants all of his guns pointed in the same direction, and he made it very clear what would happen if you disagreed with him. He was willing to bankrupt the state to get his way.”
That’s one thing I always wondered about: Is it possible a guy as smart as Brownback really believed his own budgetary hoodoo? As Tom Holland, one of the top Democrats in the Kansas Senate, points out, “When the governor talks about how we need to be more like Texas or Florida” – meaning, a “pro-business” state with no income tax – “well, what is Florida? Basically, you have, like, 700 miles of sandy beaches and a $70 billion annual tourism economy. That’s why they don’t have an income tax. In Texas, oil and gas generate a huge amount of revenue, they’re also huge in tourism, and Houston is one of the largest export ports we have in North America. And so this talk about ‘we need to be more like Texas’: We’re not going to be like Texas in a million years!”
Agriculture and aerospace remain staples of the Kansas economy; Brownback had also been a strong supporter of wind energy, a $7 billion industry tailor-made for the flat, blustery plains of the state, but has since backed away in the face of lobbying pressure from Koch Industries. His tax gambit, however, really does make very little sense. Which is why I found a theory floated by Winter so intriguing. Winter acknowledges that Brownback might have simply been “trying to go for broke: ‘I’m going to experiment, and the beneficiary will be me being president.’ ” But he thinks there might be another explanation for the recklessness of Brownback’s budget: “This could be exactly what he wanted – to starve the beast. Maybe when he first said, ‘This is going to be an economic miracle,’ he knew it wasn’t true. And what he really wanted all along was to slash public education, shrink the size of government. And now he’s getting exactly that.”
There’s a perverse logic to Winter’s what-if. When curtailing government at all costs begins to feel like an existential mission, attacking the problem with a deficit bomb is probably not out of the question. Had the impact of Brownback’s budget not been quite so immediate and precipitous – which he likely failed to anticipate – he could have easily glided to a second term, foisting some of the blame for sluggish growth onto Obama.
That’s what has happened in Congress, where Tea Partiers have been able to take the most extreme positions with very few consequences, pleasing constituents in their gerrymandered districts without leaving fingerprints at the crime scenes. The mulish obstructionism of the congressional Republicans has arguably done far more damage to the lives of average Americans than Brownback’s folly has wreaked on Kansans, by forcing austerity rather than stimulus during a recession, by cutting science and education funding, by allowing our infrastructure to rot – we could go on – and yet, the complexity of macroeconomics and the infuriating, unfunny slapstick of our divided and broken government conspire to hand the primary culprits plenty of cover, as long as they don’t do anything impossible to ignore, like shut down the government.
Before leaving Kansas, just to give myself a taste of the old ways, I swing by a town-hall-style event featuring Bob Dole. On various trips to Kansas this year, he’s been visiting every county as part of what’s being billed as a thank-you tour, though it’s certainly also a kind of farewell. Dole turned 91 in July, and these days he needs help walking. At the event I attend, in a converted train depot in a western Kansas town called, no joke, Liberal, a young aide marches him to a chair in the center of the room, basically holding him up. When Dole was a senator, he always clutched a pen in his right hand, disabled by a wound suffered during World War II. Today there’s no pen, though, and his right hand is just balled up into a fist, which despite Dole’s frailty still makes it seem like he’s ready to punch a hippie, should the need arise.
I begin chatting with the guy standing next to me. His name is Al Shank, and he’s come to the event to pay his respects and also to show the former senator a photograph featuring a young Dole and Shank’s father. It turns out Shank is a former chair of the Seward County Republican Party, and also one of the signatories of the Republicans for Kansas Values letter renouncing Brownback. “To me, it was a Kansas issue, not a Republican or Democrat issue: I just think Brownback is not right for this state,” Shank says. He owns a small insurance business and expects to see one of his tax bills drop from $800 to $100 this year. “How does the state make up that revenue?” Shank asks. “Trust me, I’m a Republican. But I’m not against paying well-thought-out taxes! Last year, I only paid about $6,000. Even if they forgive all of that, how many jobs can I create?” Shank shakes his head. “Dole knew the art of compromise. Today we don’t have it. It’s sad.”
Dole dutifully talks up Roberts. His voice has slowed, but he remains sharp, almost seeming to grow younger as he gets into the minutiae of the midterm Senate races, who’s up, who’s down. He says the most important piece of legislation he helped pass in Washington was the 1983 deal to save Social Security, which required Ronald Reagan and congressional Democrats to work together. He tells a story about the Gipper: “He told me one day, ‘Now, Bob, I’m going to send this legislation to Congress, and I want to get a hundred percent of it.’ And then he said, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Well, if you can’t get me a hundred, get me 70, and I’ll get the rest next year.’ He realized sometimes you’ve got to give a little to get a little.” During the question-and-answer period, when someone asks Dole if he thinks Palin might run for president, Dole simply growls, “I hope not.”
Outside, after the event, attendees rushed to their cars. There’d been a storm warning, and the sky was looking ominous. A statue of Dorothy stood right in front of the town hall, as if awaiting the next tornado. It didn’t come that night, though our cars were pelted with giant hailstones and I ended up in the middle of one of the gnarliest electrical storms I’ve ever driven through, the lightning so
severe at one point that my windshield wipers began to strobe. Scariest of all was the way in which you could watch the dark clouds massing on the distant horizon, slowly rolling in our direction.
From The Archives Issue 1221: November 6, 2014

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-great-kansas-tea-party-disaster-20141023#ixzz3H3wPBiDL
Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook

9/28/2014

BROWNBACK IS PLAYING POLITICS WITH RURAL SCHOOLS IN KANSAS…

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, Sam Brownback, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 7:41 am

brownie.png
KANSAS CITY STAR: Sam Brownback is playing politics with rural schools in Kansas

September 11, 2014

By Mary Sanchez
Kansas City Star

My mother attended a one-room schoolhouse in Kansas.

Her rural education is the type that Gov. Sam Brownback dredged into his re-election campaign with an opportunistic bit of rhetoric. Brownback is calling for the ouster of Leawood Republican John Vratil from a state committee looking into efficiencies of Kansas schools as districts try to weather funding cutbacks.

The claim is that Vratil, a former vice president of the state Senate, is gunning for consolidating rural schools. It’s a charge made by taking a 2011 comment Vratil made, extracting it from broader context and spinning.

It’s a contrived issue, intended as bait for rural votes, especially in western Kansas. Vratil was appointed to the committee by Democrat Paul Davis, who is running against Brownback. So by association, it’s a political jab at Davis.

Rural schools have long struggled with dwindling populations and budgets. They don’t need Brownback’s campaign to know it.

Mom’s stories of her childhood near Madison were classic, almost “Little House on the Prairie” to my ears. She walked country roads to school, sometimes trudging against the harsh Kansas wind and snow. Plenty of stories included the bull that always scared her, sometimes charging at flimsy fencing.

But guess what. That school is long gone, closed decades ago as fewer families farmed and more moved to towns closer to Emporia.

Times change. Populations shift. Tough calls about budgeting and buildings are not new. Consolidation at times is both inevitable and prudent. That’s partly why the committee that Vratil sits on, the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission, was formed by the Legislature.

And Brownback is the cause of some of the recent belt-tightening by not replacing federal stimulus funding and by his tax policies.

All districts, in Wyandotte and Johnson counties as well as those farther west in the state, struggle to meet vastly diverse student needs with fewer dollars.

Besides, Brownback’s administration pushes innovative programs to draw younger, college-educated people to sparsely populated areas. So he acknowledges reality in one portion of his policymaking and then tries to ignore it for campaign spin.

The man who wants to remain governor of the entire state should be above such tactics. All Kansas children deserve a quality education, no matter their home address.

9/9/2014

BROWNBACK AND THE FAMILY…

Filed under: political musings, print news, Sam Brownback — Peg Britton @ 11:23 am

Brownback and The Family

by Bob Grover

The Emporia Gazette 9-8-2014

How can someone claim to follow Jesus yet not support programs that fight poverty and benefit the needy?

This is a question directed at Sam Brownback, and a possible answer is provided in Jeff Sharlet’s book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Harper Perennial, 2008). Journalist Sharlet describes in detail the history, leadership and beliefs of this secret organization of which Brownback is a member.

Brownback was introduced to the Family (also called the Fellowship) while interning for Bob Dole the summer before his senior year at Kansas State University. Brownback stayed in touch with Family members and was invited to join when he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1994. Understanding the mission of the Family provides a glimpse of Brownback’s beliefs that drive his behavior as governor.

The Family includes such current government leaders as Chuck Grassley (Iowa), James Inhofe and Tom Coburn (Oklahoma), Bill Nelson (Florida), and Mark Pryor (Arkansas). Other members include former senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Pete Domenici of New Mexico, along with former Kansas Representative Todd Tiahrt and Watergate participant Charles Colson.

The Family is the group behind the National Prayer Breakfast, initiated as the Presidential Prayer Breakfast during the first year of the Eisenhower administration in 1953. It has been described as “the most powerful group in Washington that nobody knows.”

Its membership roll is secret; it collects no official membership dues and issues no membership cards. Members are urged not to commit to paper any discussions or negotiations occurring in their work related to the Family.

Prayer groups, or “cells,” are the core group within the family. The cell is unknown to the public and has veto power over each member’s life. Each member promises to monitor the others for deviation from Jesus’ will. Brownback told author Sharlet “that the privacy of family cells makes them safe spaces for men of power … .” Power is a key to understanding this Family.

Within the cells men develop a covenant with each other, and therein lies the power. Their premise is that when two or three agree and act as one, they have power.

Jesus is at the center of the Family, but this is Jesus the leader, not the Savior. Jesus provides the Family a model for organization; with James, John, and Peter closest to him, he encircled himself with other disciples along with a larger contingent of followers. Jesus taught the fundamental principle of creating a social order — commitment. Jesus said that his followers had to put Him before other people, even father and mother, and put Him before oneself.

Surprisingly, the Family also claims Hitler, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Bin Laden, Mao and even the Mafia as models that used covenants to gain and exercise power. The jarring contrast between Jesus and these other brutal leaders seems of little importance to the Family.

Another Family hero is King David of the Old Testament. David slept with Bathsheba, another man’s wife, and killed her husband; however, God favored David — he was chosen. The implication is that if you’re chosen, you are not to be judged.

The Family believes that God’s covenant with the Jews has been broken, and they consider their members the “new chosen” — chosen by God to be leaders.

Because they believe that they are God’s new chosen, the Family members are provided with what Sharlet calls “divine diplomatic immunity.” It’s like a blank check to do whatever they believe they are called to do.

What are they called to do? The long-term goal of the Family is a worldwide government under God. Douglas Coe, the Family’s leader since 1969, has said, “We work with power where we can, build new power where we can’t.” (p. 121)

Although members of the family may be members of a denomination (Brownback is Catholic), their belief system is different than the theology of mainstream Christians. The Family prefers to think of themselves as “followers of Jesus,” not Christians, and free of the trappings of religious denominations.

Unlike most followers of Jesus, the Family is interested almost entirely in Jesus as leader and the way he was able to generate a successful, worldwide social movement. They show little interest in following Jesus’ teachings to help the poor, feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

As a member of the Family, Brownback has adopted their values, and the Family ultimately is about power. Knowing about Brownback’s affiliation with the Family helps to explain his motives and actions as Kansas governor.

7/30/2014

COLYER TRIES TO FOOL KANSAS TWICE…

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, Sam Brownback, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 2:28 pm

Colyer tries to fool Kansans twice
July 29, 201412:03 p.m.

It’s hard to believe that Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer tried the same trick twice. On New Year’s Eve last year, the last day of the campaign finance reporting period, Colyer loaned the Brownback campaign $500,000 – the largest campaign loan in state history. Several days later, reporters asked Colyer and Gov. Sam Brownback about the loan, which looked suspiciously like it was aimed at inflating the campaign’s fundraising total to match the fundraising of the Democratic challenger, House Minority Leader Paul Davis. Colyer told the Lawrence Journal-World that the loan represented his commitment to making a better future for Kansas kids. Brownback told the Kansas City Star that the loan would allow him to take his message to voters this winter and spring. Neither of them disclosed that the campaign had already repaid Colyer for the loan, on Jan. 2. Now, Colyer has done it again. On July 23, a day before the latest reporting period ended, Colyer again loaned the campaign $500,000. And again, the campaign claimed that the loan was merely a sign of Colyer’s commitment to the campaign.
By Phillip Brownlee

A Wichita Eagle Editorial Blog…

7/14/2014

NEW YORK TIMES…KANSAS’ RUINOUS TAX CUTS (IS THE PATIENT DYING?)

Filed under: prairie musings, Sam Brownback, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 7:54 am

Kansas’ Ruinous Tax Cuts

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD JULY 13, 2014

There was a windstorm of hasty excuses in recent weeks after Kansas reported that it took in $338 million less than expected in the 2014 fiscal year and would have to dip heavily into a reserve fund. Spending wasn’t cut enough, said conservatives. Too many rich people sold off stock in the previous year, state officials said. It’s the price of creating jobs, said Gov. Sam Brownback.

None of those reasons were correct. There was only one reason for the state’s plummeting revenues, and that was the spectacularly ill-advised income tax cuts that Mr. Brownback and his fellow Republicans engineered in 2012 and 2013. The cuts, which largely benefited the wealthy, cost the state 8 percent of the revenue it needs for schools and other government services. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted, that’s about the same as the effect of a midsize recession. Moody’s cut the state’s debt rating in April for the first time in at least 13 years, citing the cuts and a lack of confidence in the state’s fiscal management.

The 2012 cuts were among the largest ever enacted by a state, reducing the top tax bracket by 25 percent and eliminating all taxes on business profits that are reported on individual income returns. (No other state has ever eliminated all taxes on these pass-through businesses.) The cuts were arrogantly promoted by Mr. Brownback with the same disproven theory that Republicans have employed for decades: There will be no loss of revenue because of all the economic growth!

“Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy,” he wrote in 2012. “It will pave the way to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, bring tens of thousands of people to Kansas, and help make our state the best place in America to start and grow a small business.”

But the growth didn’t show up. Kansas, in fact, was one of only five states to lose employment over the last six months, while the rest of the country was improving. It has been below the national average in job gains for the three and half years Mr. Brownback has been in office. Average earnings in the state are down since 2012, and so is net growth in the number of registered businesses.

The experience in Maine has been similar. Cut taxes, cut funding to public education, watch the economy falter as a prosperous future for…

With less money to spend, Kansas is forced to chop away at its only hope for real economic expansion: investment in public schools and colleges. While most states began restoring education funding after the recession, Kansas has cut K-12 spending by 2 percent over the last two school years, and higher education by 3 percent since 2012.

The evidence of failure is piling up around Mr. Brownback, whose re-election campaign is faltering because of his mistake. Yet he continues to cling to his magical ideology, pleading for more time. “It’s like going through surgery,” he told The Wall Street Journal last month. “It takes a while to heal and get growing afterwards.”

But it’s not clear the patient can recover from this surgery — the reserve fund, in fact, is likely to nearly run dry next year. As Kansas has clearly shown, states cannot cut their way to prosperity. They need to use every tool of government to nurture growth, and those tools require money.

6/30/2014

CHARLATANS, CRANKS AND KANSAS…

Filed under: prairie musings, Sam Brownback, Kansas, GOP, Koch Brothers — Peg Britton @ 7:53 am

brownie1.png
Op-Ed Columnist
Charlatans, Cranks and Kansas

By PAUL KRUGMAN
June 29, 2014

New York Times

Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation — in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted — in close consultation with the economist Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom — “Look out, Texas,” he proclaimed.

But Kansas isn’t booming — in fact, its economy is lagging both neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state’s budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody’s downgrade of its debt.

There’s an important lesson here — but it’s not what you think. Yes, the Kansas debacle shows that tax cuts don’t have magical powers, but we already knew that. The real lesson from Kansas is the enduring power of bad ideas, as long as those ideas serve the interests of the right people.

Why, after all, should anyone believe at this late date in supply-side economics, which claims that tax cuts boost the economy so much that they largely if not entirely pay for themselves? The doctrine crashed and burned two decades ago, when just about everyone on the right — after claiming, speciously, that the economy’s performance under Ronald Reagan validated their doctrine — went on to predict that Bill Clinton’s tax hike on the wealthy would cause a recession if not an outright depression. What actually happened was a spectacular economic expansion.

Nor is it just liberals who have long considered supply-side economics and those promoting it to have been discredited by experience. In 1998, in the first edition of his best-selling economics textbook, Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw — very much a Republican, and later chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers — famously wrote about the damage done by “charlatans and cranks.” In particular, he highlighted the role of “a small group of economists” who “advised presidential candidate Ronald Reagan that an across-the-board cut in income tax rates would raise tax revenue.” Chief among that “small group” was none other than Art Laffer.

And it’s not as if supply-siders later redeemed themselves. On the contrary, they’ve been as ludicrously wrong in recent years as they were in the 1990s. For example, five years have passed since Mr. Laffer warned Americans that “we can expect rapidly rising prices and much, much higher interest rates over the next four or five years.” Just about everyone in his camp agreed. But what we got instead was low inflation and record-low interest rates.

So how did the charlatans and cranks end up dictating policy in Kansas, and to a more limited extent in other states? Follow the money.

For the Brownback tax cuts didn’t emerge out of thin air. They closely followed a blueprint laid out by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which has also supported a series of economic studies purporting to show that tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy will promote rapid economic growth. The studies are embarrassingly bad, and the council’s Board of Scholars — which includes both Mr. Laffer and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation — doesn’t exactly shout credibility. But it’s good enough for antigovernment work.

And what is ALEC? It’s a secretive group, financed by major corporations, that drafts model legislation for conservative state-level politicians. Ed Pilkington of The Guardian, who acquired a number of leaked ALEC documents, describes it as “almost a dating service between politicians at the state level, local elected politicians, and many of America’s biggest companies.” And most of ALEC’s efforts are directed, not surprisingly, at privatization, deregulation, and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

And I do mean for the wealthy. While ALEC supports big income-tax cuts, it calls for increases in the sales tax — which fall most heavily on lower-income households — and reductions in tax-based support for working households. So its agenda involves cutting taxes at the top while actually increasing taxes at the bottom, as well as cutting social services.

But how can you justify enriching the already wealthy while making life harder for those struggling to get by? The answer is, you need an economic theory claiming that such a policy is the key to prosperity for all. So supply-side economics fills a need backed by lots of money, and the fact that it keeps failing doesn’t matter.

And the Kansas debacle won’t matter either. Oh, it will briefly give states considering similar policies pause. But the effect won’t last long, because faith in tax-cut magic isn’t about evidence; it’s about finding reasons to give powerful interests what they want.

6/27/2014

BROWNBACK’S EXPERIMENT WALLOOPS TAXPAYERS…

Filed under: prairie musings, Sam Brownback, Kansas, GOP — Peg Britton @ 11:27 am

brownie.png

Hays Daily News 6-22-2014
Brownback’s experiment wallops taxpayers
6/22/2014

Property taxes are on track to increase by more than $400 million statewide during Gov. Sam Brownback’s term in office.

This substantial increase, however, masks a more dramatic jump in property taxes across rural Kansas. For example, from 2010 to 2013, property taxes in rural counties increased three times faster than in the five largest urban counties. Property taxes for schools grew more than five times faster in rural counties.

Property tax increases for rural counties in this period can be summarized as follows:

* 71 counties had property tax increases of 10 percent or more.

* 45 counties had property tax increases of 15 percent or more.

* 28 counties with property tax increases of 20 percent or more.

So, what’s the story?

Two fundamental shifts are underway in state and local finance:

First, Brownback’s actions are pushing state obligations to the local level and moving the state and local tax burden from wealthy income taxpayers onto local property taxpayers.

Second, as a result of state actions, property taxpayers in rural jurisdictions across Kansas are bearing the primary burden of this shift, with tax increases dramatically higher than those in urban areas.

Brownback’s tax experiment is driving these shifts. State income tax cuts are being paid for by abandoning, cutting and restricting state obligations for education, corrections, public health, libraries, social services, mental health and community arts, among others. State lawmakers have made the local dilemma even worse by removing local revenue sources, other than the property tax.

As a result, locally elected officials, primarily school board members and county commissioners, have been forced to assess whether these community services are essential, and then to make cuts in services, or to raise property taxes to maintain services, or both. Evidence suggests local officials are maintaining these services and filling in the gaps left by state abandonment with property taxes.

Why are property tax increases falling most heavily on rural areas? For most of state history, state government has leveled the playing field in the delivery of public services between wealthier jurisdictions and poorer ones. This leveling is most obvious in school finance, as state courts have demanded equity between wealthier and poorer school districts. Whether consciously or not, Brownback and his legislative allies are turning back the clock on this state role.

Less obvious in Brownback’s actions are the shifts in the state and local tax burden from those with income wealth onto property taxpayers, for example, from higher-income residents of Johnson County onto property taxpayers in rural counties with half the income, such as Norton, Cloud and Neosho.

The political irony of Brownback’s tax experiment is the tax burden is walloping the reddest of red-state voters. Rural property taxpayers — homeowners, farmers and ranchers, oil and gas producers and leaseholders, commercial property owners and landowners, among others with property wealth — comprise the heart of the Republican electorate.

Brownback likely will assert he has nothing to do with property tax increases. He might even claim President Barack Obama did it. However, rural residents just might be seeing the tip of an iceberg. The disastrous condition of state finance, now Brownback’s legacy, will not only continue to shift the tax burden onto property taxpayers, primarily those in rural jurisdictions, but likely will accelerate the trend.

H. Edward Flentje is professor emeritus at Wichita State University.

6/23/2014

NO SERVICES AHEAD…HOW THE BROWNBACK ADMINISTRATION HAS HARMED WESTERN KANSAS…

Filed under: prairie musings, Sam Brownback, Kansas, GOP — Peg Britton @ 1:28 pm

From Daily Kos…
Kansas: No Services Ahead. How the Brownback Administration has harmed Western Kansas

by tmservo433Follow for Kansas & Missouri Kossacks

Last week, I spent time in a lot of places in Kansas.   Emporia, Hutchinson.  Wichita.  Hays.  Russell.  Manhattan.  Council Grove.  Fort Riley.  Junction City.  The countryside in Ellis, Chase, Riley, Lyon, and so many other great counties in Kansas.   On the journey between Hays and Russell, I noticed something:  closed rest stops.

Leaving Russell, the sign came yet again:

No services ahead.   It shouldn’t have come as a surprise.  KDOT, in an attempt to reduce their budget which has been cash strapped by the Brownback administration has closed off services from these rest areas, bulldozed bathrooms, removed drinking fountains.   It’s a small thing, for sure, but it represents what is happening to our state: No Services Ahead.   It isn’t just about a rest stop, it is about what is happening to once proud communities in Western Kansas.

6/9/2014

BROWNBACK EMBRACES FAKE TEACHERS…

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, Sam Brownback, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 9:58 am

Fake teachers
Hays Daily News
6/8/2014

Beginning July 1, school districts in Kansas that choose to can hire non-teachers to instruct students in specific subjects. We can’t imagine a more uneducated approach in dealing with this state’s children.

The result of legislation that ostensibly was addressing teacher shortages in areas such as science, math, technology, engineering and finance, all one needs is a bachelor’s degree in one of the subject matters and five years of work experience to be hired. To teach vocational education, an undergraduate diploma isn’t even required — merely an industry-recognized certificate.

The law displays great disdain for the noble profession known as teaching.

Having expertise in a subject matter does not necessarily translate to having any skill to convey that knowledge. It can be tough enough attempting to train fellow adult co-workers, let alone still-developing young minds.

Content knowledge is critical, but no more or less than the ability to educate. Teachers should know how to create coherent and focused lesson plans, and then be able to tailor their approach for varying learning styles.

“We teach kids first, content second,” Kansas National Education Association President Karen Godfrey is fond of saying.

KNEA understandably is against the new prerequisites the Kansas State Board of Education was forced to adopt because of the new law.

“Permitting Kansas classrooms to be open to people with five years of work experience in a particular field of science or math does not prepare them for the rigors of teaching,” the KNEA offered in a press release. “Many teachers dedicate their entire lives to expanding their own skill set and knowledge of the following core aspects of the teaching profession through master teacher programs, National Board Certification, and by seeking advanced degrees in the following foundational areas:

* Learning theory and age-appropriate instruction;

* Classroom management techniques and strategies;

* Teaching culturally diverse populations;

* Teaching students with special needs, learning disabilities and giftedness;

* Effective classroom discipline;

* Differentiated instruction and curriculum development; (and)

* Bullying and school security.”

Effective teachers have fundamental understandings of psychology, pedagogy, methods, assessment, management, and on and on.

Does working in private industry prepare anybody adequately for the rigors of teaching? We would say not.

Yet Gov. Sam Brownback, who signed the bill into law, enthusiastically believes it does. Or that it doesn’t matter.

He told the Garden City Telegram he is particularly excited about the alternate teacher certification, which “allows high schools to hire people for teachers like colleges do. They get a subject expertise person and then hire them to teach say, journalism, at the community college. You cannot do that at high school, but now you will be able to do so in the STEM area — science, technology and certified technical education.”

That the governor and legislators don’t appear to recognize the difference between a 15-year-old’s learning capacity and a 19-year-old’s is not surprising. Wording for the law came from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group representing business interests that provides “model legislation” to all 50 states.

As only local school districts have the authority to hire teachers, we would hope none take advantage of the new law. Kansas needs to be smart enough to problem-solve STEM teacher shortages in a manner that is not detrimental to students.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

5/18/2014

ROGUE STATE: HOW FAR-RIGHT FANATICS HIJACKED KANSAS

Filed under: prairie musings, political musings, Sam Brownback, Kansas, religion, GOP — Peg Britton @ 1:21 pm

ROLLING STONE POLITICS

Rogue State: How Far-Right Fanatics Hijacked Kansas
Gun nuts, anti-abortion zealots and free-market cultists are leading the state to the brink of disaster

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback.
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Mark Binelli
June 12, 2013 11:50 AM ET

For the past 12 years, the Kansas State Capitol has been under constant renovation. Most recently, its grand dome, which towers majestically over sleepy downtown Topeka, sprung leaks, forcing repair crews to cage the entire building with a blocky, ramshackle grid of scaffolding. From a distance, it looks like painful orthodontia, or perhaps a bad political metaphor.

Inside, though, one can’t help but be swept up by the bustling, civics-in-action buzz of the place. Groups of children on field trips are being led past murals of hearty Kansans surviving a blizzard, grazing cattle, leading kids into a one-room schoolhouse. Politicians and their staffers sit on benches nearby, conducting hushed confabs or chatting amiably with Capitol bureau reporters and red-badged lobbyists. None of this reeks of Machiavellian House of Cards amorality, perhaps because we’re surrounded by so many paintings of pioneers doing various things with wheat. In the gift shop, you can buy snowglobes containing tornados and Wizard of Oz characters.

And look, there’s the governor, Sam Brownback! The 56-year-old, a regular sight on Capitol tours, today happens to be wandering the corridor near his second-floor office. He’s holding a coffee mug and sporting one of his signature sweater vests – such pleasingly Capra-esque touches that one wonders if a wardrobe consultant was involved – and when his eyes alight upon an unfamiliar face, he beams and gives the visitor a pleasant nod.

Just a few years ago, Brownback seemed washed up. A devout Catholic who attends mass several times a week, he’d built a following among the Christian right as one of the most socially conservative U.S. senators of the Bush era, but his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 proved an embarrassing folly. Unable to raise money or make a dent in the polls after religious conservatives flocked to Mike Huckabee, Brownback wound up limping from the race before the first votes were even cast in the Iowa caucus.

But apparently, the notion of wielding executive branch power had become appealing. Two years later, he handily won the governorship, part of the class of Republicans elected in 2010 on a Tea Party-driven wave of anti-Obama sentiment.

Once in office, Brownback surprised critics and supporters alike with the fervor of his pursuit of power, pushing what reporter John Gramlich of Stateline described as perhaps “the boldest agenda of any governor in the nation”: gutting spending on social services and education, privatizing the state’s Medicaid system, undermining the teacher’s union, becoming the only state to entirely abolish funding for the arts, boasting that he would sign any anti-abortion bill that crossed his desk, and – most significantly – pushing through the largest package of tax cuts in Kansas history. His avowed goal is to eliminate the state income tax altogether, a move that many predict will torpedo the budget and engender even more draconian cuts in spending. “Other Republican-led states have experimented with many of the same changes,” Gramlich pointed out – the difference in Kansas being that Brownback “wants to make all of those changes simultaneously.”

Since Mitt Romney’s resounding defeat last November, much has been made of the supposed battle for the soul of the Republican party taking place at the national level, where pragmatic establishment types are attempting to win over minorities, women and young people by tamping down the most extreme elements of the Tea Party fringe and moderating stances on issues like gay marriage and immigration. The problem is, in places like Kansas (and Louisiana, and South Carolina, and North Dakota), that fringe has become the political mainstream. In fact, while strategists like Karl Rove urge moderation for the GOP, in Kansas, they’ve been taking the opposite tack. Last fall, Brownback and his allies – including the Koch brothers, the right-wing libertarian billionaires whose company Koch Industries is based in Wichita – staged a primary putsch, lavishing funds on hard-right candidates and effectively purging the state Senate of all but a handful of its remaining moderate Republicans. “The Senate was really the bulwark of moderation last term,” says Tom Holland, a Senate Democrat (there are only eight of them left) who ran against Brownback for governor. “With the moderate Republican leadership gone, that just got blown away.”

It’s been nearly 10 years since Thomas Frank wrote about the conservative takeover of his home state in What’s the Matter With Kansas? Back then, Kansas still had a Democratic governor in Kathleen Sebelius. But after last fall’s civil war, Kansas has emerged a more intense shade of red than even Frank imagined. The state legislature is the most conservative in the United States, and now there is absolutely nothing stopping the Brownback revolution – one which happens to be entirely at odds with any notion of the GOP adapting to the broader social and demographic changes in the country. If anything, these purists argue, Republicans lost in 2012 because the party wasn’t conservative enough.

No one can say that about Sam Brownback, who is rumored to be mulling his own presidential run in 2016 – and using Kansas as a sort of laboratory, in which ideas cooked up by Koch-funded libertarian think tanks can be released like viruses on live subjects. At a national level, the GOP remains stuck in a reactive position, pursuing executive branch “scandals” and blocking Obama’s policies with no real power to effect changes of their own, and so states like Kansas have become very important to the future of the party’s far-right wing. Consider it a test, a case study – proof, finally, that an unfettered hybrid of Randian free-market dogma and theocratic intolerance can create, in the bitter words of outgoing Senate President Steve Morris, one of the ousted moderates, an “ultraconservative utopia.” Of course, Morris ruefully added, “It depends on your definition of utopia.”

Back in April, Brownback was chosen to deliver the Republican response to the President’s weekly radio address. He invited listeners everywhere to “join us as we remake our country, not into a place that looks more and more like Europe. We don’t need to do that. We just need to become America again. And that is the rebirth we are doing.” In other words, the Koch brothers may have lost the big battle last fall, but in states like Kansas, they’re winning.

The legislative session in Kansas begins in January and typically only lasts for about 90 days, a holdover from a time when most of the citizen-legislators were farmers who could only make time for governing in the fallow winter months. Two floors up from Brownback’s office, spectators can watch the House and Senate proceedings from a gallery of stiff-backed pews. The chamber is the sort of grand, filigreed hall (fussy cornicework, pink marble columns, chandeliers fit for a castle) that makes you feel like you’re inside a giant wedding cake. The lawmakers work at curved desks that stretch back from the speaker’s platform like rows of teeth.

One afternoon in March, the Senate debated a bill that would prevent public employees from donating directly to union PACs from their paychecks. The wonkiness of the details helps disguise the fact that the bill directly targets public school teachers, part of a larger package of union-busting laws pushed by Brownback. (He’s also reclassified thousands of civil service jobs to eliminate union protection and set up public school “innovation zones” that would basically allow districts to ignore state laws surrounding curriculum, salaries and collective bargaining rights.) In order to finance his tax cuts, Brownback has cut education spending by the largest amount in state history. But in January, a state court ruled the cuts unconstitutional and ordered the government to restore $400 million of school spending. “It seems completely illogical that the state can argue that a reduction in education funding was necessitated by the downturn in the economy and the state’s diminishing resources and at the same time cut taxes further,” the court stated in its ruling. Brownback has responded on dual fronts: by appealing the ruling to the state Supreme Court and by pushing through a bill that would “reform” the way in which state judges were appointed – allowing Brownback, rather than a panel, to appoint judges directly, giving the governor direct power over the one branch of Kansas government that had been out of his control.

As viewed from the Senate balcony, the distinguished body is a sea of older, predominantly white men in navy blazers, their shiny bald spots forming an archipelago of pink desert islands. Ty Masterson, a freshman senator from the Flint Hills, presides over today’s debate. Unlike many of his colleagues, Masterson has a sharp suit and a full head of hair, and he speaks in an odd, husky purr, making even bland statements like “Senator from Wyandotte has the floor” sound more like he’s getting ready to whisper, “Turn over on your stomach now.” A realtor with six children and an A+ rating from the NRA, Masterson was made budget committee chair upon his election – despite the fact that he’d filed for bankruptcy in 2010 after his home-building business went under, ultimately only paying about $3,000 of the $887,000 owed his creditors. “Who better to lead out of the forest than somebody who has seen a lot of the pitfalls?” he told the Wichita Eagle at the time. Today, while Democrat Anthony Hensley, a public school special education teacher for over 30 years, thunders about how the union bill is an effort to silence the loyal opposition, Masterson fiddles with his iPhone. It turns out he’s checking college basketball scores, which he periodically announces to the chamber.

In the end, the bill passes, 24-16. Meanwhile, over in the House, they’re debating guns. A bill allowing public schools and universities to arm teachers, principals and other faculty members has easily passed, along with another bill, likely unconstitutional, maintaining that federal gun laws do not apply to guns manufactured and sold within Kansas’ borders (citing a tenuous argument that the federal power to regulate firearms only applies to interstate commerce.)

Freshman Republican Jim Howell, a trim 46-year-old Air Force veteran who represents suburban Wichita, has now introduced a bill that would force nearly all public buildings in the state to allow people to carry concealed weapons inside – unless those buildings hired armed security guards and install metal detectors, which, of course, would be prohibitively expensive for most cash-strapped municipalities. Gun-free “safe zones,” Howell insists, should actually be rechristened “dangerous zones.”

Howell is soon joined by an ally, freshman Republican Allan Rothlisberg of Grandview Plaza, a retired 30-year Army veteran who is the approximate shape and shade of a Red Bartlett Pear. Rothlisberg goes even further than Howell, arguing that public buildings which banned guns should be held liable for any shootings. When one incredulous Democrat asks if Rothlisberg is familiar with a recent “slaughter of 10-year-olds in Connecticut,” Rothlisberg drawls, “I’ve been familiar with slaughters of people in gun-free zones for years.” Later, he adds that the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech had been “absolutely [the school’s] fault.”

Up next: a shockingly reasonable amendment from retired judge John Barker, another freshman Republican, who stands up to argue that it might be a good idea to ban concealed weapons from court proceedings – say, emotional child custody cases, in which allowing aggrieved parties to carry weapons could be a recipe for disaster. Taking care to stress his bona fides as a “lover of the second amendment” and an 18-year hunter’s safety instructor, Barker goes on, “I’ve been a judge for 25 years and am proud to say I never carried a gun on the bench. Didn’t think I wanted to do that.”

During the voice vote on Barker’s amendment – which, of course, goes down to defeat – the no’s sound like boos at the Apollo. Finally, Lawrence Democrat John Wilson stands up to offer his own cheeky amendment. If gun-free zones are so dangerous, he argues sarcastically, why not get rid of the metal detectors and guards at the entrances to this very building, which wind up costing Kansas taxpayers upwards of $200,000 annually, and just allow everyone to carry concealed weapons in the state capitol instead?

Howell says that sounds like a great idea to him. The amendment passes overwhelmingly, as does the bill itself.

Kansas has a long tradition of producing pragmatic, centrist Republicans, from President Dwight Eisenhower to senators like Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum. In What’s the Matter With Kansas?, Thomas Frank notes that traditionally, the Kansas legislature was comprised of moderates, aside from “a small band of right-wing cranks who amused the citizenry by pulling an occasional filibuster on tax legislation.” He argues that the shift in focus came in 1991, during an “uprising that would propel those reptilian Republicans from a tiny splinter group into the state’s dominant political faction… wreck[ing] what remained of the state’s progressive legacy.”

That uprising centered around abortion. Operation Rescue, the fanatical anti-abortion group founded in 1986 by former used car salesman Randall Terry, first decided to target Wichita during its so-called “Summer of Mercy” in 1991 – focusing in particular on Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country who provided late-term abortions. In 2002, Operation Rescue moved its national headquarters to Wichita in order to stalk Tiller even more closely; the doctor was eventually murdered by an anti-abortion zealot in 2009, gunned down while working as an usher at his church.

Back in the summer of ‘91, thousands of anti-abortion activists descended upon the city, committing acts of civil disobedience, harassing women attempting to enter clinics and picketing residences of doctors. Protestors outside of Tiller’s clinic waved signs that read “Babies Killed Here” and “Tiller’s Slaughter House.” Operation Rescue’s tactical director bragged to The New York Times that “We know when Tiller’s using the bathroom.” Nearly 3,000 people were arrested; at one point, a quarter of the city’s police force was dedicated to handling the protests, and all of the city’s abortion clinics were closed for a week, until a federal court ordered them reopened.

The protest culminated with a massive rally at Wichita State University’s football stadium headlined by Pat Robertson and drawing a spillover crowd of 25,000. “This was where the Kansas conservative movement got an idea of its own strength . . . ” Frank wrote, “where it achieved critical mass.”

Thus mobilized, conservative Republicans swept into the state legislature in 1992 and never looked back. Four years later, moderate Republican governor Bill Graves appointed his own lieutenant governor, Sheila Frahm, to fill Bob Dole’s vacant Senate seat – but she was trounced in the primaries by the far more conservative Brownback, with the help of an eleventh-hour infusion of $400,000 from the Koch brothers.

When Brownback was elected governor in 2010, there was only one group of politicians standing in his way. Surprisingly, they were not Democrats – whose numbers in the Kansas legislature had dwindled so precipitously as to render them effectively impotent – but a small band of moderate Republicans, who balked at the most extreme elements of Brownback’s agenda and still had enough power in the Kansas Senate to gum up the works. And so when the 2012 Republican primary rolled around, Brownback and his supporters recruited an army of right-wing challengers and targeted the moderates with unprecedented alacrity. Not to mention cash: During the primary, outside spending from groups like Americans for Prosperity (a lobbying group founded by the Koch brothers), the Kansas Chamber of Commerce (run by former Koch employees), the Club for Growth and Kansans for Life totalled, according to varying estimates, somewhere between $3 million and $8 million.

One of the targeted moderates, Jean Schodorf, had served three terms as a state Senator. Her grandmother came to Kansas in a covered wagon as a homesteader in 1883; Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up on the land that would become the Schodorf family farm, and Schodorf and her brother still run a Little House On the Prairie museum. Her family has been Republican “since Lincoln created the party,” she says. But she wound up clashing with Brownback over abortion rights and his education policy; though she opposed a number of elements of Obamacare, she also voted against the notion of holding a statewide ballot referendum to repeal the law, considering the move a waste of taxpayer money since the health care law had already been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A 62-year-old Ph.D. who works as a speech pathologist, Schodorf had never before faced a primary challenge – but in 2012, in the second most expensive state Senate race in Kansas history, she was defeated by 27-year-old Michael O’Donnell, who had served for a single year on the Wichita City Council, and who still lived with his parents. O’Donnell’s father, a Wichita pastor, was an anti-abortion protestor who was arrested during the Summer of Mercy while protesting outside of George Tiller’s abortion clinic.  “Senator Schodorf’s a great lady,” O’Donnell told me. “She’s just in the wrong party.”

Dick Kelsey, another of the senators on Brownback’s enemies list, could not be questioned for his ideological purity. An evangelical preacher and a stalwart member of the conservative wing of the GOP, Kelsey had first entered politics in Indiana, where he helped recruit socially conservative candidates for Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the 1980s. He eventually moved to Kansas to open a Christian treatment camp for drug- and alcohol-addicted youth. When local politicos urged him to run for a newly open state legislative seat, he initially demurred. “But God was good,” he says, “and I ran and won.”

Kelsey served two terms in the House before shifting to the Senate, and in both chambers, he maintained a reliably conservative voting record on both fiscal and social issues. Then Brownback came into office. Kelsey figures he probably voted with Brownback 98 percent of the time, but he publicly opposed the governor’s budget after he realized it would lower his own tax burden to zero. “The bill was designed, frankly, to take care of Koch Industries,” Kelsey says. “I could see that it took money from very poor people and benefitted me, personally, too significantly. And I’m not poor.”

Groups like Americans for Prosperity outspent Kelsey by $200,000, a huge number in Kansas state politics. (Kelsey spent about $35,000 on his entire campaign.) Thirteen days before the primary, one poll showed Kelsey with a 20-point lead. “But 17 negative mailers later . . .” he says, chuckling ruefully.

Kelsey was also defeated. Of the 22 moderate Senators targeted, only five survived. It was a wholesale rout, a bloodbath. After the primary, Brownback told reporters that voters made a “clear statement . . . I think what you had is, the market functioned on Tuesday.”

“I think Brownback is fascinated by how easy it is to change things as governor, as opposed to being one of 100 U.S. senators,” a Topeka insider with ties to both parties tells me. “The current Republican legislature watched the moderates get executed by the Brownback machine. They know, and are no doubt regularly reminded of, how Brownback destroyed the career of a solid conservative like Dick Kelsey. And they know he’s capable of killing any one of them.”

The anonymous, single-story building that once housed George Tiller’s abortion clinic sits on an undistinguished stretch of highway service drive in Wichita, just down the block from a used car lot. To get inside, patients entered a gated driveway covered with signs reading “Premises Monitored Electronic Surveillance” and “No Trespassing.” The clinic has been closed since Tiller’s murder in 2009. On the lobby door, a sticker of a gun with a slash through it remains, once posted to let visitors know they weren’t allowed to carry concealed weapons inside.

This spring, Julie Burkhart, a native Kansan who worked alongside Tiller as a spokesperson and legislative activist, decided to reopen his clinic. Since the murder, there have been no abortion providers in Wichita, which has a metropolitan area with a population of 650,000; in fact, the only three abortion providers left in the entire state of Kansas were in Kansas City, 200 miles away.

One afternoon, I met Burkhart at the clinic, still several weeks from opening. An extension cord ran out of the SIGN IN window into a cluttered lobby, where a pile of forceps and a vacuum suction machine sat out from an earlier training. Burkhart is 46, with flowing, abundant red hair and the sort of taste in rings and beaded necklaces that makes her look like a bit of a hippie, which belies a steely tough-mindedness. Tiller’s harassment, she tells me, had been steady since the Summer of Mercy. There had been an assassination attempt in 1993, and she recalls sitting in his office and noticing a bulletproof vest.

“We really didn’t talk about the personal danger a lot, because I felt like it was maybe challenging for him to dwell on it,” she says. “You know, he didn’t set out to do this work. But I think the more he was involved in caring for women, the more he became wedded to the idea, and the fact, that women need safe, legal health care. And then it became a matter of principle.”

Burkhart introduces me to one of the doctors she has hired, a woman who wishes to remain anonymous. She’s been working as an OB/GYN in a small town for the past 10 years, delivering an average of 20 babies a month, and had never performed an elective abortion before. But the rhetoric coming from the right during the last election – “the War on Women, those nasty comments people were making about rape,” she says – made her think more seriously about ways in which she could contribute to progressive causes, beyond simply knocking on doors and asking for money. When I ask if any of her friends and family tried to talk her out of taking the new job, she says, “All of them. Most of whom have had abortions. They all want to see this clinic reopen. They just want someone else to do it. My mother had an illegal abortion before Roe v. Wade. Kitchen-table thing. Both of my sisters, too. All were married at the time, practicing contraception. People take precautions, but sometimes precautions fail. The pill is 98 percent effective when used perfectly – if you’re a robot. But not everyone is perfect.”

The “antis,” as Burkhart calls the local anti-abortion crusaders have already begun casing the building, typically in pairs. They’ve also shown up at Burkhart’s home twice, forcing her to take out a restraining order on one local preacher. She shows me a flyer that’s been circulating with her photograph on it. ADOPT AN ABORTION-HOMICIDE PROMOTER, it reads, continuing:

As an employee of the late abortionist Tiller, Julie Burkhart is responsible for the mass murder of thousands of innocent children. Now she wants to do it again! Adoption is the loving option, not only for babies, but also for adults who have lost their way. Join us in adopting abortion promoter Julie Burkhart who is conspiring to take the lives of precious children in Wichita again.

Chillingly, the flyer goes on to exhort readers to “do a public outreach” at Burkhart’s home – listing her street address – and notes that, “Lastly, please remind her that, ‘God hates the hands that shed innocent blood.’”

Pockets of progressive resistance remain in Kansas, in bigger cities like Wichita and college towns like Lawrence. But despite the inspiring bravery of women like Burkhart, opposing forces back in Topeka seem to have insurmountably marshalled against them. Brownback already signed a bill in 2011 that banned abortions after 21 weeks (claiming fetuses could feel pain at that point). New bills required abortion providers to show patients detailed images of fetal development and explain the supposed “link” (deemed bogus by the National Cancer Institute) between abortion and breast cancer; got rid of an exemption allowing late-term abortions if the woman’s mental health was at risk; and even officially declared that life began at conception. The latter bill was supported by freshman Republican Shanti Gandhi, a retired Topeka physician – and yes, he’s the great-grandson of that Gandhi – who called the point “indisputable.”

The Brownback revolution has not proceeded without hitches. Maintaining control of an insurrectionary movement is notoriously tricky, as is separating out the true-believing foot soldiers from the cranks and nutjobs. The antics of improperly vetted Tea Party candidates have redounded negatively on the GOP on a national level – creating an awkward tension, since the establishment also very much needs, and fears, the useful idiots making the loudest noises from the most unsavory fringes – and the same dynamic is at play in Kansas, where the Brownbackers might be wishing they’d been more careful with their previous wishes.

In the current legislative session, the House and Senate voted to rescind a 25-year-old ban on quarantining people with AIDS, and Rep. Steve Brunk of Wichita introduced a bill that would require cities that put fluoride in their water to inform customers that fluoridation lowers the I.Q. of children. The latter claim, of course, is patently false, but somehow fluoride has become a source of paranoia out in the chemtrail/Alex Jones corner of the wackosphere. A group with anti-abortion ties called Wichitans Opposed to Fluoridation actually managed to pass a ballot initiative last fall that would remove fluoride from Wichita’s drinking water. (”I don’t trust the water, period,” one voter told the Wichita Eagle. Said another, “People should be more responsible and brush their teeth.”) Last year, the state legislature passed a bill preventing United Nations’ Agenda 21 from being implemented in the state. Agenda 21 is a benign, two-decades-old UN resolution that called for worldwide cooperation in fighting economic disparity and protecting the environment, but has since become a black helicopter/One World Government bugaboo for Republicans like Rep. Bill Otto of LeRoy, who argued during the floor debate that since JFK’s assassination had clearly been committed by more than one shooter, well then, why couldn’t the Agenda 21 conspiracies also be true?

Brownback has found it difficult to keep hardcore Republicans in line on issues like wind energy, which has become a $7 billion industry in Kansas – a flat and blustery state well-suited to wind farms – and which Brownback supports. Rep. Dennis Hedke of Wichita, a geophysicist who works for the oil and gas industry (and a climate change denier), pushed a bill that would roll back a law requiring the state to meet certain renewable energy standards. Hedke also wants to ban any public money from being spent on sustainable development.

Last year, Brownback was forced to personally dress down Rep. Virgil Peck, an insurance salesman from southeast Kansas who publicly “joked” about how sharpshooters in helicopters had been so effective in killing feral swine, they should be used to hunt illegal immigrants. A Kansas political insider who wishes to remain anonymous was telling me this story when I interrupted and said, “I can’t believe he’d say that within earshot of a reporter.” My source went silent, then continued, “He said it in a House appropriations committee meeting.”

After the story made national headlines, Peck grudgingly apologized under pressure from Brownback. Still, it hasn’t exactly quelled his willingness to embrace controversial positions. Earlier this session, Peck was the only House member to oppose an anti-bullying bill, which passed 119-1. He later told a reporter from the Topeka Capital-Journal that “bullying legislation has always been a top priority of the homosexual group. I’ve never been a fan.”

When I visited Peck in his office, he greeted me effusively, with an accent that sounds less Midwestern than Deep South. He represents the rural Ozarks region in the far southeastern corner of the state, where he grew up. Around the capitol, he’s known for his loud sartorial choices. Today, he’s sporting a pretty amazing looking shirt-jacket combination, the former electric blue, the latter sherbert green, along with a red, white and blue lapel pin shaped like a cross. Peck tells me he was just writing an email, though there’s no computer on his desk, only a legal pad on which he’s been writing longhand. Sunlight pours through the big window behind him. For some reason, there’s also an overhead light on, so he almost disappears in the hazy brightness as I face him, his thick brown beard floating like the grin of a Cheshire Cat.

“The legislature has certainly moved right,” Peck says. “I’ve always believed Kansas voters were right of center – basically where I am – but in the past, a lot of conservative voters didn’t get out to vote, I think partly because of the choice of candidates.” Nationally, he thinks the problem in 2012 was simple: “We weren’t conservative enough. The establishment is what cost us that election, and Karl Rove needs to go away. As far as the soul searching, it’s like, good grief, guys, let someone else take over. We’ll find our way.”

Of course, for strategists like Rove, loose-talking Republicans like Peck – who casually refers to the president as “Barack Hussein Obama” during our conversation – are precisely the reason swing voters are being spooked by the GOP. Peck remains unmoved. “What bothers me is there are places in America that have gone so far to the left that they’d look at us as nutcases,” he says pleasantly. “I consider us in Kansas mainstream America – normal, red-blooded Americans who believe in the Constitution of the United States. Yes, we’re conservative, but we’re not a bunch of gun-toting cowboys.” A few moments later, he slides his chair back, and the wheel makes a loud cracking sound when it hits the plastic floor coaster. “That wasn’t gunshots, by the way!” he cackles.

Brownback himself made his name as “God’s Senator,” to quote the headline of a 2006 Rolling Stone profile – becoming infamous for doing things like holding up a drawing of an embryo during a Senate debate on stem-cell research and asking, “Are you going to kill me?” Last December, he made an official proclamation declaring a “Day of Restoration” on which Kansans should “collectively repent of distancing ourselves from God,” and staged a massive prayer rally in a public park near the governor’s mansion, telling the crowd, “I stand before you today, a leader of Kansas, and a sinful man, remorseful . . . Forgive me God, and forgive us.”

This can obfuscate the fact that Brownback has been equally zealous when it comes to the sort of free-market extremism pushed by monied and business interests – Brownback grew up on a farm, but married into one of the wealthiest families in Kansas – and represented most baldly by his radical, deeply regressive tax scheme. In many ways, the dust-ups over abortion and AIDS are distracting sideshows; though Brownback is certainly a true believer, a certain amount of distraction might even be the intent. What’s really important to the people running the show in Kansas – wealthy patrons like the Koch brothers – is the tax bill. Last year, Brownback hired widely discredited economist Arthur Laffer, who has been peddling supply-side theories since his work in the Reagan Administration, as a consultant on tax policy and drew up a budget that Republicans and Democrats alike considered precipitously austere. When it came to the size and swiftness of the tax cuts, the budget was also clearly financially unsustainable, a near-instantaneous deficit-bomb. The moderate Republicans who still controlled the Senate balked – until Brownback promised that if they just passed the bill, its problems would be fixed in the House. The Senators believed him, and allowed the bill to move to the House. Paul Davis, the leader of the House Democrats, remembers assuming there was no way his House Republican colleagues wouldn’t fix the bill, “Just because the fiscal note was so massive, and it was so irresponsible.”

Recalls Virgil Peck gleefully, “They passed something they didn’t think we’d pass. Basically, it was, ‘You won’t shoot the hostage.’ ‘Oh? Watch.’ And we did.”

Now that the bill is law, though, experts are predicting a $267 million deficit by the end of 2013 – down from a $500 million surplus. To mitigate the damage, Brownback was forced to ask conservatives to vote for a tax hike, making a temporary sales tax increase permanent. On the eve of the Senate vote, it was unclear if the governor had a full-scale revolt on his hands. Republicans were summoned to a secret, off-site strategy session held in a conference room in an office building in downtown Topeka. Brownback, looking peevish, showed up to rally the troops, despite the fact that it was his daughter’s birthday. “I know there’s a lot of history here,” he pleaded awkwardly, as the Senators feasted on barbecue from a buffet. “The sales tax, and the tax package last year, all have histories and legacies, and a lot of emotion goes into that. I’m asking you to look at the situation now, and what’s in the best interest for us, as a state, on a go-forward basis.”

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal had floated a similar “glide to zero” tax plan, but he recently threw in the towel after his approval rating began gliding in a similar direction, with voters reacting angrily to the deep cuts in services required to make the tax breaks feasible. Brownback might face similar problems – at the state level, Republicans have to balance their budgets, so they can’t just offer massive tax breaks and allow the deficit to balloon like their hero, Ronald Reagan. But for the moment, he’s hanging firm. Many, in fact, remain convinced that all of these experiments are being conducted with an eye toward 2016. “I very much believe that he wants to run for president,” posits Davis, the House Democratic leader, who is said to be mulling his own run for governor. “I think he is attempting to build a resume that will give him the ability to compete in a Republican primary.  And I look at a lot of these initiatives and I think they’re more targeted towards appealing to Republican voters in Iowa and South Carolina than they are to the betterment of this state.”

Brownback’s ideas aren’t the only ones being studied carefully by national audiences. His Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, garnered national attention last year as the creator of “self-deportation,” the immigration policy adopted by Mitt Romney, in which laws impacting undocumented workers would be enforced so punishingly that the workers would choose to return to their home countries. “Self-deportation” wound up on a long list of punchlines generated by the Republican primary circus – Kobach says he now prefers “attrition through enforcement” – but the Secretary of State remains a potent figure, handsome, articulate and very smart: Harvard undergrad, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, Yale Law School, a stint in the Bush Justice Department under John Ashcroft.

In other words, the guy doesn’t seem crazy. He’s actually quite charismatic, even likable if you ignore some of his policy arguments. And yet when we met, he scoffed at the way the Republican establishment has been looking to soften the party stance on immigration, calling that approach “simplistic and ahistorical.” Part of this has to do with his own bottom line, of course: He’s been drumming up a healthy side business hiring himself out to states like Alabama, Arizona, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Missouri as a consultant and helping them to craft their own self-deportation laws.

But like many Republicans on the far right, Kobach also sincerely believes the GOP’s problems have more to do with image than substance. “You know,” he says, “the instinct of the talking head culture in media, the TV people who are pontificating about what the Republicans should or should not do, is always to say, ‘Well, it was an issues-driven thing.’ Because they live in the world of issues! To them, the whole world is framed that way. But in fact, every four years, the size of the American electorate almost doubles. Think about that. And the people who vote only once every four years, they’re likely to be much more driven by personalities, and by community efforts to mobilize them and say, ‘Hey, we really need you to get out and vote.’ Voters probably just saw Barack Obama as a more likable character than Mitt Romney.”

Jean Schodorf feels differently. After leaving office, in fact, she did something she’d never thought she’d do: She left the Republican party. “It was a very hard decision, harder than I ever thought it would be,” she says. “But I thought it was hypocritical, when they no longer stood for any of the issues I believed in.” Schodorf is fairly certain she’ll return to politics at some point, though she’s not sure in what capacity. “We’ve got to get through these next two legislative sessions,” she says drily, “and hope there’s still something intact.”

As for Brownback, well, his State of the State address in January seemed pitched not only to voters at home, but to a potentially broader audience. “When our country seems adrift, Kansas leads,” he said. “In an era when many believe that America has lost its way, Kansas knows its way.”

4/27/2014

FBI INVESTIGATING INFLUENCE-PEDDLING BY BROWNBACK CONFIDANTS…

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, Sam Brownback — Peg Britton @ 1:34 pm

The Buzz
FBI investigating influence-peddling by Brownback confidants
April 27
By STEVE KRASKE
The Kansas City Star

The Topeka Capital Journal reported Sunday that the FBI has spent months investigating influence peddling within the Brownback administration involving some of the governor’s top advisers.

The report said agents are especially interested in “behind-the-scenes financial arrangements related to Brownback’s privatization of the state’s $3 billion Medicaid program.”

The inquiry focuses on a group called Parallel Strategies, a consulting and lobbying outfit founded by David Kensinger, a former chief-of-staff to Brownback who has overseen much of the strategy involving the Kansas Republican Party’s recent success and dominance of state politics.

Kensinger was the governor’s chief of staff as the administration worked to privatize KanCare, which provides Medicaid services to poor and disabled Kansans.

Kensinger quit two months before contracts were signed with three companies: AmeriGroup Kansas, United Healthcare of the Midwest and Sunflower State Health Plan, a subsidiary of Centene, the Cap-Journal said.

One specific area of interest: Did Brownback representatives urge companies or organizations to hire specific lobbying firms? And were individuals who refused to cooperate targeted for political or financial punishment?

The probe’s outcome could have an enormous impact on Brownback’s 2014 re-election campaign and on Republicans in general. Brownback has reshaped the Kansas GOP in his own image.

Democrat Paul Davis, the House minority leader, is challenging Brownback for a second term.

2/24/2014

NO SHORTAGE OF CLOWNS IN TOPEKA…

Filed under: prairie musings, Sam Brownback, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 12:32 pm

sam.jpg
NO SHORTAGE OF CLOWNS IN TOPEKA

By Burdett Loomis

Published Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, at 7:56 a.m.

A recent wire service story took on an ominous tone: The United States is facing a clown shortage. “What’s happening is attrition,” said the head of the Clowns of America International. “The older clowns are passing away.”

This is no laughing matter. Where will the clowns of tomorrow come from?

Clearly, the clown association has not been reading the Kansas news. Under our own beautiful, refurbished big top in Topeka, we are awash in clowns. It’s as if a couple of those tiny circus cars pulled up to the Statehouse and out popped 40 or 50 clowns, ready to put on performances for a full 90 days.

Ringling Brothers should be so lucky.

Like every state legislature, Kansas’ has always had clowns. They’re those folks who stand up and make fools of themselves without ever knowing it. Still, we have a representative government, and fools need representation, too.

But over the past few years, clowns have overrun the Capitol – in committee rooms, on the floor, and everywhere else under the dome.

Most notably, of course, we got the dynamic GOP duo of Rep. Charles Macheers, R-Shawnee, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell. Macheers pushed the bill to justify discrimination against gays (among others) on religious grounds, and the speaker blithely allowed the bill to sail through the House with little scrutiny. Then came the firestorm of opposition from across the country, which made the Legislature appear once again like, well, a bunch of clowns.

But honestly, the grossly mislabeled “religious freedom” bill has just been the most highly publicized bit of comedy. The list goes on.

Legislators have sought to nullify federal gun laws and enforcement of the federal Endangered Species Act, the latter while picking a fatuous fight over prairie chickens. Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, challenged a city employee who’d testified against a firearms bill, accusing him of violating a 2013 law banning the use of state dollars to express an opinion on gun control. What part of free speech do Hildabrand and the Legislature not understand?

Then we’ve got Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, who airily dismissed the scientific consensus on climate change, stating, “The only thing you know for sure about the weather in Kansas … is it’s going to change. That’s all we really know about climate, too.” Knox has two degrees in mechanical engineering but not one from the Ringling clown college, so really he’s just an amateur at both climate change and comedy.

Wait, there’s more. Lots more.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, began the clowning by putting on her famous live sonogram performance. She then argued that Kansas surrogate pregnancy laws were inadequate.

There have been bills to permit spanking in schools, to subsidize private fitness clubs, to challenge fluoridation, and generally to cripple local government by restricting cities’ and counties’ ability to tax, even in the face of cuts to state funding.

In addition, proposed legislation would require students to opt in to sex-education courses, mandate a two-year district residency to be eligible to run for the Legislature, and eliminate the chief justice’s ability to choose presiding judges in county courts. All of these are pure politics and laughable.

Given our wonderfully renovated Statehouse, it’s a shame that serious legislating – on education, health and infrastructure – is not in the center ring. But that’s the circus business for you.

Burdett Loomis is a professor of political science at the University of Kansas.

Read more HERE

2/12/2014

HOUSE APPROVES KANSAS LAW TO LEGALIZE DISCRIMINATION…ANOTHER GIANT STEP BACKWARDS FOR BROWNBACK…

Filed under: prairie musings, Sam Brownback, LGBT, Civil/Gay Rights, Kansas — Peg Britton @ 2:33 pm

Kansas lawmakers voted overwhelmingly today to pass a bill that opponents say legalizes discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Members of both parties joined together in the House on the 89-27 vote, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. If the Senate follows suit and Governor Sam Brownback signs the bill, as he has indicted, then anyone could opt out of anti-discrimination laws that protect gays and lesbians by claiming they violate their “religious freedom.”

For example, an employer could fire someone if they discovered the employee was gay. Or a landlord could kick a renter out of their home. The religious exemption extends past places of business to universities, where students or instructors could opt out of a school’s anti-discrimination policy.

The idea for the bill, called the “Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act,” came in reaction to the college town of Lawrence passing an anti-discrimination ordinance that included sexual orientation. The new state law would nullify that and any other local anti-discrimination ordinance that included sexual orientation by granting citizens the right to opt out if they felt it conflicted with their religious beliefs.

“I don’t think an ordinance should trump other people’s religious rights,” said Rep. Jan Pauls, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee that heard testimony about the bill. During a forum earlier this year, Pauls gave an example to explain why she backs the bill, saying an employer should be allowed to fire a “cross dresser.”

“The question is personal belief as far as religion,” she said. “Should that be trumped by forcing people to then support a lifestyle that they don’t support due to their religion?”

“If this law were passed,” Pauls explained, “people could bring up their religion as a reason that they did not want to follow the ordinances.”

12/20/2013

POPE FRANCIS CONCERNED ABOUT BROWNBACK’S ECONOMIC AGENDA…

Filed under: prairie musings, Sam Brownback, religion — Peg Britton @ 2:54 am

Pope Francis expresses concerns about Brownback’s economic agenda
December 19, 2013

Tim Carpenter | The Topeka Capital Journal

Gov. Sam Brownback countered Monday characterization by Pope Francis of supply-side economics framing the governor’s approach to tax reform as a byproduct of “crude and naive” faith in a marketplace that feeds injustice and inequality.

Brownback’s three years in office have been marked by the adoption of hundreds of millions of dollars in personal and business income tax cuts touted by Republican lawmakers as the best way to help society as a whole.

The trickle-down philosophy’s champion is economist Arthur Laffer, who was hired by the Brownback administration to serve as an $80,000 consultant on tax policy.

“I think what a pope from South America is saying on this is that we shouldn’t have unfettered capitalism. I agree,” Brownback said in an interview. “I don’t think he’s saying you should tax and take all the money from the private sector and it should be run by the public sector.”

Brownback, who converted to Catholicism in 2002, has said the notion of separation of church and state in the United States ought not preclude politicians from stepping into the public square to express their religious ideals.

Pope Francis, in a lengthy “Joy of the Gospel” papal document released in November, said “some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.

“This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power,” the document said. “Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

This pontiff is known for personal advocacy on behalf of people living on fringes of society, and the document is viewed as a plea for Catholics to pursue profit ethically.

“Not all tax cuts are created equal,” the governor said. “If the government takes all the money and invests it, that might not work either.”

Brownback welcomed debate inspired by Pope Francis on issues touching upon religion and government.

In addition to economic policy, questions have been raised about the pope’s sentiment on abortion and gay marriage.

“They’ve been saying, ‘Well, is he not really pro-life? Does he believe in a different definition of marriage?’” Brownback said. “When you read what he says, no, he’s very pro-dignity of life and definition of marriage. He’s saying we don’t want to exclude anyone from looking at the Catholic church.”

12/17/2013

BROWNBACK’S SINKING SHIP ADMINISTRATION…CABINET TURNOVER HIGHEST IN RECENT HISTORY…

Filed under: prairie musings, Sam Brownback, Kansas, GOP — Peg Britton @ 8:37 pm

Brownback administration Cabinet turnover highest turnover in recent history
December 17, 2013

Andy Marso | The Topeka Capital Journal

Almost half of Brownback’s 11 permanent Cabinet secretary appointments will turn over in the first three years of his tenure, a percent that outpaces that of predecessors Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, and Bill Graves, a Republican.

After Gov. Sam Brownback was elected in 2010 he plucked Floridian Rob Siedlecki to lead the Kansas Department for Social and Rehabilitation Services.

Siedlecki swept into the secretary job with promises to refocus the social welfare agency around conservative Christian values like marriage and fatherhood. The Senate confirmed him 34-1 in March 2011, with Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, providing the lone “no” vote.

“I told the media at the time, this guy won’t last a year,” Hensley said.

He was right. After several minor controversies, Siedlecki announced his resignation in December 2011 and returned to work in Florida state government.

An unusual number of Cabinet heads followed him out the door.

Deb Miller, the lone Democrat in the Cabinet, left her post as secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation at the same time as Siedlecki left his. Karin Brownlee was forced out as secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor in September 2012. Dennis Taylor stepped down as secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration to be interim leader of the state lottery in January, but no longer heads that agency. Dale Rodman announced this month that he wouldn’t finish Brownback’s first term as secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, and would make way for replacement Jackie McClaskey.

In addition to changes in Brownback’s Cabinet, a slew of other high-level appointed posts that pay at or near $100,000 a year have also been vacated.

Those include Securities Commissioner Aaron Jack, who flamed out amid multiple controversies; information technology chief Jim Mann, who lasted a week before word got out that his resume included a degree from a diploma mill; and, most recently, Kansas Corporation Commission chairman Mark Sievers, who resigned one month after the agency paid a $500 fine for violating the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political science professor who worked in the Sebelius administration, said he thought there was one factor common to many of those who failed to make it through Brownback’s first term: a mutual disdain for government.

“These are not people who believe much in government,” Loomis said. “And if you ask them to govern, you’re asking for trouble.”

Loomis said some of the appointments just below the Cabinet secretary level exposed holes in the Brownback administration’s vetting process.

Mann, chosen by Brownback to be the administration’s technology czar at $150,000 a year, was hired without anyone noticing his University of Devonshire degree came from a diploma mill. He resigned after The Topeka Capital-Journal reported on the online degree program.

Loomis also questioned Sievers’ appointment as chairman of the KCC, the state’s regulator of telecommunication, electricity, and oil and gas industries.

It was Sievers who picked Patti Petersen-Klein to be the commission’s executive director. Her caustic management style alienated employees and she was replaced this year shortly before the commission found itself embroiled in an investigation of the commission’s practice of “pink-sheeting” decisions in private rather than in public. The approach violated KOMA and resulted in the $500 fine.

“It didn’t take a great detective or a scholar to see that the whole culture there was a mess,” Loomis said.

Read the entire article online at The Topeka Capital Journal

Next Page »
Home

Powered by WordPress