Naturally in Kansas, given the Calvinism coursing through our heritage, we are at risk of paying for good fortune with a bit of the bad. In this case, more than a bit.
Like a roaring ogre risen from the fetid swamps of the past, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach declared that he is running for governor, eager to lead us back to the future of Bull Connor’s Birmingham or Ross Barnett’s Mississippi – fire hoses or the poll tax, separate but equal prosperity or squeezed together at back of the bus. You choose – it’s a toss-up.
Kobach’s announcement came on the heels of the legislature’s glorious resurgence of sanity, the Kansas House and Senate passing legislation that reinstates a threebracket income tax and re-starts a flow of reasonable funding for local schools. More, both chambers voted to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of that legislation.
It was an historic accomplishment, one that pulls Kansas back from the abyss of bankruptcy, the shuttering of its educational system and the starvation of social services; in the nick of time we were spared more of the governor’s ruinous “Glide Path to Zero” income taxes for the wealthy, for favored farms and businesses.
But Kobach, in his announcement for governor, said the legislature was wrong. “We’re going in the wrong direction,” he said. He called state government a “monster … bloated”; he offered a tired wheeze echoing his idol and muse, Donald Trump, claiming Kansas “the sanctuary state of the Midwest” for failing to stomp on immigrants with even tougher laws.
Kobach, you will recall, rode into this state seven years ago after months of beating the desert sage to roust Mexicans, writing tough (unconstitutional) immigration and ID laws for Arizona and Alabama and promising to end “voter fraud” in Kansas. Although there was no voter fraud here, or anywhere else, and never has been, Kobach bullied a complacent legislature into bringing Jim Crow back to the state’s election laws – separate but unequal voting, one ballot for (the right) people with all the right papers, and another federal-only ballot for others, people who can’t seem to find all the right papers, and when they do, are told to find more.
Kobach’s Kansas voter laws, which have left tens of thousands of voter registrations in limbo, have been dragged through one appellate court after the next, each ruling that his two-tier voting is as unconstitutional as the day it was junked by federal voting rights and civil rights laws a half-century ago.
As secretary of state, traditionally a task – important as it is – of Kansas’ chief file clerk, Kobach stepped far beyond those bounds. He started his own political action fund while serving as the state’s chief election officer, ladling money to favored candidates; he “suggested” that employees attend his in-office Bible school during working hours; he excoriated those who disagreed with his segregationist voting laws, once calling his most persistent critics, the ACLU and League of Women Voters, “a bunch of communists.” Kobach became a prime advisor for Donald Trump, who recently appointed him vice-chairman of the Election Fraud Commission, a federal squad in search of ghosts in the mist, as if McCarthy’s bedsheet knights had been resurrected to search for commies in the Marines. And he has accused officials of dereliction for failing to profile immigrants (the dark-skinned ones) and jail them as aliens.
Yet the man wants to be governor. Kobach, the steam still rising from the moss on his back, wants to return us to even darker days, to eradicate those 30- or 50- or 90,000 voters in limbo and to “fight against every attempt to raise taxes,” as though we haven’t just learned that lesson, and we’re not free from it yet. The governor’s no-tax Nirvana has bled the treasury dry, left us with a billion-dollar operating deficit; an emaciated highway fund; three credit downgrades; a state hospital that pays a $1 million monthly fine because it is not funded adequately; a wretchedly under financed and vacant school finance formula; colleges and universities in starvation and with outlandish tuition increases; school teachers, administrators college professors fleeing the state for ones that welcome educators, not demean them; local hospitals and clinics shuttered or on life support for lack of funding – and the list goes on, all of it due to that no-tax way of government.
As for that “largest tax increase in history,” it may be that, but only because it barely covers the largest tax cuts in history, the ones that have left this state withered and gasping. We’re only returning to 2010, just before those cuts began.
Kobach would take us back further, into storms of locusts, days of the poll tax and county poor farms, macadam roads, two-room schools and two-place drinking fountains, no income taxes for the rich and property taxes for everyone else, state government in the tank and local government on the squeeze.
We’ve been there, only recently. Kobach wants to take us back to even darker times. In the name of sanity, why would anyone think of going?