Meanwhile, Here in Kansas

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>

Kansas, Kobach, Voter Fraud, and That Darned Popular Vote

There was a bewildering amount of news out there for an extended Fourth of July weekend, what with the Republicans’ health care reform efforts stalling and all the “tweeting” about other things about by the president, but it was the story about the newly created voter fraud commission that caught our eye. The issue of voter fraud has long been of general interest to us, now has some specific political implications right here in Kansas, and we’re not sure what to make of it.
So far as we can tell the voter fraud commission has been newly created because President Donald Trump believes some three million illegally-cast votes denied him his rightful popular vote victory in the past election, and he wants an official body to back up the “tweeted” claim. We’re not at all sure that anyone will ever prove that to everybody’s satisfaction, and note that a system so well-rigged it can manufacture three million votes wasn’t able to spread a mere hundred thou or so of them over the three states where they could have tilted the Electoral College outcome, but that’s no reason not to have a commission making sure that the voting in our democratic republic isn’t entirely on the square.
Some of our Democratic friends insist that although people might rob and rape and murder but no one has ever stooped so low as to commit voter fraud, but we’re not so sanguine about it. Historians have definitively documented several cases of past stolen American elections, including the one that elevated future President Lyndon Johnson to the Senate, in more recent years there were some reasonable suspicions about the razor-thin counts in a gubernatorial race in Washington and a Senate race in Minnesota, and except for that Florida re-count in the ’00 presidential race all the ties have gone to the Democrat. There really are an awful lot of non-citizens in the country, too, and we can’t vouch for each of them, but reasonably assume the minority of that might try to vote will vote for the Democrat, so we can’t blame the Republicans for wanting to restrict voting to eligible voters.
Three million ineptly dispersed votes are awfully hard to account for, though, and the Republicans are facing other political problems. The Democrats are protesting that in a zeal to limit voting to eligible voters the Republicans will wind up disenfranchising many eligible voters, most of them poor and minority people inclined to vote for Democrats, and thus far the courts have found that’s exactly what wound up in happening in North Carolina when the state’s Republicans passed its voter integrity law, and of course much of the media and the public are also sympathetic to the argument. The commission is run by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the latter being the the country’s most notorious Republican hard-liner on voter fraud, so we can’t blame the Democrats for suspecting that the commission is seeking federal laws along the same lines as North Carolina’s.
Several Democratic secretaries of state have defiantly refused to provide all of the information requested by the commission, and the president and several conservative news sources have plausibly inferred it’s because they have something to hide, but the Republicans also have a problem with several Republican secretaries of state who have been similarly defiant for very Republican reasons. Mississippi is hardly a fever swamp of Democratic liberalism, but its Secretary of State responded with a letter citing state’s rights and individual privacy and other concerns before advising the commission to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.” Alabama, home of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also declined to cooperate with many of the requests for similarly southern reasons. Arizona, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Texas were also defying at least some parts of the federal order. Even Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was forced to confess to The Kansas City Star that the state’s very Republican privacy laws prohibited him from fully complying with own demands.
Up until Trump decided he’d been robbed of his rightful popular victory, Republicans generally believed that elections were a business handled at the state and county and precinct level, where things have lately been going pretty well for Republicans. This still seems reasonable to our Republican sensibilities, the last presidential popular vote notwithstanding, and we’re heartened to see that so much of the party establishment is also opposed to federalizing elections. We’re steadfastly for restricting voting to eligible voters, steadfastly opposed to disenfranchising even those eligible voters who might be inclined to vote for Democrats, and at this point don’t really care much about Trump’s pride.
We voted for Kobach both times he ran for secretary of our state, and we don’t regret it. The photo identification laws for voting and other election reforms he helped enact seemed commonsensical and proved not at all inconvenient, and despite the best efforts of the state’s Democrats they haven’t come up with anyone for the state’s media to interview who’s been disenfranchised as a result. Every time we vote we run into Democratic and Republican poll watchers we trust, and the local election officials are up for re-election every few years, and although we can’t vouch for California or certain parts of Philadelphia we have confidence in the system around here. Kobach’s critics like to note that in nearly eight years in office he’s only found nine convicted cases of voter fraud, which is nowhere near enough to affect even the closest races in this reliably Republican state, and even on a per capita basis can’t negate that three million vote loss in the last presidential popular vote, but we figure that demonstrates that his Jean Valjean-like zeal is working pretty well.
We’re not sure we want to impose that on Mississippi or even California, though, and we’re not sure if we’ll be voting for Kobach when he runs for governor next year. He’s still a steadfast proponent of current Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax-and-budget cutting stands, which worked in theory but left the state with annual budget shortfalls in practice and were recently repealed when a coalition of Democrats and recently-ascendant moderate Republicans overrode his veto, and at this point we can see him losing to a moderate Democrat even in this reliably Republican state. We still like that economic theory of Brownback’s and expect it would work well in practice at some more fortuitous future date, but for now we’ll be happy to balance the books and avoid all the political acrimony our state has lately endured.
There’s also something unsettling about how Kobach seems intent on proving Trump’s unlikely claims about the popular vote, Republican principles about federalism and privacy and every citizen’s right to vote notwithstanding, and the party’s seeming unconcern with Russia’s obvious meddling, and we’re not sure how that will play with the rest of the state. Trump won the state by the usual Republican margins, and he has his defenders here, but those old-fashioned budget-balancing establishments types who prefer to avoid all the acrimony lately seem ascendant, and we’ll give them a good look before casting our votes in the gubernatorial primary.

— Bud Norman