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Hell Comes to Kansas, Or Maybe Not

On even a short drive around Kansas these days there’s no avoiding the campaign advertisements on the radio, especially if you’re tuned into the oldies and country and talk radio stations we favor on the AM band, and as annoying as they all are the most irksome is for a Republican gubernatorial candidate named Ken Selzer. Somehow it seems to encapsulate all the most annoying arguments one hears in Republican politics these days, both here in Kansas and around the country.
The conventional wisdom in Kansas, which usually proves reliable in this conventional state, holds that the race is between Secretary of State Kris Kobach and current Gov. Jeff Colyer, both of whom have far better name recognition. Kobach is by now nationally known, for better or worse, as his two-term tenure in a usually overlooked office has made him a controversial figure in the contentious debates over illegal immigration and voter fraud and other issue dear to the heart of his ally President Donald Trump. Colyer’s name is far less well known outside the state, but that might be for better rather than worse, as he’s well known in Kansas as the guy who took over for controversial Gov. Sam Brownback when Trump appointed Brownback to be something called Ambassador for Religious Freedom, and if his name recognition isn’t quite so high as Kobach’s that’s probably because he’s somehow avoided any serious controversies during his year-and-a-half as governor, which a lot of Kansas Republicans, including ourselves, much appreciate
.Faced with this formidable fund-raising and name recognition disadvantage, Selzer’s ju-jitsu pitch is that he’s the scrappy common-sense businessman outsider trying to bring down the hated establishment, and is thus untainted by any past involvement in the government that has wrought the Dante-esque and Bosch-ian hell that is Kansas. What’s needed to rescue our beloved Sunflower State from its current infernal condition, Selzer suggests, is a rank amateur with utter contempt for every judge and legislator and civil servant and locally elected official in the state. Which strikes us as noisome nonsense on a number of levels.
For one thing, Selzer is currently the state’s Insurance Commissioner, an elected position that is just as much a part of the hated establishment as Secretary of State or even governor. It’s a usually overlooked office, but Kathleen Sibelius used it to get elected Governor as a Democrat, and during her second term President Barack Obama appointed her Secretary of Health and Human Services, and she seemed well on her way to a national career until she so throughly screwed up the roll-out of Obamacare that Obama had to request her resignation. For all her faults Sibelius never affected our home and auto insurance premiums much, and for all his faults neither has Selzer, but we’ll always regard Insurance Commissioners with the same wariness as any other politicians.
Nor do we buy the argument that Kobach’s and Colyer’s more prominent positions in the state government are inherently disqualifying.
We started souring on Kobach when he volunteered to chair a national commission proving that Trump had been robbed of rightful popular victory by more than three million illegal voters, an effort that was disbanded when both Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State refused to hand over the requested data, and even Kansas had to refuse some requests based on state law. After that he was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for the strict voter registration requirements he had imposed on the state, and despite his impressive law school credentials his self-defense wound up losing the case in such embarrassing fashion it made for national headlines and a very funny skit at the local “Gridiron” satirical review. Still, we found his controversial photo-identification requirement at the polling places and most of his other election reforms sensible and not at all onerous, and we happily voted for him in both his races, and we still give him the credit due to the man in the arena.
As for Colyer, we rather like him. We’ve also rather liked Brownback since way back when we were interns together in the office of Sen. Bob Dole way back in the ’70s, and shared his Reagan-era philosophy of surgical budget cuts and optimal rather than maximal tax rates, but we’re forced by facts to admit that Brownback’s axe-swinging budget cuts and not-quite-optimal tax cuts left the state in a deep fiscal hole and its schools and roads and prisons and other essential services operating at bare bones budgets. Since Brownback’s departure with a Nixon-ian 24 percent approval rating Colyer and the old-fashioned sorts of Republicans who re-won their primaries have adroitly dealt with the more obvious flaws in the Brownback tax plan, and despite Trump’s trade wars the state’s economy is faring fairly well, and Colyer’s ads are stressing his plan to restore Kansas’ former reputation as a state with excellent schools, and with his calm-spoken he appeal to the Republican party that used to run the state back in the supposed good old days. He’s been remarkably uncontroversial, too, which lately seems a political liability around the country, but such Kansas Republicans as ourselves appreciate it.
In any case, Kobach and Colyer seem the quintessence of the two warring factions of the Republican party, both here in Kansas and elsewhere around the country, so if they’re both part of the broken system then so is the entire Grand Old Party. Even at this dire moment we’d still hate to admit that’s true, and even if we did we don’t thank that some moderately successful small businessman and one-term Insurance Commissioner is the only one who can rescue our state from its existential crisis.
For that matter, we don’t think things are really all that bad around here. On our drives around town we notice new offices and apartment buildings sprouting in the center of town and another couple of miles of suburban sprawl on both the east and west sides, and despite the swooning commodity prices during the trade war the corn and other crops look tall and healthy as we drive out in the country during this rainy summer, and for the most part our encounters with our fellow citizens are quite pleasant. So far as we can tell there are no civil wars or race riots of constitutional crises afoot at the moment, and our state and our Republic have somehow weathered all of those, so for now we’ll place more faith in our long established political institutions than we do in some demagogue who swears that only he can save us from Armageddon.
There’s also a rich and largely self-funded third party candidate whose ads claims that the two-party system is at fault for Kansas’ and America’s sorry state, and that only he can rescue us, and his ads are also pretty annoying. The pitch has lately worked well enough before around the country, but here in Kansas Colyer seems to have the lead at the moment and none of the Democratic candidates are all that scary, and we expect our beloved Sunflower State will work it all out according to the longstanding traditions that have brought us through so many hard times. We’ll hold out hope the rest of the country is as sensible.

— Bud Norman

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