In certain wards and precincts across Kansas, the coming election offers a challenger, most likely a Democrat, to the incumbent office holder, more than likely a Republican. The choice is about more than one party versus the other. It is about change (the challenger) or more of the same (the incumbent).
Republicans in recent years have dominated Democrats in the 125-member Kansas House of Representatives (97-28) and 40-member State Senate (32-8). Almost unanimously and for at least five years Republicans have endorsed Gov. Sam Brownback in adopting one unbalanced budget after the next, leading the state from a $700 million balance in 2010 to repeated budget deficits and a bankrupt state treasury.
Last June, the House and Senate approved a budget $100 million in the red, threw up their hands, blessed the governor with authority to deal with the problem, and then left the Statehouse. The governor was free to deal with the budget any way he chose. Our senators and representatives washed their hands of it.
The result is a state in shambles. Income taxes for the rich and for most businesses were cut dramatically, leaving the rest of us with the bills, which are no longer paid, or paid on time. We have had two sales tax increases (especially on food), and local government, with state revenue sharing shut off, is forced to increase local property taxes, so far up $500 million; Republicans and the governor have borrowed more and more to avoid bankruptcy, forcing the state’s total debt load to $4.5 billion, double what it was two years ago. State laws that limit borrowing were suspended in the spring of 2015 to issue $400 million in so-called “highway” bonds, the proceeds immediately swept away to cover deficits created by the income tax cuts. More, the state’s credit rating has been downgraded twice this year by Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s.
Financial mismanagement – repeatedly endorsed by Republican legislators – has strangled local schools, throttled what’s left of the highway department, and decimated college and university budgets, forcing historic increases in student tuition, fees and debt.
The state’s most needy have suffered terribly. The safety of children in foster care is in doubt. A state hospital, now decertified for risks to patient safety, costs the state $1 million monthly in lost federal funding. State cuts in Medicaid have meant the loss of tens of millions in federal aid; private contractors have scrambled the application process, denying health care to thousands of Medicaid applicants. (The governor, though, boasts of a “low welfare enrollment.”)
There’s much more, but that’s the idea. Government as we know it has been savaged by the governor and his lap dog Republican legislature. Incumbent Republicans, starting with Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita, are desperate to explain away their compliance when, in fact, they sanctioned the governor’s every move. (Wagle’s story is especially galling. She criticizes the governor, hoping that we will forget that she worked with him enthusiastically, in 2012, to purge the Senate of members who dared to question the governor’s plans. The Senate President, Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, was among eight victims. His defeat allowed Wagle to have his office.)
Some incumbents have attempted to explain by analysis, babbling about “mistakes” in the third person, as though they were there on the sidelines but powerless to stop the bleeding. Others, of course, have lied about their role, claiming they voted one way or another, or confuse the issue with discourse on parliamentary procedure. They were there, to be sure. They voted, for certain. They were active, they watched it happen. They helped to sanction catastrophe, to put an entire state at risk, and they want us to reward this malfeasance? Don’t believe their excuses. Don’t fall for contrition. No guarantee backs the bleating of confessors. Remember, the governor remains in power with his Doberman, Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
We fell for the promises and lies and phony theories two years ago. See what happened. We have a choice once more. Do we want change, or more of the same?