Thursday was hot and steamy and occasionally stormy here in Kansas, and an interview with a local low-rated and ultra high frequency television station’s libertarian talk show focused our attention on the state’s politics, but even here in the middle of the America there was no escaping the influence of President Donald Trump.
There’s an intriguing gubernatorial race afoot in this off-year state, which involves a lot of intra-GOP craziness and an even crazier Democratic party that stubbornly hangs around and some statewide political habits that go back to the “Bleeding Kansas” days when we waged a pre-civil war about the slavery issue and wound up entering the union as free soil on the side of the abolitionist Republicans. All of that pre-dates the improbable election of Trump and will probably wind up settling matters, but of course Trump plays his part.
The winner of August’s Republican gubernatorial primary most often wins the general election in November, if not always, and this year the race seems to be between Secretary of State Kris Kobach and current Gov. Jeff Colyer. It’s a complicated race given all the uniquely Kansas controversies that have roiled the state since the election of Gov. Sam Brownback, who handed the office over to Lt. Gov. Colyer last year when Trump appointed him to be something called Ambassador for Religeous Freedom, and Trump figures in other ways as well.
Even our mostly out-of-state readers might recognize Kobach’s name, as he’s earned a national reputation for his hard-line stance against illegal immigrants voting in American elections, and he was on all the national media when Trump appointed him to head a commission that would prove that some three millions of those illegal immigrants had robbed Trump of his rightful victory over “Crooked” Hillary Clinton in the popular vote.
The commission was ignominiously disbanded before holding a single public hearing, as both Republican and Democratic secretaries of states around the country refused to provide Kobach’s requested information, with even Kansas being obliged by state law, and never came close to validating Trump’s popular vote victory, but Kobach’s non-stop television ads still tout his connection to the president, and Kobach is positioning himself as the more Trumpian candidate. Donald Trump Jr. recently stumped for him in the state, and in the last primary debate he called his opponent “Lyin’ Jeff.”
Meanwhile, Colyer is staking out a more center-right position on most of the issues and dealing as best he can with all the problems from the Brownback days. We’ve always quite liked Brownback from the time the genial and genuinely well-intentioned farm boy and we were fellow interns for Sen. Bob Dole way back in the relatively sane ’70s, and back when the Republican establishment was intact we voted for him in both of his winning Senate races and when “Tea Party” movement for low taxes and limited government and general resistance to President Barack Obama were cause du jour for the Republican party we enthusiastically voted for him in all his campaigns. At his point, though, and after Brownback resigned office with the same poll numbers as when President Richard Nixon left office there’s no denying his administration-and-a-half came to a controversial end that Colyer has to contend with.
Getting Brownback’s aggressive tax-cutting agenda passed required purging many of the more cautious sorts of establishment Republicans from the legislature in acrimonious primary challenges, and after that a lost of more cautious establishment Republican types wound up winning another round of acrimonious primary challenges. Brownback’s economic theory was based on the same economic principles as the policies that President Ronald Reagan had pursued to revive America’s economy in the ’80s, and although there’s a compelling theoretical argument that they worked once again in the Kansas economy of the second decade of the 21st Century they objectively failed to keep the grandiose promise of economic growth providing more tax revenues at lower rates. Balancing the budget therefore required severe budget cuts, and although some of them made sense the lopped-off portions of the state’s education and human services programs offended the more cautious sorts of Republicans and outraged every last Democrat still hanging around in the state.
Colyer’s campaign ads stress his support for fully funding Kansas’ schools, which used to be a mainstay of Kansas Republicans’ rhetoric way back in our schooldays, and we notice he’s not promising any tax cuts to pay for it. None of Colyer’s speeches or radio and television advertisements make any mention of Brownback, nor does he have anything good or bad to say about trump, and although he’s as Republican as ever on expanding gun rights and restricting abortion rights he seems to embrace an old-fashioned and kinder and gentler conservatism that once routinely prevailed in this kind and gentle and quintessentially conservative state. How that works out in the age of Trump remains to be seen next month, and there hasn’t been much polling to date, but for now we’re holding out hope for Colyer.
Trump won Kansas’ scant six electoral votes by the usual 30 percent margin, but you could have filled in the name of anyone from Donald Duck to Adolph Hitler on the Republican ballot and it would have beat “Crooked” Clinton by the same blow-out, but he came in a distant third in the state’s Republican caucus and is regarded with ambivalence by the state’s Republican party. The state’s two biggest industries are agriculture and aviation, which happen to be America’s biggest export industries, and Trump’s global trade wars are being protested by all of the state’s entirely Republican congressional delegation.
Trump’s Supreme Court picks are popular here, as are his bold stands on standing for the national anthem and such culture war sideshows, but among both the country club members and the church-goers of this very polite and cautiously conservative state there’s a certain worry about Trump’s global trade wars and the “burn it down” attitude toward longstanding American and international institutions, and how very unproved and impolite this newfangled Trumpian conservatism seems to be.
Meanwhile the state’s Democrats have their own craziness to contend with. There’s a centrist farmer and former state representative from some small town named Josh Svaty who would probably be the Democrats’ formidable opponent in a general election, but he takes a “pro-life” position in the abortion debate and is therefore a long shot in a Democratic primary around here. Another contender is former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, who was a pretty good mayor and someone we personally we know to be a genial and well-intentioned and noticeably African-American fellow, but the rest of the state regards Wichita as crime-ridden urban hellhole of Jewish bankers and homosexual seducers and dark-skinned street gangs, which is true enough, and so far his support seems limited to the party’s monied elites and the relatively big cities’ homosexual subcultures and the state’s widely-dispersed African-American voters.
What’s left of our state’s media can’t afford much polling these days, but so far we can tell the Democratic front-runner is longtime state Sen. Laura Kelly, from one of those snooty Lwarence-to-Kansas-City-suburb districts up in the northeast part of state, who has quite politely staked out an oh-so-slightly-left-of-center stand on the issues of the day, and she might prove a formidable opponent even here in old-fashioned Republican Kansas.
At this point we’re reluctantly for Colyer, and our deal old friend from the punk rock days who interviewed us on that low-rated and ultra high frequency libertarian talk show is reluctantly for Kobach, but we’ll wait to see how it all shakes out, and trust in the votes of our crazy-ass but genial and genuinely well-intention Democratic and Republican Kansans. We’ll choose between whatever they come up with, according to whichever nominee seems least likely to raise any unnecessary fuss we have to pay attention to, and if that means we wind up voting for a damned Democrat then so be it.
— Bud Norman(/p>