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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.

8/23/2015

ROLLING STONE: MATT TAIBBI HIT THE ROAD WITH THE REPUBLICAN CIRCUS…INSIDE THE GOP CLOWN CAR…

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, GOP — Peg Britton @ 9:05 pm

Inside the GOP Clown Car

On the campaign trail in Iowa, Donald Trump’s antics have forced the other candidates to get crazy or go home

By Matt Taibbi August 12, 2015

Matt Taibbi hit the road with the Republican Party circus Illustration by Victor Juhasz

The thing is, when you actually think about it, it’s not funny. Given what’s at stake, it’s more like the opposite, like the first sign of the collapse of the United States as a global superpower. Twenty years from now, when we’re all living like prehistory hominids and hunting rats with sticks, we’ll probably look back at this moment as the beginning of the end.

In the meantime, though, the race for the Republican Party presidential nomination sure seems funny. The event known around the world as hashtagGOPClownCar is improbable, colossal, spectacular and shocking; epic, monumental, heinous and disgusting. It’s like watching 17 platypuses try to mount the queen of England. You can’t tear your eyes away from it.

It will go down someday as the greatest reality show ever conceived. The concept is ingenious. Take a combustible mix of the most depraved and filterless half-wits, scam artists and asylum Napoleons America has to offer, give them all piles of money and tell them to run for president. Add Donald Trump. And to give the whole thing a perverse gravitas, make the presidency really at stake.

It’s Western civilization’s very own car wreck. Even if you don’t want to watch it, you will. It’s that awesome of a spectacle.

But what does it mean? Or to put it another way, since we know it can’t mean anything good: Is this enough of a disaster that we shouldn’t laugh?

I went to Iowa to see for myself.

Rockwell City, Iowa, evening, July 30th. I’ve just rushed up from Des Moines to catch my first event on the Clown Car tour, a stump speech by TV personality Mike Huckabee, whom the Internet says was also once governor of Arkansas.

Traditionally, in these early stages of a presidential campaign, very little happens. Candidates treat their stump work like comedians practicing new material between the lunch and dinner hours. In the old days, they tiptoed their positions out before small audiences in little farm towns like this in an effort to see what minor policy tweaks might play better later on in the race, when the bullets start flying for real.

That’s what one normally expects. But 2016 is very different, as I found out in Rockwell City right away.

Two factors have combined to make this maybe the most unlikely political story of our times. The first is the campaign’s extraordinary number of entrants. As The Washington Post noted last fall, this is the first time in recent memory that there is no heir-apparent candidate (like a Bob Dole). For some reason, during the last years of the Obama presidency, the national Republican Party chose not to throw its weight behind anyone, leading a monstrous field of has-beens and never-weres to believe that they had a real shot at winning the nomination.

So throughout this spring and summer, a new Human Punchline seemingly jumped into the race every week. There were so many of these jokers, coming so fast, that news commentators quickly latched onto the image of a parade of clowns emerging from a political Volkswagen, giving birth to the “clown car” theme.

But the more important factor has been the astounding presence of Donald Trump as the front-runner. The orangutan-haired real estate magnate entered the race in mid-June and immediately blew up cable and Twitter by denouncing Mexicans as rapists and ripping 2008 nominee John McCain for having been captured in war.

Both moves would have been fatal to “serious” candidates in previous elections. But amid the strange Republican leadership void of 2016, the furor only gave Trump further saturation among the brainless nativists in his party and inexplicably vaulted him to front-runner status. The combination of Trump constantly spewing crazy quotes and the strategy actually working turned his campaign into a veritable media supernova, earning the Donald more coverage than all of the other candidates combined.

This led to a situation where the candidates have had to resort to increasingly bizarre tactics in order to win press attention. Add to this the curious dynamic of the first Republican debate, on August 6th, in which only the top 10 poll performers get on the main stage, and the incentive to say outlandish things in search of a poll bump quickly reached a fever pitch. So much for the cautious feeling-out period: For the candidates, it was toss grenades or die.

Back in the Rockwell City library, the small contingent of reporters covering the day’s third “Huckabee Huddle” was buzzing. A local TV guy was staring at his notes with a confused look on his face, like he couldn’t believe what he read. “Weirdest thing,” he said. “I was just in Jefferson, and Huckabee said something about invoking the 14th and 5th amendments to end abortion. I’m really not sure what he meant.”

This GOP race is a minute-to-minute contest for media heat and Internet hits, where positive and negative attention are almost equally valuable.

A moment later, Huckabee sauntered into the library for an ad-hoc presser, and was quickly asked what he meant. “Just what I said,” he quipped. “It is the job of the federal government to protect the citizens under the Constitution.”

He went on to explain that even the unborn were entitled to rights of “due process and equal protection.” The attendant reporters all glanced sideways at one another. The idea of using the 14th Amendment, designed to protect the rights of ex-slaves, as a tool to outlaw abortion in the 21st century clearly would have its own dark appeal to the Fox crowd. But it occurred to me that Huckabee might have had more in mind.

“Are we talking about sending the FBI or the National Guard to close abortion clinics?” I asked.

“We’ll see when I get to be president,” he answered.

Huckabee smiled. Perhaps alone among all the non-Trump candidates, Huckabee knows what kind of fight he’s in. This GOP race is not about policy or electability or even raising money. Instead, it’s about Nielsen ratings or trending. It’s a minute-to-minute contest for media heat and Internet hits, where positive and negative attention are almost equally valuable.

Huckabee launched his campaign on May 5th, running on a carefully crafted and somewhat unconventional Republican platform centered around economic populism, vowing to end “stagnant wages” and help people reach a “higher ground.”

But emphasizing economic populism is the kind of wonky policy nuance that doesn’t do much to earn notice in the Twitter age. After an early bump pushed him briefly up to fourth place, Huckabee began a steady slide in the polls as the unrestrained lunacy of Trump began seizing control of the race. By late July, Huckabee’s numbers had fallen, and he had to be worrying that he would land out of the top 10.

But then, on July 25th, Huckabee gave an interview to Breitbart News in which he shamelessly invoked Godwin’s Law, saying that Barack Obama’s deal with Iran “would take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven.”

The quote hit the airwaves like a thunderclap. Virtually everyone in the English-speaking world with an IQ over nine shrieked in disgust. The Huckster’s “ovens” rant brought MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski to near-tears on air. Huckabee even prompted an Israeli transportation minister to exclaim, Dirty Dancing-style, “Nobody marches the Jews to ovens anymore.”

Even in Huckabee’s own party, he was denounced. Jeb Bush, anxious to cast himself as the non-crazy, Uncola Republican in a field of mental incompetents, called on everyone to “tone down the rhetoric.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, known as one of America’s most dickishly unscrupulous hate merchants, said, “You’re not hearing me use that sort of language.”

But far from being deterred by all of the negative attention, Huckabee shrewdly embraced it. Much like the Donald, Huckabee swallowed up the negative press energy like a Pac-Man and steamed ahead, and was soon climbing in the polls again.

Huckabee had stumbled into the truth that has been driving the support for the Trump campaign: That in this intensely media-driven race, inspiring genuine horror and disgust among the right people is worth a lot of votes in certain quarters, irrespective of how you go about it. If you’re making an MSNBC anchor cry or rendering a coastal media villain like Anderson Cooper nearly speechless (as Trump has done), you must be doing something right.

In Rockwell City, it seemed like Huckabee was consciously trying to repeat his “ovens” stunt. He smiled as the media in attendance filed out of the presser, surely knowing we would have the “we’ll see” quote up on social media within minutes.

At the event, he was glowingly introduced by Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King, who revved the crowd by bashing the Supreme Court ruling clearing the way for gay marriage. King had apparently been told on good authority by a lawyer friend that Obergefell v. Hodges meant that only one party in a marriage had to be a human being. “What that means,” he said, “is you can now marry my lawn mower.”

A reporter next to me leaned over. “King’s lawn mower is gay?”

I shrugged. In the modern Republican Party, making sense is a secondary consideration. Years of relentless propaganda combined with extreme frustration over the disastrous Bush years and two terms of a Kenyan Muslim terrorist president have cast the party’s right wing into a swirling suckhole of paranoia and conspiratorial craziness. There is nothing you can do to go too far, a fact proved, if not exactly understood, by the madman, Trump.

Huckabee’s speech tossed plenty of red meat into the grinder, explaining that America was divinely created by “providence of almighty God,” which is the only explanation for the extreme longevity of the Constitution. He stepped down to hearty applause, giving way to a performance by a group of Rockwell City Republican women, who sang what they called a “rap song.” There was no beat and each of the 10-odd singers was off from the next by a word or two:

People want the freedom

To make medical and personal choices!

And we want representatives

To listen to our voices!

Listening, I suddenly worried that the International Federation of Black People would detect this “rap” performance from afar and call in an air strike. Sneaking out the front door, I checked my phone to see how Huck’s abortion-clinic play was doing: He’d already set off a media shitstorm.

Within 24 hours, he was being denounced across the blogosphere, but he was soon riding up in the polls again, one of the few shoo-ins to get on the main stage of the August 6th debate.

It was astounding, watching the other entrants try to duplicate Huckabee’s feat. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was last seen on the national stage choking on his own face in an infamous 2011 debate performance, when he was unable to name the three federal agencies he himself had promised to do away with. He returned to the race this year basically the same gaffe-spewing yutz he was four years ago, only dressed in preposterous “smart” glasses, a deadly error in a fight with a natural schoolyard bully like Donald Trump.

“He put glasses on so people will think he’s smart,” Trump croaked. “And it just doesn’t work!”

Perry was so grateful to even be mentioned by Trump that he refocused his campaign apparatus on an epic response, apparently in an attempt to draw the Donald into a Drake/Meek Mill-style diss war. He tossed off a 3,000-word speech denouncing “Trumpism” as the modern incarnation of the Know-Nothing movement (one could almost hear Trump scoffing, “What the fuck is a Know-Nothing?”). He decried Trump himself as a “barking carnival act” and a “cancer” that the party should “excise” for its own sake — and, one supposes, for Rick Perry’s.

Trump, too busy being front-runner to notice Perry’s desperate volleys, basically blew the Texan off. A week later, Perry was in a tie for 10th place in the polls. Asked if his campaign was finished if he didn’t make the debate cut, Perry replied, in characteristically malaprop fashion, that making the debate was “not a one-shot pony.” He ended up missing his shot, or his pony, or whatever, and was squeezed out of the debate.

Many of the entrants tried nutty media stunts to re-inject energy into the race. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul attempted to revive his flagging libertarian-niche campaign by putting out a video. In it, the candidate appears dressed in shop goggles and jeans, curly hair flying, chain-sawing the tax code in half. He looks like Ryan Phillippe doing a Billy Mays ad.

Then there was South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the few candidates with a sense of humor about how much of a long shot he is. “I do bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, weddings, funerals – call me, I’ll come,” he cracked. Once in the race, though, Graham immediately trolled Trump by calling him a “jackass,” then briefly enjoyed some press limelight when the furious front-runner gave out Graham’s telephone number to the public.

Graham responded to the blessing of a Trump insult by putting out a video celebrating his Trump-victimhood. In it, the candidate chops up his cellphone Ginsu-style, mixes it in a blender in a foul-looking yellow liquid, and whacks it with a nine-iron, or maybe a wedge (note: the Graham camp says it was a nine).

All of this actually happened. Can we be that far from candidates putting out dueling cat videos?

In late July, in a cramped conference room of a Marriott in West Des Moines, Graham showed up to introduce himself to voters. In person, he’s an odd character, like an oversize ventriloquist’s dummy, with too-bright eyes and cheeks frozen in a half-grin.

He calls his event a “No Nukes for Iran” rally. Clearly gunning for a Cabinet post in Defense or Homeland Security, Graham is running almost a one-issue race, campaigning on being the candidate who most thinks Barack Obama’s Iran deal sucks.

Of course, all 17 of the Republican candidates think Obama’s Iran deal sucks, but Graham wants you to know he really thinks it sucks. Part of his stump speech is ripped straight from Team America: He thinks the Iran deal will result in “9/11 times a hundred.” Actually in Graham’s version, it’s 9/11 times a thousand.

“The only reason 3,000 of us died on 9/11 and not 3 million,” he said, “is they could not get the weapons.”

Graham would seem to be perfectly suited for this Twitter-driven race, because he has a reputation in Washington for being a master of the one-liner and a goofball with boundaries issues who not infrequently crosses lines in his humor. “Did you see Nancy Pelosi on the floor?” he reportedly once quipped. “Complete disgust. If you can get through the surgeries, it’s disgust.”

But in person, Graham is a dud. His nasal voice and dry presentation make Alan Greenspan seem like Marilyn Manson. Still, it doesn’t take too long for him to drift into rhetoric that in a normal political season would distinguish him as an unhinged lunatic, which is interesting because pundits usually call Graham one of the “sane” candidates.

First, he firmly promised to re-litigate the Iraq War. “I’m gonna send some soldiers back to Iraq,” he said. “If I’m president, we’re going back to Iraq.”

Promising concretely to restart a historically unpopular war is a solid Trump-era provocation, but Graham then took it a step further. He pledged to solve the Syria problem by channeling Lawrence of Arabia and leading an Arab army in an epic campaign to unseat the caliphate.

Graham, a politician who reportedly once said that “everything that starts with ‘al-’ in the Middle East is bad news,” insisted he was just the man to unite the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Turks and other peoples in battle, and also get them to pay for the invasion (getting dirty foreigners to pay for our policies is another Trump innovation). “We’re going into Syria with the Arabs in the lead,” Graham said. “They will do most of the fighting, and they’re gonna pay for it because we paid for the last two.”

I looked around the room. No reaction whatsoever. An old man in the rear of the hall was picking a cuticle off his middle finger, but otherwise, nobody moved. There were reporters, but Graham’s hawkish bleatings don’t rate much in an America obsessed with Caitlyn and Rachel Dolezal and the Donald.

Instead, later that same day, news leaked out that a Trump political adviser, Sam Nunberg, had once referred to Al Sharpton’s daughter as a “n—–” on Facebook. This is news. It virtually obliterated all other campaign information.

Within a day, polls showed Trump surging like never before. One Reuters poll released on August 1st showed him scoring nearly 30 percent of the vote. The second-highest contender, Jeb Bush, was now nearly 20 points off the lead. When Trump completed the news cycle by giving Nunberg an Apprentice-style firing, his triumph was total.

If the clowns who engaged Trump mostly came out looking awful, the ones who didn’t engage him came out looking even worse, including several of the ostensible favorites.

Jeb Bush was supposedly the smarter Bush brother and also the presumptive front-runner in this race. But on July 4th, just a few weeks after entering the race, Trump basically ended the fight in one fell swoop with a single kick in the balls, retweeting that Bush has to like “Mexican illegals because of his wife.”

With a wife’s honor at stake, most self-respecting males would have immediately stalked Trump and belted him in the comb-over. But Bush stayed true to his effete Richie Rich rep and turtled. He said nothing and instead meekly had an aide put out a statement that Trump’s words were “inappropriate and not reflective of the Republican Party’s views.”

It was such a bad showing that the Beltway opinionators at Politico ran a story asking, “Is Jeb Bush turning into Michael Dukakis?” Game, set, match! Bush has been plunging in the polls ever since.

A similar fate befell Marco Rubio, the boy-wonder Republican. Rubio cruised through the early portion of the race, when voters were impressed by his sideswept, anal-retentive, Cuban-Alex-Keaton persona, rising as high as 14 percent in the polls. But then Trump entered the race and blasted the clearly less-than-completely-American Rubio for favoring a pro-immigration bill. “Weak on immigration” and “weak on jobs,” Trump scoffed. “Not the guy.”

He battered Rubio with tweet after tweet, one-liner after one-liner. Trump aides hit Rubio for having “zero credibility” and being a “typical politician” who favored a “dangerous amnesty bill.” Rubio meanwhile defended Mexicans in general after Trump’s “rapists” line, but has passed on engaging Trump’s personal attacks. As a result, Rubio’s support for a path to citizenship for the undocumented has stood out like a herpes sore, and he’s plummeted to five percent in the polls.

The only candidate to really escape Trump’s wrath has been Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and that’s because Cruz has spent the entire political season nuzzling Trump’s ankles, praising the Donald like a lovesick cellmate. The Texas senator, whose rhetorical schtick is big doses of Tea Party crazy (his best line was that Obama wanted to bring “expanded Medicaid” to ISIS) mixed with constant assurances that he’s the most Reagan-y of all the candidates, even reportedly had an hourlong “confab” with Trump. “Terrific,” he said of the meeting, calling Trump “one of a kind.”

The subterranean Cruz-Trump communiqués are a fantastic subplot to this absurdist campaign, hashtagClownCar’s very own Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact. It could mean the two plan to run together, or it could mean Cruz will plead for Trump’s votes if and when the party finds a way to beg, threaten or blackmail Donald out of the race. Whatever it means, it’s a microcosm of the campaign: simultaneously disgusting and entertaining.

It’s not surprising that Trump’s most serious competition will likely come from Wisconsin’s Walker, who is probably the only person in the race naturally meaner than Trump.

Gov. Scott Walker listens as Donald Trump responds at the first Republican debate. Scott Olson
A central-casting Charmless White Guy who looks like a vice principal or an overdressed traffic cop, Walker traced a performance arc in the past year that was actually a signal of what was to come with Trump. Back in February, when addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference, Walker answered a question of how he would deal with Islamic terrorists by saying, “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

Like Trump’s Mexican remarks, Walker’s gambit comparing American union workers to head-chopping Islamic terrorists seemed like a bridge too far even for many Republicans. He was criticized by the National Review and future opponent Perry, among others. But instead of plummeting in the polls, Walker, like Trump, gained ground.

The irony is that this was supposed to be the year when the Republicans opened the tent up, made a sincere play for the Hispanic vote, and perhaps softened up a bit on gays and other vermin. But then the lights went on in the race and voters flocked to a guy whose main policy plank was the construction of a giant Game of Thrones-style wall to keep rape-happy ethnics off our lawns. So much for inclusion!

Waterloo, Iowa, August 1st. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie showed up at Lincoln Park downtown to attend the Cedar Valley Irish fest, a multiday fair with street cuisine, tents full of hand-made crafts, live music and a 5K road race. In a state where a more typical event is a stale VFW hall buffet or a visit to the world’s largest truck stop (the I-80 meet-and-greet is a staple of Iowa campaigning), the Irish fest is a happening scene, featuring good food and sizable numbers of people under the age of 60.

Two years ago, Christie’s arrival at an event like this would have been a major political event. Back then, Christie was a national phenomenon, a favorite to be dubbed presumptive front-runner for 2016.

Christie’s the type of candidate political audiences have come to expect: Once every four years, commentators in New York and Washington will fall in love with some “crossover” politician who’s mean enough to be accepted by the right wing, but also knows a gay person or once read a French novel or something. In the pre-Trump era, we became conditioned to believe that this is what constituted an “exciting” politician.

Christie was to be that next crossover hit, the 2016 version of McCain. Washington’s high priest of Conventional Wisdom, Mark Halperin, even called him “magical,” and Time called him a guy who “loves his mother and gets it done.”

But two years later, Christie has been undone by “Bridgegate,” and the buzz is gone. When he showed up at Cedar Falls, there were just a few reporters to meet him. One of the Iowa press contingent explained to me that with the gigantic field, some of the lesser candidates are falling through the cracks. “We just don’t have enough bodies to cover the race,” the reporter said. “It’s never been like this.”

Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, made their way patiently through the crowd, shaking hands and talking football and other topics with a handful of attendees. It was old-school politics, the way elections used to be won in this country, but it was hard not to watch this painstaking one-person-at-a-time messaging and wonder how it competes in the social-media age.

Trump has perversely restored democracy to the process, turning the race into a pure high school popularity contest conducted in the media.

After the event, I asked Christie whether the huge field makes it difficult to get media attention. “Well, I’ve never had any trouble getting attention,” he said. “I just think it’s differentiating yourself. I think it plays to our strengths, because we’ve always worked really hard.”

Right, hard work: that old saw. Later in the day, back across the state in Rockwell City, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum played the same tune at the town’s “Corn Daze” festival. Dressed in jeans, a blue oxford and a face so pious that Christ would be proud to eat a burrito off it, Santorum rushed through a speech explaining that it is in fact he who is the hardest-working man in politics.

“I just want to let you know that we’ve gone to about 55 counties,” he said. “Last time, we went to 99. We’ll probably have 99 done here in the next few weeks.”

I asked how anyone can distinguish himself or herself in a field with so many entrants? “Win Iowa,” he answered curtly.

Right, but how? “What happens in August stays in August,” he said mysteriously, then vanished to his next event. He had, like, 11 events in three days, far more than most other candidates.

Santorum actually won the Iowa race four years ago with his overcaffeinated, kiss-the-most-babies approach. But watching both he and Christie put their chips on the shoe-leather approach to campaigning feels like watching a pair of Neanderthals scout for mammoth. In the Age of Trump, this stuff doesn’t play anymore.

Not that the old guard will go down without a fight. The much-anticipated inaugural Clown Debate in Cleveland was an ambush. Fox kicked off the festivities by twice whacking Trump, Buford Pusser-style, asking him to promise not to make a third-party run (he wouldn’t) and sandbagging him with questions about his history of calling women “fat pigs” (”Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump quipped). After the show, Fox had Republican pollster Frank Luntz organize a focus group that universally panned Trump’s performance. “A total setup,” one of Trump’s aides complained on Twitter.

Trump didn’t seem to care. Hell, he didn’t even prepare for the debate. “Trump doesn’t rehearse,” an aide told reporters. All he did was show up and do what he always does: hog everything in sight, including airtime. As hard as Fox tried to knock him out, the network couldn’t take its eyes off him. He ended up with almost two full minutes more airtime than the other “contestants,” as he hilariously called them on the Today show the morning after the debate. It’s the scorpion nature of television, come back to haunt the “reality-makers” at Fox: The cameras can’t resist a good show.

Politics used to be a simple, predictable con. Every four years, the money men in D.C. teamed up with party hacks to throw their weight behind whatever half-bright fraud of a candidate proved most adept at snowing the population into buying a warmed-over version of the same crappy policies they’ve always bought.

Pundits always complained that there wasn’t enough talk about issues during these races, but in reality, issues were still everything. Behind the scenes, where donors gave millions for concrete favors, there was always still plenty of policy. And skilled political pitchmen like Christie, who could deftly deliver on those back-room promises to crush labor and hand out transportation contracts or whatever while still acting like a man of the people, were highly valued commodities.

Not anymore. Trump has blown up even the backroom version of the issues-driven campaign. There are no secret donors that we know of. Trump himself appears to be the largest financial backer of the Trump campaign. A financial report disclosed that Trump lent his own campaign $1.8 million while raising just $100,000.

There’s no hidden platform behind the shallow facade. With Trump, the facade is the whole deal. If old-school policy hucksters like Christie can’t find a way to beat a media master like Trump at the ratings game, they will soon die out.

In a perverse way, Trump has restored a more pure democracy to this process. He’s taken the Beltway thinkfluencers out of the game and turned the presidency into a pure high-school-style popularity contest conducted entirely in the media. Everything we do is a consumer choice now, from picking our shoes to an online streaming platform to a presidential nominee.

The irony, of course, is that when America finally wrested control of the political process from the backroom oligarchs, the very first place where we spent our newfound freedom and power was on the campaign of the world’s most unapologetic asshole. It may not seem funny now, because it’s happening to us, but centuries from this moment, people will laugh in wonder.

America is ceasing to be a nation, and turning into a giant television show. And this Republican race is our first and most brutal casting call.

From The Archives Issue 1242: August 27, 2015
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8/18/2015

WHY THE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES ARE ATTACKING SOCIAL SECURITY BY PAUL KRUGMAN

Filed under: prairie musings, print news, GOP — Peg Britton @ 3:21 pm

MON AUG 17, 2015 AT 10:37 AM PDT
Krugman: Why All The Republican Candidates Are Attacking Social Security
byDartagnan

Historically speaking, politicians who have attacked Social Security (oft-described as the “Third Rail” in American politics) have not fared well with the American people. The program, originally designed to provide supplemental retirement security for all Americans, is actually a critical financial lifeline for millions. Many elderly people would either be pushed into squalid, poorly equipped nursing homes, forced to live with their children (assuming they have them) or cast out into the streets without the modest monthly income most paid taxes for all their lives to support and ensure. When George W. Bush began to push to “privatize” Social Security into accounts dependent on the stock market, his efforts were quickly squelched by Democrats and even some Republicans who responded to the public’s overwhelming disapproval of such measures. In retrospect this probably saved millions of older Americans from becoming destitute when the Bush economy crashed in 2007-2008, wiping out billions in stock values.

It seems, however, that the near-universal popularity of Social Security has failed to make much of an impression on nearly all of the current Republican candidates for President, who have publicly announced their intent to impose cuts in benefits, privatization, or other drastic reductions to a program that is neither “insolvent” nor in any financial peril: Thus, Jeb Bush says that the retirement age should be pushed back to “68 or 70”. Scott Walker has echoed that position. Marco Rubio wants both to raise the retirement age and to cut benefits for higher-income seniors. Rand Paul wants to raise the retirement age to 70 and means-test benefits. Ted Cruz wants to revive the Bush privatization plan.

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, writing for the New York Times, thinks he knows why the new and prevailing Republican line is so completely contrary to what the vast majority of Americans want–it’s the simple fact that these GOP candidates do not represent the vast majority of Americans. In fact, they only represent a tiny, miniscule sliver of Americans, barely enough to fit into a skybox at a professional football game. That is the entirety of the American electorate to whom these candidates are beholden to. And that tiny group wants to get rid of Social Security: The answer, I’d suggest, is that it’s all about the big money. Wealthy individuals have long played a disproportionate role in politics, but we’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now: domination of campaign finance, especially on the Republican side, by a tiny group of immensely wealthy donors. Indeed, more than half the funds raised by Republican candidates through June came from just 130 families.

And while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security. By a very wide margin, ordinary Americans want to see Social Security expanded. But by an even wider margin, Americans in the top 1 percent want to see it cut.

The study Dr. Krugman refers to was conducted by Northwestern University and is titled Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans. As far as academic studies go it’s fascinating stuff, a one-of-a kind window into the mind of the one percent highest wage earners in the country. One of the marked findings of the study was how active wealthy Americans are–vastly more active compared to the rest of the population. And these folks think they know what’s best for the rest of us, particularly with regard to Social Security: We have seen that our wealthy respondents—in sharp contrast to the general public—tilted toward cutting rather than expanding Social Security.The SESA survey did not explore precisely how such cuts would be made. But the proposals for doing so that have been put forward by various experts, politicians, and deficit-reduction commissions—raising the retirement age at which benefits can be received, slowing cost-of-living adjustments, and the like—mostly appear to be opposed by majorities of the general public.

But in reality the 130 or so families who are now effectively in charge of the Republican Party are not even the “1%”. They are a much tinier sliver, and it is they who are entirely calling the shots for these candidates. As the study notes, these people are far more conservative, overall, than even the top 1%:
Variation within this wealthy group suggests that the top one-tenth of 1 percent of wealthholders (people with $40 million or more in net worth) may tend to hold still more conservative views that are even more distinct from those of the general public.

As a result, the Republican candidates, beholden to these ultra-conservative Billionaire donors, must mold their policy positions to accommodate their desires. And this is how and why the Republican Party functions–not as a vehicle for the needs of their actual constituents–the folks who keep marching into the voting booth and pulling the “R” lever because they’ve been brainwashed by the NRA gun-industry lobby into believing Obama will take their guns away– but as a means for their donors to ultimately privatize–and profit off of–the vast amounts of money that go into the Social Security system through our payroll taxes. This despite the fact that 80% of Americans oppose raising the retirement age, which most see as a prelude to more and more cuts. It doesn’t matter to them, for example, that lifting the payroll cap of $118,500 would resolve Social Security’s funding issues in an instant. The fact is that the abolition or privatization of Social Security has been a longterm goal for decades by those who now control the Republican Party: In 1980, the platform of David Koch’s Libertarian Party called for “the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system.” Thirty-four years ago, that was an extreme view of a fringe party that had the support of 1 percent of the American people. Today, the mainstream view of the Republican Party is that “entitlement reform” is absolutely necessary.

It’s important to recognize that the desire to transform or eliminate Social Security at the behest of these Billionaires is not limited to these particular candidates. The Republican Congress and Senate are just as much under the control of the Kochs and their ilk. As a result a Republican in the White House would encounter little if any resistance to implementing these cuts from the very institution that would vote them into existence. Krugman concludes by describing the implications this has for the rest of us: What this means, in turn, is that the eventual Republican nominee … will be committed not just to a renewed attack on Social Security but to a broader plutocratic agenda. Whatever the rhetoric, the GOP is on track to nominate someone who has won over the big money by promising government by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent.

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.

12/16/2014

HERE ARE A FEW THINGS YOU CAN BLAME ON BARACK OBAMA…

Filed under: prairie musings, political musings, Barack Obama, GOP — Peg Britton @ 9:11 am

Job losses were cut by more than 50% within his first 4 months in office.

He saved the American auto industry.

Has cut our deficits by more than half.

Killed Osama bin Ladin.

Got Syria to give up their chemical weapons without firing a single shot.

Presided over record breaking stock levels (with the Dow closing over 17,000 for the first time in its 118-year history).

Reduced unemployment from 10% to 5.8%.

We just saw the best year of job growth in the United States since 1999.

The quickest drop in unemployment in 30 years.

57 straight months of private sector job growth.

Over 10 million private sector jobs created.

Over 8 million people signed up for health care thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Millions of Americans have gained, or kept, health care coverage thanks to Medicaid expansions and being able to stay on their parents’ insurance longer.

He hasn’t started a single war.

He hasn’t tried to confiscate a single gun.

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
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8/20/2014

COURTNEY TRAIN LETTER…

Filed under: political musings, print news, GOP — Peg Britton @ 11:29 am

kris-kobach.png

From The Salina Journal
Train letter 8-11-14
Friday, August 15, 2014 2:00 AM

Train letter 8-11-14

Name changes create more voting hoops

Kris Kobach’s new voting restrictions are imposing serious obstacles and should be a cause for great concern for women across the state.

I’d like to encourage my mom to vote in this election, but she has never registered and her current legal name does not appear on her proof of citizenship. It has changed as a result of marriage. My mom is not alone. Recent figures indicate that 34 percent of voting-age women lack proof of citizenship with their current legal name.

With new voting restrictions requiring proof of citizenship to register, women who’ve changed last names as a result of marriage have to provide supplemental documents along with their proof of citizenship. My mom is not in a financial position to provide these necessary documents. For my mother and the women of Kansas who lack proof of citizenship with their current names, there is a disproportionate burden imposed on exercising their right to vote.

This law is an infringement on the rights of all Kansans, especially women and the poor. If you value the right to vote, if you value gender equality, cast a vote against Kobach for my mom on Election Day. I know I will be.

– COURTNEY TRAIN, Salina

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

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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.

6/22/2014

WHY IS IT YOU ARE A REPUBLICAN?

Filed under: prairie musings, LGBT, GOP, Women's Rights — Peg Britton @ 2:04 pm

To be a conservative must be so much simpler. Who cares about science, climate change, protecting our future, educating our children, saving the planet – that’s all in God’s hands. It doesn’t matter what we think or do because it’s not within our power.

Let’s see…do I have this straight?  Republicans have gone on record as being AGAINST:

…any restrictions on conceal and carry firearms…

….any restriction on gun control and acquisition of ammunition

… separation of church and state…

…minimum wage…

…women having the right to determine their own medical needs…

…women receiving equal pay for equal work……equal opportunity for women…

…Head Start…

… helping children get enough to eat and being sheltered from the elements…

…education…

…immigration reform…

…helping students reduce their student loans…

…teaching evolution/science in schools…

…universal healthcare…

…marrying who you love…

… teacher tenure …

…science and  global warming…

…LGBT individuals having the same rights as others…

…abortion under any circumstance…

…contraceptive use…

…veterans’ care…

…voter rights…

You say you don’t agree with the stand Republicans have taken on the above, but you are still a registered Republican.  Why is that?

Thanks for tuning in…

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.”

2/26/2014

TEA PARTY SENATOR JERRY MORAN BLOCKS BILL TO HELP END MILITARY RAPE…

Filed under: prairie musings, GOP, Women's Rights — Peg Britton @ 8:05 am

Posted by: Sky Palma in TEApublicans in Action February 25, 2014

Showing where his priorities lie, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan) Blocked an attempt to vote on a bill that would address sexual assault in the military – to instead push for more sanctions on Iran.

A report has estimated there to be at least 26,000 men and women who are sexually assaulted every year in the armed forces. Democrats, specifically Claire McCaskill (D-Mo) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), have been feverishly pushing for legislation that will curb the problem.

But this Monday, Moran insisted that a measure to level tougher sanctions on Iran make an appearance on the floor along with the sexual assault bills. Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) outright objected.

“I’m terribly disappointed that my Republican friends are trying to turn this vital national security concern into a partisan issue by trying to inject [it] into a setting where it’s clearly not relevant,” Reid said.

Senator Gillibrand didn’t pull any punches when addressing Moran’s actions:

“Anyone who has been listening has heard over and over again from survivors of sexual assault in the military how the deck has been stacked against them,” Gillibrand said. “And for over two full decades, the Defense Department has been unable to uphold its continued failed promises of ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual assault.”

“But when the Senate can’t even agree to debate the one reform that survivors have consistently said is needed to solve this crisis, we are telling those victims that the deck is stacked against them right here in the Senate, too,” she added.

A spokesperson for Moran responded, saying, “Sen. Moran supports having votes on the Gillibrand and McCaskill amendments, but he does not believe Sen. Reid should be allowed to pick and choose which amendments blocked from consideration during debate on NDAA [the National Defense Authorization Act] receive a vote. Sen. Moran believes preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons capability is of such importance it also deserves a vote on the floor.”

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

7/28/2013

TIM HUELSKAMP…OUR FAVORITE BATSH*T CRAZY REPUBLICAN REP….

Filed under: political musings, Pro-life/Pro-choice, religion, GOP — Peg Britton @ 8:27 pm

Tim Huelskamp, our favorite batsh*t crazy Republican Representative from Kansas, is sponsoring an amendment (the Federal Marriage Amendment) to the Constitution that would define marriage as one man and one woman. The American Family Association, home to such crazies as Bryan Fischer, is all for it.

Undeterred by studies showing millennials leaving organized religion, that “young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” Huelskamp had promised such an amendment and he delivered on June 30 of this year. The last such attempt to force a religion down Americans’ throats failed in July 2006.

Just as a refresher, this is the wording of the proposed amendment:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.

by Mike Muller

12/6/2012

CARDIOTHORACIC SURGEON ROBERT FLEMING…AND PALACE HIGHLIGHTS…

Filed under: prairie musings, Tyler Britton USAF, GOP, Presbyterian Manor — Peg Britton @ 8:27 pm

Todd and I went to Wichita today to confer with a cardiothoracic surgeon, Robert Fleming,  who came from Kanopolis.  He’s amazing and has done literally hundreds of surgeries that I have elected to have.  I say “elected” with a smile as there are no options.  Either you elect to have it or you croak in six months. He enjoys an excellent reputation among fellow surgeons, doctors, etc. and Drs. Jerzy Slomka and Shari Morgan, so I picked him from the rest.

Our conversation was particularly interesting because he had open heart surgery performed on him just a week ago today by his partner.  Here he was, the picture of health a week following surgery and back at work seeing patients.  That’s encouraging; however, he’s a lot younger than I am. And, he said he was up walking the minute he came to after surgery.  I’m not sure I’m that tough.  He said it really hurt but he knew that was the way to get well as fast as possible.

In any event, he’s going to do his magic on me January 8th to replace an aortic valve.  He won’t be strong enough to wire me shut and will have help with that from his partner.  After that and some rehab, I can resume my high wire act and flamenco dancing lessons on the 4th floor of the Palace.

Joy, a friend of mine here at the Palace, was just two weeks out from even more extensive aortic aneurism surgery when I first met her.  She advised me not to give it a thought as it was such a simple thing for a patient to undergo.  She never mentioned pain.  Maybe she’s a heavy sleeper as I know it “really hurts”.  She had a surgeon at Galacia in Wichita and when I asked how she selected him, she said that it was a very long story.  The abbreviated version is that she was to have the surgery here in Salina and was sedated, had a heart cath in and was ready for surgery the surgeon came in and said, “I quit!” and walked out. True story.  Her family got her to Wichita where she had very successful surgery.  She’s in rehab here at the Palace but will soon be moving into an apartment in my building.  I’ll be coming back here for rehab too after my surgery.

Since I didn’t have lunch here today I went to the Ivory Keys dining room for dinner.  Ordering is sort of a memory game combined with begging, some whining and lots of hope. There was a table of three men so I joined them, insisting they needed a woman to join them.  They all smiled.  One was my neighbor across the hall, Dale from Sylvan Grove.  Such a nice guy.  Another was a former banker that I knew years ago and the third was a gentleman from Lincoln. They aren’t as chatty as the women, but they were polite and nice.  If I had to guess, I’d bet none of the other women ever chose to sit down with three men at a four top.

Split pea soup was the soup of the day, but Dale had noodle soup that looked good so I wrote it in on my menu to see if I could get some too. I did.  Next time I’ll remember to write “please include  crackers”.  The main item was a cheeseburger with toppings and French fries.  I picked an optional egg salad sandwich as I’d overheard someone the other day say they were good. I also circled “relishes” assuming I’d get a little plate of carrots, celery etc.  No such thing.  Relishes meant a leaf of lettuce, slice of tomato and sliced pickles intended for the cheeseburger.  It enhanced the egg salad, which turned out to be a winner. They also have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that are popular; but I have my own stash of Jiff extra crunchy.

My friend Ginny came in and sat at a table by herself so I joined her after the men departed.  Marilyn, who has a sister in Ellsworth whom I know, joined us.  Then a third lady came from another table just to chat. She one very sharp woman who’s probably nudging 100.  Marilyn asked if there were peaches left over from lunch and there were so she had those.  She was nixed on the veggie salad when the waitress said they didn’t save it.  You have to remember those things to get what you want.

Now it’s 7:30 and everyone heads to bed!  Well, not quite, but it certainly is hard to find anyone roaming around after that.  I come back to my “home’ and  stay busy until 9 or 10.

My friend, Shirley, came by my place today and had a cup of tea and cookies with me.  We had a nice chat…one of many yet to come. She can’t drive and has no family so we hang out. She is hungry for Cozies so some day soon we’ll go spin on the stools, eat a stack of Cozies and have a cold beer.  And reek.

Our high school class members who live here are going to get together for a mini reunion.  That would include Katie and John Weckel, Ivy Marsh, Shirley Drawbaugh, Louie Reynolds, the one I can’t remember and me.  I have all kinds of pictures and newspaper articles to share.  It will be fun.

The Presbyterians here have been in a dither because the top pastors, Tom Reid and Jim Hawley, at the First resigned.  It is terribly upsetting to some of them.  It’s an elderly congregation, and I imagine set in their ways and expectations, while trying to attract more young congregants and young pastors.  Churches all over are having the same problems.

My friend, Ann, called from Ellsworth to see if I had settled in and how I liked it here.  I like it a lot.  A whole lot. I’m doing more here, engaging in more conversations with more people…and learning.  I haven’t been reading much as I’ve spent time rearranging and finding a place for everything…and answering mail, paying bills, contacting friends…and getting settled in.  I’ve been sleeping like a box of rocks.  That’s very nice.  The anxiety of the move is past and all is well.

Ally and Claudia tied into the house today room by room.  Pretty soon what little is left will be in the living room ready for Mosaic.   I wonder where that lost box is?

If you want to read an interesting article about Jerry Moran, you can find it here courtesy of my friend, Sam:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/12/06/1167621/-Jerry-Moran-shame-of-Kansas

Thanks for tuning in…

11/8/2012

RACHEL’S REALITY CHECK FOR REPUBLICANS…

Filed under: prairie musings, Rachel Maddow, GOP — Peg Britton @ 8:50 am

Rachel’s reality check for Republicans…

10/6/2012

ACTIVIST GROUP COLLECTING SIGNATURES TO OUST REPUBLICAN KRIS KOBACH

Filed under: prairie musings, Kansas, GOP, Koch Brothers — Peg Britton @ 9:11 am

Kansas secretary of state faces recall effort
An activist group is collecting signatures to oust Republican Kris Kobach
By Jillian Rayfield

Kris Kobach, recently seen mulling a birther challenge to Obama’s ballot eligibility, is now facing a recall effort.

Activists Sonny Scroggins and Frank Smith are behind the effort, citing Kobach’s role in drafting the controversial immigration laws adopted in Arizona and Alabama as well as his push for voter ID in the state.

But Scroggins and Smith face a few obstacles to even getting a ballot measure. From John Celock of HuffPo:

While legal in Kansas, statewide recall elections are difficult to bring about. Under state law, Scroggins and Smith    will   first need to collect some 83,000 signatures (or 10 percent of the turnout in the 2010 secretary of state election) and show cause to recall Kobach, which will be reviewed by a state judge. A Kansas official can be recalled only for a felony conviction, misconduct, incompetence or failure to perform the duties of his or her office.

If a state judge accepts the petition, the recall effort will need to collect an additional 330,000 signatures (40 percent of the 2010 turnout) to actually get on the ballot. State law also requires recall organizers to obtain at least 100 Kansas residents eligible to vote to sponsor the recall petition.

“Kris has got all the money, got the Koch brother behind him, and he’s got Donald Trump, but we’ve got God on our side and we want everybody sitting at the table,” Scroggins told KMBZ News.

9/24/2012

CHECKS AND BALANCES…THE HAYS DAILY NEWS 9/16/2012

Filed under: prairie musings, Sam Brownback, Kansas, GOP — Peg Britton @ 2:03 pm

Checks, balances

Published on -9/16/2012, 1:43 PM
Editorial by Patrick Lowry

Having three distinct and equal branches of government is a hallmark of the American political experience. Clearly defined in the U.S. Constitution, the form allows for checks and balances amongst various factions. In the context of this nation’s throwing off the yoke of British imperialism, the system was designed to ensure one despot could not control all facets of its citizens’ lives.

Individual states followed suit in creating their own constitutions. Kansas is no exception — at least on paper.

In practical terms, however, a power grab is under way that might well subvert all checks and balances in place since the Sunflower State was admitted to the union.

It began with Gov. Sam Brownback’s election in 2010. In and of itself, no big deal. After six years of Democrat Kathleen Sebelius and another two with Republican-turned-Democrat Mark Parkinson, voters in this red state were ready to try another Republican.

But this was no run-of-the-mill member of the GOP. Fourteen years as a member of Congress allowed him not only to learn the ways of both Washington politics and The Fellowship’s religious conservatism.

Not even two years into his tenure at Cedar Crest, the governor has had great success pushing through his dogmatic vision. Frustrated by being stymied on certain issues, Brownback set about pushing the moderate wing of the party out of office. The recent primary election found Brownback aiding the campaigns of fellow conservatives. The scope of his participation was without precedent in recent memory — and extremely effective. Barring an unlikely miracle such as a bunch of Democrats winning in November or the defeated moderates mounting successful write-in campaigns, conservatives will have a veto-proof super majority of both the Senate and House in Topeka.

Not satisfied with merely two branches of government, conservatives challenged the method in which appellate justices were selected to the court. Tired of activist liberal judges who kept getting appointed by a panel of attorneys who actually are aware of the judges’ qualifications, conservatives are attempting to empanel their own activist judges via the governor’s office and subject to legislative confirmation. Claiming the current system does provide equal protection rights, conservatives filed a legal challenge.

Last week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the lawsuit. The bench ruled the merit-based selection process allows Kansas to have quality nominees and limits the influence of politics. Attorneys are “better equipped than non-attorneys to evaluate the temperament and legal acumen of judicial candidates,” not merely their party affiliation or perceived stance on an issue. Additionally, judges are subjected to statewide elections or retainment votes.

Don’t expect Gov. Brownback to accept this rebuff. We wouldn’t anticipate an appeal to the Supreme Court, however. What we foresee is the Legislature voting in a new judicial selection process as early as next session. With no credible opposition in place, such legislation might be the first item to hit the governor’s desk for a signature.

And sign he will, completing the political trifecta — and ending 150 years of the apparently bothersome checks and balances of legitimate government.

Only the people of Kansas can prevent such grand manipulation from taking place. We allowed the Legislature to become an extension of the executive branch. Will we stand by and allow the judiciary to suffer the same?

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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