Kansas: A Tea Party Test Case

Annie Gowen and Magda Jean-Louis of The Washington Post writes in Seattle Times Kansas: A Tea Party Test Case If you want to know what a Tea Party America might look like, there is no place like Kansas.

In the past year, three state agencies have been abolished and 2,050 jobs cut. Funding for schools, social services and the arts have been slashed. The new Republican governor rejected a $31.5 million federal grant for a new health-insurance exchange because he opposes President Obama’s health-care law. That’s just the small stuff. An “Office of the Repealer” has been created to reduce the number of laws and regulations, and the Repealer is canvassing the state for more cut suggestions. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback now plans to roll out proposals to change the way schools are funded, taxes are levied and state penions are administered.

RightWeb relates Sen. Sam Brownback (KS-R), one of the Senate’s leading social conservatives, has also been a key promoter of an aggressive war on terror focused on the Middle East and potential threats to Israel. Brownback came to Washington in 1990 as a White House Fellow working under U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills during the George H.W. Bush administration and in 1994 was elected to the House of Representatives as part of a wave of Republican victories that gave the GOP control of Congress. Self-described as a member of the “hard core” that drove the party’s anti-big government agenda, Brownback won the 1996 election for the Senate seat vacated by Bob Dole. He won a full term in 1998, was reelected in 2004.

A year after voters vaulted hundreds of tea-party candidates to power on Capitol Hill and in state capitals, the movement’s goals are being pursued aggressively in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Texas; but in Kansas, as nowhere else, tea-party fervor is reshaping government. The same elements of the Republican Party that are driving the confrontation over taxes and spending in Washington, D.C. completely control Kansas. The GOP controls the state House with the biggest majority in half a century. Emboldened, Brownback, the state’s former two-term U.S. senator, has embarked on his overhaul at a breathtaking pace. “It’s a revolution in a cornfield,” said Arthur Laffer, the 71-year-old architect of supply-side economics and former Reagan economic adviser who is working with the governor. “Brownback and his whole group there, it’s an amazing thing they’re doing. Truly revolutionary.” (Arthur Laffer founded the Free Enterprise Fund which lobbied for Social Security privatization, the permanent repeal of estate tax, and for tort reform; It is also opposed to the Sarbanes–Oxley Act.) Brownback, 55, declined to be interviewed but has said he wants to turn his small farming state into a national showcase for the virtues of limited government. “The states are to be the laboratory for democracy,” he said recently at a dinner at the Kansas Policy Institute, a think tank in Wichita. “Why not here and why not us and why not now?”

The governor has said his main concerns are creating jobs, cutting taxes and bringing new businesses to the state, which has been losing population over the past decade and ranks near the bottom in private-sector job creation. “We cannot continue on this path and hope we can move forward and win the future,” he said in the Wichita speech. “It won’t work. We have to change course, and we’re going to have to be aggressive about it.” Brownback has shown little patience with anyone who might stand in the way of the revolution. Nine moderate state Senate Republicans who crossed him face primary challengers in 2012.

Kansas has been one of the most reliably Republican states in presidential elections. Only three Democrats have won there in the past 100 years. In 2008, John McCain beat Obama 57 percent to 41 percent, winning all but three of the state’s 105 counties.

Earl Glynn writing in Political Party Trends in Kansas relates Wyandotte County is the “most Democratic” county while Washington County is the “most Republican” county with the 103 other counties in-between.
Wikipedia relates that in 2010 Washington County the Keystone-Cushing Pipeline, Phase II, was constructed, running north to south, with much controversy over tax exemption and environmental concerns if a leak ever occurs 3 and 4.
PBS Patchwork Nation relates that the demographic nature of Washington County, KS, is Tractor Country, where mostly rural and remote smaller towns with older populations predominate, and are typically among the least diverse counties, with a 95 percent white population
PBS Patchwork Nation relates that tea party numbers are located in the rural, agricultural “Tractor Country” counties, ie Sioux County, IA, and in the “Military Bastion” counties, which are located near bases for the armed forces. Next down the list are the wealthier “Monied ‘Burb” counties, and the “Mormon Outposts,” which have large numbers of LDS church members.
PBS Patchwork Nation continues, as one might predict, the three community types with the highest percentage of minorities, score lowest in terms of tea-party membership: the “Industrial Metropolis“, ie St Louis, and “Minority Central“, ie Edgecombe County, NC., ie Darlington County, SC, and Immigration Nation, ie Laredo, which is in Webb County, TX, where adult illiteracy prevails. Wikipedia also relates that Johnson County is largely suburban, being part of the greater Kansas City metropolitan area, and containing many of its affluent southwestern suburbs. As of the 2010 census, the county population was 544,179.1 Its county seat is Olathe,2 and its most populous city is Overland Park. The county has the highest median household income and highest per-capita income in Kansas and is among the most affluent in the United States, boasting the 19th highest median household income in 2000,3 and the 46th highest per-capita income in 2005.3 In 2010, Money magazine, in its list of the 100 Best Cities in the United States in which to live, ranked Overland Park 7th, and Shawnee 17th.4 In 2008 the same magazine also ranked Olathe 11th.5)

PBS Patchwork Nation relates that Citizens of Tractor Country realize that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is the GOP’s clear front-runner on the national level. For rural, conservative Iowans, a Romney nomination would be a re-enactment of McCain ‘08.
PBS Patchwork Nation relates It was evident fairly early in 2008 that Romney had problems with key parts of the GOP base — and key Republican-voting county types in Patchwork Nation. The caucuses in Hawkeye State kicked off the 2008 race as it always does. When you look at the results, you see the problems that may continue to haunt Romney. The win for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was something of a surprise, but look at where he won, and Romney didn’t, and you’ll notice a pattern. There are nine rural, agricultural Tractor Country counties in Iowa and Huckabee won them all. Romney did better in the aging Emptying Nest counties and the Monied Burb counties. You can see the county breakdown of Iowa on the map below. Of course, Huckabee did better everywhere in the state, but his ability to run the table in those Tractor Country counties in 2008 was noteworthy. As we have noted in more in-depth reporting, those counties are among the most reliably Republican places in the country. And Romney’s inability to win any of them speaks to larger issues he has with solid GOP voting areas. The Burbs and Emptying Nests were more politically divided in 2008. And in 2011? Sioux Center, a Tractor Country community in the northwest corner of Iowa, has seen its share of 2012 politicking and some opinions are forming. “About 1 in 4 people [here] say they don’t want a Mormon,” Donald King, a professor at Dordt College, a Reformed Christian College, writes in an email. “We had a big turnout for [Michele] Bachmann, she is always really prepped for her audience and knows exactly which buttons to push (abortion and gay marriage).” … And Romney had similar problems with a different kind of county in 2008 in Missouri: socially conservative Evangelical Epicenters. The Show-Me State has 54 of those counties and Romney did not win a single one of them in the 2008 primary. Again, they mostly went to Huckabee. The map below shows how those counties, in the yellow, are scattered across Missouri

At the state level, though, Kansans routinely have elected moderate Republican governors. More recently, the state elected Democrat Kathleen Sebelius, now Obama’s secretary of health and human services.

Then came Brownback. For most of his long political career, he has been an unabashed social conservative and deeply religious man. He converted from evangelical Christianity to Roman Catholicism in 2002. He often speaks about how a brush with cancer deepened his religious views and influenced his political convictions. As governor, Brownback has pushed for stricter abortion controls, the expansion of faith-based programming and initiatives that promote marriage and fatherhood.

“For 40 years, we had this moderate Republican-Democratic coalition running the state, and suddenly it’s pretty much gone,” said Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political-science professor.

Brownback defied the Legislature in cutting funding for the arts, leaving Kansas as the only state without a state-funded arts commission. And his plan to shutter nine social-service offices also created a firestorm.

One of Brownback’s top lieutenants until this month was Robert Siedlecki, a former legal adviser on faith-based initiatives in the George W. Bush administration. As secretary of social and rehabilitation services, he cut dozens of jobs, closed offices, doubled the size of the team that investigates welfare cheats and rewrote state contracts to encourage state-services providers to promote pro-fatherhood and pro-family ideals. (Robert Siedlecki spoke at the Kansas Family Strengthening Summit)

He also hired a Florida pastor, Rick Marks, to head the state’s new healthy-marriage initiative.
To help fund its new fatherhood initiative, Kansas shifted $600,000 from an Early Head Start program in Riley County, which at 20%, has double the state’s percentage of residents in poverty. Head Start officials said they have strong fatherhood programming in place and would rather have used those funds to get children off the waiting list for day care.

Brownback has been so single-minded in his pursuit of smaller government that some accuse him of being an autocrat. T-shirts emerged with the slogan “Welcome to Brownbackistan.” While many in the tea-party movement have praised his cost-cutting, they also wonder whether Brownback, who sought the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, is using Kansas as a stage for another White House run. “We’re pleased with the cuts he is making,” said Lynda Tyler, 48, a Wichita stockbroker and tea partyer. “I hope the cuts he makes are able to last. For some reason, I don’t know why, I have this feeling he’s going to come in slashing and burning and he’s doing it so he can point back and say, ‘See what I did for Kansas? Maybe I can do it for the country.’ ”

The Kansas Policy Institute, where Brownback delivered his recent speech to warm applause, is funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. The Kochs, whose oil-and-energy conglomerate is based in Wichita, have been among his biggest supporters since he first ran for Congress in 1994 and have been boosters of the tea-party movement through their group Americans for Prosperity. The Koch family, Koch Industries and Koch employees have contributed at least $143,000 to Brownback’s campaigns over the years, according to federal and state election records.

Critics say the Kochs have too much say about what is happening in Kansas. Brownback appointed one Americans for Prosperity consultant to be his budget director and hired the wife of another leader as his spokeswoman. The Kochs “have been handed the keys to the governor’s office,” said state Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat. “They have a tremendous amount of influence in Kansas politics and nationally.” Bill Kassebaum, a GOP former state representative and son of former Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., said Brownback has struck a tone that, so far, has resonated with many Kansans. “I would say the majority of voters are happy with it,” Kassebaum said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize the role government plays in their lives until it’s gone. They may not be happy with what’s left.” In a windswept corner of the prairie, Julie Britton is economic development director of tiny Rawlins County, population 2,519. She voted for the governor, but she also is a member of an arts group that works in rural counties that lost $9,000 in cutbacks. As a result, her town will have only two shows this year, a guitar concert and a children’s performance of “Chicken Little.”
“We all expected him to have to make some changes,” she said. “We didn’t expect for him to make as many drastic changes as he has made.”

As the opening session of the Legislature approaches in January, officials are preparing for another bruising budget battle. Brownback plans to cut income-tax rates and change the 20-year-old funding formula for schools, a move that opponents fear could benefit wealthier districts. “It will be a bloodbath,” said state Sen. Laura Kelly, a Democrat. “There’s going to be a raft of things that will come, but details are lacking. It’s all been so clandestine.” For his part, Brownback sounded a triumphant note during his speech in Wichita. “We’ve started our reforms,” he said. “It’s going to take some time. We’ve gotten off to a good start.”

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