Sibling wars (2)

Valley Voice

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The Republicans’ censure of Jerry Moran and the ascent of state chairman Mike Brown, an election conspiracy promoter, are recent flashpoints in a long history of Republicans feuds among themselves.
The nastier battles disgusted voters, who responded by sending Democrats to Cedar Crest, at times to Congress and, on occasion, to majorities of the Kansas House.
By the mid-1970s, several forces were working against Republican Gov. Robert Bennett early in his first term. Among them were inflation and the cost of living; state spending would surpass $2 billion for the first time, with nearly a fourth of that money from Washington.
The cost of local government was rising, and higher property taxes loomed. At the same time, sales and income tax revenues rolled into Topeka atop an estimated $100 million-plus state budget surplus. ($525 million today).
Gov. Bennett and Republicans rejected a case for returning revenues to local government; Local problems, they said, should be solved with local taxes and without state aid. This infuriated local officials (many were Republicans), who noted that the governor had no trouble accepting $483 million in federal dollars for his $2 billion state budget.
Bennett’s advertised image as a conservative was in contrast to his personal fleet of state cars ( two Cadillacs plus two state sedans), a $900,000 appropriation for a new airplane ($4.7 million today), and a $100,000 remodeling ($525,000 today) at Cedar Crest, the governor’s mansion. He had assembled an inner circle and paid them high salaries; he had added new branch offices at Wichita and Garden City.
Bennett also criticized the state’s new Governmental Ethics Commission while he continued his visible association with well-heeled lobbyists. He maneuvered to get legislative friends quick appointments to the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulated utilities. The tone set by Bennett seemed negative: Republicans could only have friends who are useful and who can be used.
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Democrats in 1976 were elected to a 65-60 majority in the Kansas House and John Carlin, speaker of the House, became a Democratic candidate for governor in1978. His campaign spread the word about Bennett, and in the final days of his campaign Carlin knotted his message with a neat ‒ if not entirely accurate ‒ slam that Bennett was responsible for soaring utility bills.
It worked: The Republican governor was from wealthy Johnson County, aloof and negative, accepting federal dollars while hoarding state revenues, associate of powerful lobbyists, manipulator of the corporation commission, friend of big business and bigger utility bills.
Carlin was elected. The fallout against Republicans sent Democrats to Congress: U.S. Rep. Martha Keys of Topeka was reelected in the 2nd District, and in the 4th District, Dan Glickman of Wichita defeated incumbent Republican Garner Shriver.
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Republicans, eager to challenge Carlin’s reelection campaign, formed another circular firing squad in 1982. Five candidates were on the party primary ballot. Sam Hardage of Wichita, vicious and uncompromising, won the nomination with 36 percent of the vote. Former Lt. Gov. and state party chairman Dave Owen was second with 34 percent and House Speaker Wendell Lady (26 percent) finished third. Hardage had been ham-handed and bull-headed in a poisonous contest. Owen, Lady and other Republican regulars never got over it.
Carlin beat Hardage 1982 with 54 percent of the vote. Late in his first term, Carlin had proposed a severance tax on oil, gas and coal to raise new revenues for schools and highways. Carlin, working with the legislature’s majority Republicans, secured approval of the new tax in 1983.
Carlin also won an increase in the state sales tax and additional taxes on higher income brackets. The legislature allowed multi-banking in Kansas, began efforts to court international trade, established economic development planning and created a $20 million state venture capital fund.
The agenda seemed dominated by Carlin but he could not have achieved elimination of the sales tax on utilities and the property tax on farm machinery, or advocated new prisons, or expanded overseas markets, without help from Republicans and their leaders.
In 1986, the last year of Carlin’s two terms, he campaigned for six amendments to the Kansas Constitution. Among them were liquor by the drink, a state lottery, property classification and pari-mutuel betting. The voters’ approval would transform the government and culture of the state as had few other reforms in its history. Carlin would finish his second term as one of the state’s most accomplished and popular governors.
The law prevented Carlin from a third consecutive term. It was said that Republican Mike Hayden became the next governor because Carlin couldn’t be.
For Republicans, trouble loomed.
(Next: Feuding through Brownback)

SOURCEJohn Marshall
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John Marshall is the retired editor-owner of the Lindsborg (Kan.) News-Record (2001-2012), and for 27 years (1970-1997) was a reporter, editor and publisher for publications of the Hutchinson-based Harris Newspaper Group. He has been writing about Kansas people, government and culture for more than 40 years, and currently writes a column for the News-Record and The Rural Messenger. He lives in Lindsborg with his wife, Rebecca, and their 21 year-old African-Grey parrot, Themis.

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