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Kansas in the Middle, As Always

Today is primary election day here in Kansas, and there are some interesting races afoot. Even if you don’t have the good fortune to live here in the Sunflower State, there are some with national implications worth watching.
The race getting the most attention, both here and around the country, is for the Republican party’s gubernatorial nomination. It’s a crowded field, but looks to come down to serving Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, which is pretty much a proxy war between the pre-President Donald Trump Republican party and the current model.
Trump officially “tweeted” his endorsement of Kobach on Sunday, but by then it went pretty much without saying. Donald Trump Jr. had already twice campaigned in the state for Kobach, who is clearly the most Trumpish candidate in the race.
Kobach was running for office on warnings about illegal immigrants and voter fraud years before Trump took up the cause, and he was appointed by Trump to head a federal commission to more than three million illegal immigrant voters had defrauded the president of his rightful popular vote victory. The commission was disbanded when both Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State refused to cooperate with its requests, and even Kansas had to withhold some information due to state law, but Trump appreciated the effort. More recently Kobach was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union over some very strict voter registration requirements, and although his self-defense failed to win the verdict, and wound up costing him some hefty fines, he made much of the fact that he’d fought with the hated ACLU. His campaign ads featured a red-white-and-blue jeep with a machine gun, kind words about Trump, and he took to calling his opponent “Lyin’ Jeff.”
Meanwhile, Colyer is running on low taxes but not so low that the schools aren’t funded and the roads aren’t paved and the budget is balanced at the end of year, which was a winning Republican platform in this state from the “Bleeding Kansas” days right up until the election of Gov. Sam Brownback.
When Brownback was elected eight years ago the “Tea Party” movement was ascendant, and he ran on a platform of radical tax cuts and deep budgets and a promise that the state’s economy would boom. It took some nasty internecine Republican politics to purge the legislature of the “establishment Republicans” who were wary of such extreme measures, and of course all the state’s Democrats were appalled, but he eventually got it passed. The tax theory was sound, and the budget was due for some cutting, but the details included a couple of tax loopholes that largely exempted every small business in state, and the resulting budget cuts went painfully deep. When the promised outcomes didn’t occur, “establishment Republicans” started winning seats back, and by the time Brownback left to become Trump’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom he was polling in the mid-20s.
Colyer was Brownback’s Lieutenant Governor, which is how he became the serving Governor, but he doesn’t mention that in his ubiquitous advertisements. Instead the medical doctor has patients attesting to his good character, talk about restoring the state’s formerly excellent reputation for public schools, and endorsements from the pro-life and pro-business groups and former Sen. Bob Dole and the rest of the “Republican establishment.” As boring as it might sound, boring sounds pretty good to a lot of Republicans and independents around here these days, and according to the conventional Kansas wisdom he’s a slight favorite to win the nomination.
Which makes Trump’s endorsement of Kobach slightly risky for his presidential reputation, and raises doubts about how much good it will do. Although Trump won Kansas’ electoral votes by the same lopsided margin that any Republican nominee would have had against Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton, he finished a distant third in the Republican caucus, and his protectionist policies are not popular with the crucial farm vote in the state, and the best most of our Republicans friends have to say about Trump is that at least he’s not Clinton, which they admit is damning by faint praise. Trump is never boring, but boring is probably the better strategy.
There’s a nice boring race on the Democratic ballot, too, with a trio of centrist candidates promising to pave the roads and fund the schools and balance the budgets without any crazy tax hikes. The frontrunner is longtime state legislator and noted policy wonk Laura Kelly, who bores all our far-left Democratic friends who hold out hope Kansas will go full-blown socialist, but after eight all-too-interesting years the Democrats have a very good chance one of winning one of their every-other-decade governorships. We agree with the conventional wisdom around here that Colyer has the best chance of staving that off, and that Trump’s endorsement won’t rouse many Republicans and won’t play well the independents and just further rile up the already riled-up Democrats to vote for whomever their party nominates.
We’ll not venture any predictions, but we’ll admit to a certain nostalgia that boring old Republican party we used to vote for all the time, and will vote accordingly. If the ancien regime isn’t revived we’re not sure what we’ll do, but none of the Democrats are nearly so scary as that awful Clinton woman, and at this point we’ll pay Trump’s endorsement little heed.

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A Race We’d Like to See

A headline on the Drudge Report announced that “Sebelius Eyes Senate Run,” and we couldn’t resist clicking to the story to find out what state she had in mind. Imagine our amusement when we learned it was Kansas.
The story was from The New York Times, a notoriously humorless newspaper, so we assume it isn’t jest. Even so, the notion of Kathleen Sebelius coming back to Kansas for another campaign struck us as every bit as preposterous as anything we’ve encountered lately in the more fanciful internet parody publications. Had the story mentioned Maryland or Virginia or whatever state she’s been living in during her disastrous tenure as Secretary of Health and Human Services the idea would have sounded far-fetched but frighteningly within the realm of possibility, and taking her carpetbag to a dementedly Democratic state such as Massachusetts or California would have seemed slightly more plausible, but a Sebelius for Senate campaign here in Kansas left us waiting for a punchline.
It is embarrassingly true that Sebelius was twice elected governor of the state, as the Times hopefully notes, but that was long ago in the pre-Obama age. At a time when things were going well enough in the state that it seemed safe to elect a Democrat she managed to beat a couple of fire-breathing radicals nominated by the more stridently religious elements of the Republican party by presenting herself as as a respectably center-right sort of technocrat. Immediately after her re-election she veered sharply to the left in an apparent bid to endear herself to the national party, and it worked well enough to earn her a cabinet position that would forever associate her with Barack Obama, Obamaism, and its historic achievement of Obamacare. This would be a political impediment in almost any American jurisdiction east of Los Angeles or west of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but in Kansas it is now a provocation to tar and feathers.
Since Sebelius’ last win in the state Kansas has voted overwhelmingly against Obama in both of the past presidential elections, chosen a governor conservative enough to drive all the local lefties crazy, and sent a delegation of rather rock-ribbed Republicans to Congress. Even the most fire-breathing radicals that the religious right might serve up now seem center-right and technocratic compared to Democrats such as Sebelius, and it looks to last at least another election cycle. We ran recently ran into a friend who owes his professional fortunes to the Democratic Party, and we eager to hear his insider’s view on who the party would be running next November. He waved off the question with a groan and a long swig of his drink, then admitted that he didn’t think it mattered. He’s been trying to endear himself to the occasional visitors from the aforementioned conservative governor’s office, even though our friend is among the liberals driven crazy by the governor, and has written off all the other races as well.
The motive for Sebelius’ possible run into this unfriendly environment, according to the Times, is “revenge.” Sen. Pat Roberts is up for re-election this year, and although Roberts once enjoyed a friendly relationship with Sebelius and voted for her confirmation to the HHS post he later accused her of “gross incompetence” and called for her resignation. The accusation was accurate, and the resignation was eventually forthcoming, but reportedly Sebelius wants satisfaction. She’s been out of the state long enough that she might well have deluded herself that she could beat Roberts, and Roberts probably hopes that she has.
Roberts has a slightly better chance of getting knocked off in the primary by a guy named Dr. Milton Wolf. He’s a Kansas City area radiologist who is waging one of those anti-establishment insurgencies that are popping up around the country. Although he’s gotten some traction with the argument that Roberts has been in Washington for a long time and no longer has a residence in Kansas, and that Roberts did after all vote for Sebelius’ confirmation, Wolf is under-funded and made some outrageous and widely-publicized Facebook gaffes with x-rays of his patients, and he is clearly an amateur running against an old pro who is generally well-liked in the state and has lately been toeing the conservative line. We expect a relatively easy win for Roberts in the primary, and an easier one in the general election against anyone the Democrats might put up. If the Democrats put up Sebelius, that would almost be too easy.
The state’s Democrats would probably put her on the ballot, however, if Sebelius is sufficiently self-deluded to make a run. Whenever they know a race is un-winnable the Democrats around here like to run the full-blown lefty lunatics that would win by landslides in the Kansas of their dreams, and when they lose by an ever larger-than-usual margin it allows them to feel superior to an even larger percentage of the state. Sebelius might be willing to sacrifice what little is left of her dignity to the cause of lefty smugness in the Sunflower State, but even the Times story is cautious about that possibility. Several unnamed Democrats are urging Sebelius to run, according to the story, and another unnamed person is said to have said that she’s thinking about it, but that’s pretty much the extent of what the nation’s erstwhile paper of record has to go on. We can’t shake a suspicion that the story was a run as a trial balloon to re-pay some past favor Sebelius did the Times, and that the amused reaction out here will quickly put an end to such ridiculous speculation.

— Bud Norman

The Results are In

Some high-profile elections were held Tuesday, and the results provide political junkies with something to talk but nothing for either party to celebrate.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe eked out a win in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, but the margin of victory does not bode well for his party. The former Democratic National Committee chairman and longtime Clinton family bagman had a lavishly-funded and professionally-run campaign machine, his Republican opponent was an unabashed Tea Party type who was thus easily caricatured as a right-wing nutcase by the state’s helpful press, there was also a Libertarian candidate generously funded by an Obama operative to lure some votes from the right, and with the northern half of the state rapidly swelling with grateful employees of the ever-growing federal government the race was supposed to be a rout. All the polls showed that it was going to be lopsided until Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli started reminding people that he had been the first state Attorney General to oppose Obamacare, at which point the polls tightened to a point McAuliffe wound up winning by far less than the share of the vote snookered by the faux-Libertarian. Had the Libertarian’s source of money been known earlier the race would likely have gone to Cuccinelli, and the dirty trick will be difficult to pull off against all the other Republicans lined up to bash Obamacare in next year’s mid-term elections.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie rolled to landslide reelection victory in New Jersey, which is not intended as a fat joke, but even such an impressive margin of victory in such a Democratic state does not justify all the resultant wild talk about his presidential prospects. After an upset victory over the incredibly sleazy incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine and the Democratic machine that had the state on the verge of bankruptcy Christie quickly gained national prominence by taking on the public sector unions to slash an unsustainable budget, and with a colorfully pugnacious style that played well beyond the tough-guy precincts of New Jersey, but conservative enthusiasm waned as it gradually became apparent that on issues ranging from guns to illegal immigration to Islamism he was more a northeasterner than a real Republican, and the straw that broke the conservative camel’s back was Christie’s literal embrace of Obama during the much-hyped phony-baloney Hurricane Sandy recovery effort that reversed the president’s slide in the polls.
Although Christie can claim to have won over blue state voters, much as Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts, and is now every Republican-hating reporter’s favorite Republican, much as John McCain was, these qualifications are unlikely to convince Republican primary voters that he’s a sure-fire winner. He can still boast of having confronted the public sector union beast and set his state’s finances more or less in order, but so can Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker, who survived a bruising recall effort and greater liberal vitriol to do so, and Walker isn’t burdened by Christie’s polite northeastern opinions on other important matters. There’s talk of Christie switching parties to get around these difficult political realities, but it’s hard to imagine anyone whose great claim to fame is an in-your-face hostility toward public sector unions ever winning a Democratic primary anywhere. Christie might take a hard turn to the right now that he’s term-limited from another state race, much as Kathleen Sebelius went crazy left after winning her second term as Kansas’ governor in order to win her currently uncomfortable position in the Obama administration, but it will take some doing to make for him to make sufficient amends with the conservatives here in the gun-loving heartland.
Another Democrat won by a landslide in the New York City mayoral election, and a more-or-less outright commie Democrat at that, but that will ultimately be to the party’s detriment. The victory is a bigger deal than the an inland American’s stereotype of New York would suggest, as it has been a hard-to-believe 20 years since a Democrat won in that overwhelmingly Democratic metropolis, but a mayor bent on waging war against the rich folk who pay for the city’s lavish government will soon remind the city why it went so long without Democrats. In the ‘70s and ‘80s New York City descended into a graffiti-covered and trash-strewn state of lawlessness and insolvency, to the point that such an out-and-out Republican as Rudy Giuliani was given two terms to turn things around with aggressive law enforcement and free-market economics. He was succeeded by Michael Bloomberg, a media magnate and Republican who quickly reverted to an independent status lest he be embarrassed at the town’s tonier cocktail parties, and although he became a national laughingstock with his eat-your-broccoli paternalism he retained enough of the pro-business and anti-crime policies of his predecessor to keep the city successful. The new guy won on promises to stop the police department’s controversial “stop and frisk” rules and to somehow make everyone in the city equally impoverished, and apparently there are enough New Yorkers who can’t recall the ‘70s and ‘80s to make this a winning argument. The results should provide Republicans with plenty of object lessons in coming campaigns.
Things have gotten so bad in Detroit that the city elected a white mayor, its first in 40 years. He’s a Democrat, of course, but it’s still a sign that when things get bad enough people will try anything.

— Bud Norman