An Uncivil War in the Kansas Republican Party

Our old-fashioned “flip phone” made that strange warbling sound that announces the arrival of a new text message, and it turned out to be one of the oddest political videos we’ve ever encountered.
The ad was an attack on former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, one of the leading contenders in largely overlooked Republican primary race to choose a nominee to run for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring longtime Sen. Pat Roberts. There are plenty of valid reasons to criticize Kobach, including concerns by many traditional Republicans that he could lose to a moderate woman Democrat in the race just he did in the gubernatorial election less than two years ago, but that’s not what the advertisement is about. Produced by a political action committee called Keep Kansas Great PAC, which says “We support candidates who will stand with President Donald Trump to defeat the extreme liberal agenda,” the ad accuses Kobach of insufficient fealty to Trump and Trumpism.
Which comes as a surprise to most Kansans. You needn’t be a Kansan to have heard of Kobach, whose staunch opposition to be illegal and legal immigration as Secretary of State made him a nationally known figure and endeared him to Trump. Kobach was appointed chairman of a commission charged with proving that voting by illegal immigrants was the reason for Trump’s 3 million ballot loss in the popular vote, has been an outspoken advocate for anything Trump might say or do, and has carefully copied Trump’s flamethrower rhetorical style. His current campaign slogan is “Make Kansas Great Again,” and he proudly touts his ties to Trump and the praise the president has showered on him.
The Kobach commission was disbanded before it could write a report, largely because both Republican and Democratic governors refused to comply with his requests and efforts to nationalize voting, with even Kansas being bound by state law from providing requested information, and Kobach suffered another embarrassment when he chose to defend a controversial Kansas voting law that was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and not only lost but wound up paying expensive fines for multiple counts of contempt of court. Then he lost the gubernatorial election to Gov. Laura Kelly despite Kansas being a reliably Republican state and despite Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement.
Trump still wanted to make Kobach his “immigration czar,” but changed his mind when Kobach had a list of exorbitant demands that included a private jet, and thus the Keep Kansas Great PAC has some basis for saying in its ad that “Kobach let President Trump down.” The ad also rightly notes that Kobach has the financial support of the Club for Growth, a well-funded-by-billionaires PAC that promotes a low-tax small government agenda which was pretty much the quintessence of Republican conservatism until Trump, and it staunchly opposed to Trump’s candidacy in the ’16 election. Since then the Club for Growth has retreated from presidential politics altogether and focused on electing budget hawk candidates to Congress, but Trump of course still holds a grudge against the Club for Growth and so do his die-hard supporters even though they probably continue to agree with everything the organization stands for.
The ad only attacks Kobach and doesn’t endorse anyone else, but elsewhere the Keep Kansas Great PAC has endorsed state Rep. Roger Marshall, who seems intent on running as a even Trumpier than the exceedingly Trumpy Kobach. Marshall is also an obstetrician and gynecologist, and the Club for Growth paid for attacks ads in the state’s biggest newspapers featuring patients who criticized the doctor’s “bedside manner,” which is all the more reason for Marshall to attack the Club for Growth and its past anti-Trump blasphemies.
A third very viable contender in the race is Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a longtime state legislator who is very conservative who has always tried strike a moderate tone, but has lately been trying to out-Trump her competitors.
A traditional and NeverTrump Republicans who are watching this from the political sidelines, none of this makes much sense.
Trump easily won the state’s electoral votes when he ran against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, just as any old Republican nominee would have done, but Trump has never been overwhelmingly popular in this state. He came in a distant third in the Republican caucus, even the state’s Republican congressmen dhave dared criticize the Trump trade wars that have ravaged the state’s dominant and export-dependent agricultural and aviation industries, and Trump’s unapologetic amorality is still troubling to a certain portion of the state’s many Christians. Latino immigration is pretty much all that’s sustaining what’s left of economic activity in the southwest quadrant of the state, and plays a peaceable and productive role in the economy and culture of the urban areas, so nativism isn’t so appealing to the general population as some Republicans seem to believe.
The Club for Growth style of conservatism is currently out of fashion, too. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback proposed proposed a rather extreme policy of severe tax and budget cuts, helped a majority of like-minded candidates win primaries over more cautious Republican majorities and get it passed, and although we liked it in theory it objectively didn’t turn out as promised in taxes. The ensuing budget deficits led to cuts in spending on education and roads and prisons and other essential states that alarmed the sorts of good government conservatives who had dominated the Republican party since Kansas entered the Union as a free state loyal to the party of Lincoln. That’s how Kansas wound up with a Democratic governor and a legislature that’s still majority Republican only because the old establishment fuddy-duddies won a lot of primaries against the firebrands.
Kansas has long been willing to send Democrats to Topeka but has very rarely sent them to Washington. The last Democratic Senator from Kansas was way back during the Great Depression, he only lasted one term, and usually Senatorial elections are a foregone conclusion around here. This time around seems different, though, and the way things are going there’s an outside chance the state’s Grand Old Party might well continue its recent losing streak. In the midterm election a Native American lesbian kick boxer won a House seat in the educated and affluent northeast, a more moderate Democrat almost won another seat, and only the moderate Republican who’d wrested the First Congressional seat from a fire=breathing Club for Growth favorite won by the usual Republican landslide.
The Democrats seem likely to nominate state Sen. Barbara Bollier, an ex-Republican and retired anesthesiologist who reminds us a lot of our currently popular Democratic governor, who shut down the schools early on and imposed strict shutdown rules in response to the coronavirus and is currently doing better in the statewide approval polls than Trump, and the sporadic polling that’s been done in the largely overlooked shows her in a very tight race with the front-running Kobach. Between now and election day either the economy will be tanking or the coronavirus death toll will be spiking, and no matter which outcome Trump chooses he will have trouble blaming it on Democrats or immigration.
A moderate Republican willing to distance himself or herself from Trump while defending his more sensible policies would probably do well against a moderate Democrat obliged to oppose everything Trump does, but that candidate apparently can’t win a Republican primary. At least that’s what the leading contenders seem to think.

— Bud Norman

Pompeo Stays Put, For Now

According to both The New York Times¬†and The Wichita Eagle, which are usually reliable sources, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo won’t be coming home to Kansas to run for an open Senate seat. This is a big deal all over an uneasy world, but especially so here in our beloved Sunflower State.
The news was surprising to us, but only slightly so. Secretary of State is a more prestigious title than junior Senator from Kansas, and far more lucrative in a post public service career, but we’re sure that even such an ambitious fellow as Pompeo was tempted to return home to Kansas’s welcoming arms. Any old Senate seat is plenty prestigious and potentially lucrative, Pompeo almost certainly could have had a safe one for as long as he wanted. and with a presidential impeachment trial looming and a potential war with Iran brewing and Pompeo up to his neck in all of it the Senate surely seemed a more placid sinecure.
He was intrigued enough by the possibility to spend a lot of time in Kansas in for someone with such a busy international schedule, some of which was spent having discussions about fundraising with the state’s biggest Republican donors, and he was encouraged to resign and run by some high-level Republicans in the state and national party.
The Republicans are facing an unfavorable Senatorial election map next November and worry about retaining their slight majority in the chamber, so current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted Pompeo to lock down the Kansas seat, Trump gave his blessings to the idea, and the state’s Republican party establishment was equally keen on the idea. Kansas has been reliably Republican in federal elections since it entered the Union as a free state after its bloody prologue to the Civil War, and will probably vote Republican once again no matter how the primary turns out, but it’s within the realm of possibility that it won’t.
For now the frontrunner in a crowded Republican primary field is former state Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who lost a gubernatorial race to impeccably moderate Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly back in November ’18. As the state’s Secretary of State Kobach earned a national reputation for his tough stance against illegal immigrants voting in Kansas elections, which led to Trump appointing him to head a federal commission to prove that Trump would have won the popular vote if not for more than there million illegally cast votes, and he now fully identifies as a a Trump loyalist, but so far none of it worked out for him.
The voter identification laws that Kobach lobbied for are reasonable enough, so far as we can tell from our regular voting, but the Harvard grad with the Yale Law School degree decided to represent himself in a lawsuit brought against him by the American Civil Liberties Union, and he wound up proving only nine cases of voter fraud and paying significant fines for contempt of court and proving the old axiom about how a lawyer representing himself has a fool for a client, or vice a versa. Kobach’s federal commission was disbanded before proving that Trump actually won the popular vote, in part because such Republican states as Mississippi and Kansas defied his orders on state’s rights grounds, and his continued fealty to Trump hasn’t been much help.
Trump easily won the state’s electoral votes last time around, but that was because he was running against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and he’ll probably win again next time around, but that’s because he’ll probably be running against some even crazier Democrat. Which is not to say Trump is particularly popular around here. He finished a distant third in the Kansas caucuses back in ’16, the trade wars that have plunged commodity prices haven’t played well with the farmers and cattlemen, his anti-Hispanic rhetoric doesn’t resonate in a state whose southwest quadrant is economically dependent on Hispanic immigrants, and neither the church-going small town Christians nor the educated suburbanites like his style.
The Kansas Republican party is currently in a sorry state, too, for a variety of reasons of strictly local interest. Our old pal Gov. Sam Brownback, who we know to be a good and well-intentioned guy, purged all the cautious Republican types from the legislature and enacted a radical agenda of tax cuts and spending cuts, and although we liked the idea in broad outlines the details turned turned out to objectively blow a hole in the state budget, with deficits piling up despite severe cuts to what even old-fashioned Republicans would consider essential state services. There were various other scandals about corruption and voter suppression, too. That’s how Kobach wound up losing the governorship to an impeccably moderate Democrat, and McConnell is right to worry it’s within the realm of possibility he might wound up losing to a similarly moderate Democrat in a Senate race.
We wouldn’t say it’s probable, though. The crowded Republican field includes Kansas Senate President and impeccable Kansas conservative Susan Wagle, who is almost as irksome to the state’s Democrats as Kobach, and Rep. Roger Marshall from Kansas’ ranch-and-farm First District, who has occasionally dared to voice disagreement with Trump’s trade wars and immigration policies, and either could win the primary and then the general election. At this point Kobach seems a less sure bet, but we wouldn’t bet against him given the state’s long history and stubborn nature.
Pompeo would have been the surest bet for that safe Senate seat, given his extradorinaiy name recognition and formidable fund-raising prowess and the lingering affection he enjoys here in the Fourth District, where he easily won four terms with our votes, especially if he could somehow distance himself from Trump. According to our usually reliable reliable sources at The New York Times and The Wichita Eagle he’s clinging tight to Trump’s ship of state through times of impeachment trials and impending war, however, and we hold out faint hope he gets through it with his once impeccable reputation intact.

— Bud Norman

Kansas Politics Takes a National Stage

Kansas rarely makes the national news, which is fine by us and most other Kansans, as it’s usually something embarrassing, but we were intrigued to see the latest development in our state politics on the front page of The Washington Post. The paper reports that Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to come home and run for a Senate seat that’s recently opened up, which is pretty darned intriguing for a number of reasons.
The Senate seats for Kansas are rarely open, as Kansans pragmatically tend to reelect the Republicans with the seniority and significant committee assignments needed to protect the farmers and airplane builders and natural gas drillers and other key components of the state’s economy, but 2020 will be one of those occasions. At the relatively young of age 82 Sen. Pat Roberts has decided to end a locally legendary political career that started way back in the ’60s — that’s the 1960s, although it sometimes seems to have stretched back to the “Bleeding Kansas” days of the 1860s — and there’s already a crowded field of notable Republicans vying to succeed him.
The rumored candidates include former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an anti-immigration hard-liner who made a failed effort to prove that at least three million illegal voters robbed President Donald Trump of a popular vote victory in the last presidential election, and wound up losing the last Kansas governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly. There’s also former Gov. Jeff Colyer, who took office after wildly unpopular Gov. Sam Brownback resigned to became President Donald Trump’s ambassador for religious freedom, whatever that is, and then lost the Republican gubernatorial nomination by a few hundred votes but probably would have the general election if he’d been nominated. Another frequently mentioned name is Matt Schlapp, who used to be an aide to long-forgotten Fourth District Rep. Todd Tiahrt and has since gained a high profile on Fox News and talk radio as the chairman of the American Conservative Union, and whose wife, Mercedes, is Trump’s director of strategic communications, whatever that is. Such well-regarded state legislators as Rep. Roger Marshall are also reportedly in the running.
Despite such a formidable field, the Republican nomination would be Pompeo’s for the asking, and given that the only time Kansas has ever elected a Democrat to the Senate was for one term back in the Great Depression, the general election would be easy. He’s a first-in-his-class graduate of West Point, a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, a successful entrepreneur in Wichita’s high-tech aerospace industry, and after Tiahrt abandoned his Fourth Congressional seat for an ill-advised and ill-fated Senate run he won four congressional elections by landslide margins. His service as Trump’s director of the Central Intelligence and then Secretary of State have surely endeared him to the Trump-loving sorts of Kansas Republicans, and his occasional differences of opinion with Trump on such important matters as Russia’s meddling in the last presidential election will satisfy the large and growing number of Republicans who are weary of Trump’s generally shoddy character and the endless trade wars that have hard hit the agriculture and aviation sectors and his strange preference for coal over natural gas.
In normal circumstances no savvy politician would rather be a junior Senator from a sparsely populated state rather Secretary of State, but Pompeo is surely savvy enough to know that the Trump administration is not normal circumstances. Pompeo might or might not know what Trump has been saying to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin during the occasional conservations, as Trump keeps it a very closely guarded secret, but in either case Pompeo probably shares our concern it won’t end well. With a presidential resume and presidential ambitions, Pompeo might decide he could make a better run as a centrist junior Senator from Kansas who did his best to warn of Russian meddling and restrain Trump’s worst instincts rather than a hard-line loyalist who went down with the Trump ship.
It’s intriguing, too, that McConnell is urging Pompeo to jump from the Trump ship into the Senate. By all accounts Pompeo is Trump’s most favorite cabinet member, probably because it’s hard for Trump to find lackeys with such excellent credentials, and a third Secretary of State of in four years would be hard for Trump to explain, especially after Trump calling his first choice “dumber than rocks,” so it suggests that McConnell might be hedging his bets on the Trump presidency. The map for the 2020 Senate races is even more unfavorable for the Republicans than 2018 races were for the Democrats, and the way things are going they won’t have any presidential coattails to cling to, and we can’t blame McConnell for being more worried about his status as majority leader than he is about Trump’s presidency. Kansas is a reliably Republican state in federal elections, but last November it elected a Democrat as governor over Trump’s heartily endorsed Republican, and up in the Third District, the sort of well-educated suburban jurisdiction the Republicans been losing ever since Trump took office, they even elected a Native American lesbian kick boxer, so McConnell is probably wise to back to the surest bet.

— Bud Norman

A Tie Goes to the Runner

The damned Democrats and the damned Republicans arguably fought to a draw on Tuesday, with the damned Democrats gaining a narrow majority in the House of Representatives and the damned Republicans slightly padding their slight control of the Senate. From our perspective here on the political sidelines in the middle of America, though, the results reveal several trends the Republicans should be worried about.
Kansas has been a reliably Republican state ever since its bloody entry to the Union as a free state just as the rest of the country’s Civil War was starting, but this turned out to be a pretty good year for the Democrats around here. Longtime state legislator and reassuringly boring centrist Democratic nominee Laura Kelly won the governorship over Republican nominee Kris Kobach, America’s most hard-line anti-immigration Secretary of State and a steadfast ally of full-throated endorser President Donald Trump, and the Democrats seem to have won two of the state’s four congressional seats, with one going to a reassuringly boring white centrist man and the other to a Native American lesbian kick-boxer.
Most of the reassuringly centrist Republicans on the statewide down-ballot races are currently leading and likely to win, but about half of the state’s legislative Republican majorities endorsed the Democrat in the governor’s race and are inclined work with the more centrists Democrats, and here in our very diverse district of Sedgwick County we’ve elected a Democratic and tattooed and folk-rock-singing single mother to replace America’s most hard-line anti-government Republican county commissioner.
Around the rest of the country the Republicans can rightly point to some hard-fought won races, including the closer than usual wins in the much-watcged Georgia gubernatorial and Texas Senate contests, but Republicans should also admit how much closer than usual they were. This year’s Senate races were the result of the anomalous ’12 election races, when several of the damned Democrats triumphed for reasons we can’t recall over the damned Republicans in some normally reliable Republican states, so it’s embarrassing the Grand Old Party of Trump didn’t do much better. Those one=third of the Senate races reflect the electoral college that elected Trump president, but the heavy turnout in the House races reflect the popular vote that he lost by three million votes, and at this late date on election night we’re still looking at the too-close-call elections in the five states Trump won by narrow margins to become president,
Those Second and Third Kansas congressional districts in Kansas are largely compromised of the Kansas City metropolitan area’s suburbs, and the state’s reliably Republican legislatures and governors have gerrymandered in plenty of rural Kansas as well, yet they’re still the sort of reliably Republican districts the Republicans have been consistently losing ever since Trump got elected. Both districts are approximately half-female, unusually well-educated and well-off, and Trump’s Republicans should be asking themselves why these bitches and elitists aren’t voting for them. Even here in Kansas, it’s hard for Republicans to win without well-educated and well-off white women, who are by large measures grossed out by Trump.
Trump is still the president and you’re not, though, and the damned Republicans have enough votes in the Senate to acquit him on any impeachment charges the damned Democrats might bring against him in the House, not matter what the special counsel into the “Russia thing” might reveal, and for now we’ll call it a draw, with the Republicans having reason to worry.
At this point we’ll only venture a prediction that Trump takes full credit for the Republicans retaining the Senate, accept no blame for his party losing the House, and that the next couple of years at least will prove dreary,

— Bud Norman

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The Down-Ballot Blues

One of our final chores leading up to every election day is dong some cursory research on all the down-ballot races, and this year that meant reminding ourselves of the name of the Republican who’s running for Kansas Secretary of State. The fact we had to look it up is further evidence of the currently sorry state of the Republican party in this reliably Republican state.
By now even the most apolitical Kansans are surely aware that the Democratic nominee for Secretary of State is Brian “Bam” McClendon, “the Google guy from Kansas.” He’s saturated the radio and television airwaves and especially the internet with advertisements touting his experience as the Google executive who oversaw the development of its undeniably impressive Google Map, which has McClendon’s hometown of Lawrence as the center of “Google Earth,” and they make a persuasive argument that such high tech savviness qualifies him to oversee the state’s computerized voting systems and deal with the other boring business of the office.
Meanwhile, we haven’t seen nor heard a single advertisement for the Republican nominee, a former small business owner and pharmaceutical executive and current state Representative whose name turns out to be Scott Schwab. After we looked that up we noticed the name on two or three lawn signs during our drives around town, but they’re vastly outnumbered by the ubiquitous “Bam!” signs that urge voters to “Google it!,” and Schwab’s been vastly out-spent and out-campaigned. Which doesn’t usually happen to Republicans around here.
Schwab won the nomination by a plurality against four other little-known contenders, and we vaguely recall that he got our vote, as he seemed the most reassuringly boring of all of the candidates. Schwab and his main contender both vowed to continue the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirements for voter registration, although they’ve been ruled unconstitutional by the federal courts, but otherwise he seems determined to make the Secretary of State’s office a boring down-ballot entity once again. After the last eight rock-’em-sock-’em years of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, it would be a welcome respite.
Kobach used the office to gain a national profile as a hard-liner against voter fraud in general and illegal immigrant voter fraud in particular. He won our vote when he first ran for office with excellent educational credentials and some common sense reforms he was proposing, and we voted for his reelection because we thought that some sort of official photo identification isn’t an onerous requirement for voting, but since then we’ve soured on him. He was appointed by President Donald Trump to head a commission to prove that Trump lost the popular vote because of three million votes illegally cast by illegal aliens, but that effort was abandoned when both Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State refused to cooperate with a federal takeover of their constitutional state rights, and even Kansas couldn’t legally comply with the commission’s requests. Then Kobach got sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for the far-more-onerous-than-a-photo-ID requirements for newly registered voters, and he represented himself in the case and not only lost but wound up paying some contempt of court fines.
Somehow Kobach won the state Republican party’s gubernatorial nomination by 300 or so votes over the reassuringly boring Gov. Jeff Colyer, who had taken the office when the very unpopular Gov. Sam Brownback made his way out of the state to become President Donald Trump’s “ambassador for religious freedom,” whatever that is. Kobach is promising to continue the Brownback tax-and-budget policies that never quite panned out as promised, and the Harvard and Yale and Oxford graduate spent the summer driving around in a red-white-and-blue painted Jeep with a replica machine gun, he’s fully embraced Trump and has been fully embraced in return, yet somehow finds himself in a too-close-to-call race against the reassuringly boring Democratic nominee state Sen. Laura Kelly. Kelly’s endorsed by all but one of the state’s living past Republican governors, two of the three of its living past Senators, half the current Republican legislature, and such lifelong Republicans as ourselves.
Which makes the Secretary of State race a hard call for us.
Based on his web site and the scant coverage from what’s left of the Kansas media this Schwab guy strikes us as a fellow boring establishment Kansas Republican white male, and he seems at least smart enough to hire some high tech savvy Google guy from Kansas to keep the state’s computers safe, which is exactly the sort of Republican we’ve routinely voted for over our many years. These days they’re damnably hard to find, though, and we feel a certain obligation to protect this endangered species.

On the other hand, that “Bam!” fellow is clearly what Trump would consider the more “high energy” candidate, and although we’re instinctively distrustful of energetic people he seems likely to devote his energy to keeping the state’s computer’s safe, and he’s apparently politically savvy enough not to facilitate any massive illegal immigrant voter fraud. He’s the sort of Democrat we’ve occasionally and reluctantly voted for, and in this midterm election there are several of them./div>

We have until tomorrow afternoon to make up our mind, so we’ll put it off until then. We’re also mulling some of the other down-ballot races. too. We always vote to retain any judges we’ve haven’t heard of, as we we figure that means they’re doing a good enough job, and we’ll be voting for the incumbent Republican state Attorney General according to the same logic.
So far as we can tell the Republicans aren’t running anyone here in our fashionable Riverside district of the House of Representatives, so we might wind up voting for the crazy lefty and old childhood buddy who represents. There’s an intriguing Sedgwick County Commission race around here, too, with an unabashedly progressive Democratic single mother and folk singer challenging the notoriously stingy and anti-establishment Republican incumbent, and the Republican incumbent’s stubborn stinginess and anti-establishment attitude has alienated a lot of local Republicans who like business as usual, and even when we drive past Riverside we notice she’s winning the yard sign war by a rout.
We’ll make up our minds about it by tomorrow afternoon, and hope for the best. Here’s hoping you’ll do you’ll some cursory research on all of your boring yet consequently down-ballot races, too, and that it also works out for the best.

— Bud Norman

With One Week to Go

Some very consequential elections here in Kansas and from coast to coast are now a mere fleeting week away, but you wouldn’t know it from the front page headlines or any of the cable news networks’ top-of-the-our stories. Instead of any in-depth analysis of the very complicated economic and social issues to be decided next Tuesday, it’s all about the mad bomber who was sending improvised explosive devices to Democratic politicians and activists through the mail, and the hateful loser who slaughtered 11 Jews and injured several others as they worshipped God in a Pittsburgh synagogue, and those few thousand Central American migrants who are walking and hitch-hiking to the thousand-mile-away American border, and of course all the arguments about whose overheated rhetoric is to blame.
Those “enemies of the people” at the “fake news” Washington Post reported on Monday that someone had fired at least four bullets into the Volutsia County Republican Party headquarters in south Florida, and even without confirmation from Fox News and conservative talk radio we’ll assume the report is entirely true. We’ll concede that perhaps the Post’s daily reporting about Republican outrages had something to do with it, but the Post’s editorialists also make a convincing case that the rhetoric of President Donald Trump’s Republican party has something to do with the rest of the bad news, so for now there’s too much craziness afoot on all sides to calmly consider all the complicated economic and social issues that are on that ballot in just a week.
We’re doing our best to keep all those complicated economic and social issues in mind as we consider our electoral options, and to judge them according to our longstanding conservative economic and social principles, but one must also take account of the rest of the latest headlines into account. This election is being contested at a time when the economy is so healthy that the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates and therefore tanking the stock markets, and according to longterm trends the business cycle might well be up against its inevitable downturn, and for now we don’t trust either party to properly deal with it. We don’t much like the way both parties are pointing a damning finger at the un-American bastards on the the side, too, but we have to admit that our side is looking pretty damned stupid these days.
Here in Kansas there’s a close gubernatorial race between Democratic nominee and longtime state Sen. Laura Kelly and two-term Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and the big issue is tax policy. Twice-elected Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback proposed a program of radical and tax and budget cuts, and with the accord of a Republican legislative majority he helped get elected it was passed, but although we personally know Brownback to be a good guy his time-tested economic theories it didn’t pan out this time around and the state state wound up in a budget hole that required further budget cuts, some of which proved quite painful to the state’s roads and public schools and prisons and other essential services. The establishment Republicans that Brownback had primary-ed out to get his tax plan passed wound up primary-ing out the anti-establihments insurgents two years later, and with help from those damned Democrats they wound up largely repealing Brownback’s tax plan, and although the state ain’t exactly booming the state budget is closer to being balanced and the schools are still open five days a week, which is more than we can say for some school districts just to the south of us in even blood-red Republican Oklahoma.
Along with every living Kansas Republican ex-governor except our old pal Brownback, we’ve reluctantly decided to vote for the damned Democrat for governor this time around. She’s not proposing any further tax hikes but is promising to at least keep the roads paved and the schools open five days a week, which seems realistic enough. Kobach is promising that none of those few migrants still a thousand miles away from the southern border will ever vote in a Kansas election, and he once took the lead in trying to prove that millions of illegal voters robbed Trump of a rightful win in the last popular vote for the presidency, and he’s got Trump’s ringing endorsement, but for now that makes us all the more inclined to vote for the damned Democrat.
There are a few more down-ticket damn Democrats that we’re also thinking about voting for, as well. Here in our very fashionable and homosexual and damnably Democratic Riverside neighborhood of cosmopolitan Wichita our state representative is a crazed far-left guy we happened to grow up with back in suburban Bel-Aire, and although he’s a crazed lefty we also know him to be an honest and likable sort, and since we haven’t heard a thing from his Republican opponent, if there even is one, we might even give him a vote. So far we don’t know who the Republican candidate for Sectary of State is, and can’t find much fault with the Google maps creator who’s running on the Democratic ticket. Our part of Sedgwick County currently has such a rock-ribbedly small government Republican conservative County Commissioner that he routinely votes against locally beneficial programs the state an federal government are willing to pay for, and by now all the local business interests and other mainstream Republicans around here are fed up with him, and given that his opponent is such an attractive and amiable female folk songstress w’re inclined to vote for her despite the credible socialist leanings her opponent alleges in his mailings.
As much as we want to keep Kansas’ taxes low and its roads paved and its schools open five days a week, and as keen as we are to see that Sedgwick County keeps doing mutuably beneficial business with the private sector, all the rest of the headlines and the 24-hour news cycle figure in as well. All the rest of it is quite distracting, and quite divisive, but at least around here those damned Democrats suddenly seem reasonable.

— Bud Norman

A Blue Moment in a Red State

After a full week of counting and re-counting votes, the Kansas Republican party at last has a a gubernatorial nominee. The by-the-skin-of-his-teeth winner turns out to be Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and we expect he’s in for a tough general election.
Although a reliably Republican state in congressional and presidential elections, Kansas hasn’t rewarded either the Republicans or Democrats with a third consecutive term since the 1960s, when conservative Democrat Robert Docking won four straight two-year terms, and the past eight years of Republican rule haven’t gone so well. For seven of those years the governor was former Senator Sam Brownback, whose radical tax cut agenda required purges of establishment Republicans in some ugly primary fights and didn’t deliver the promised economic boom and enhanced revenues, and after he resigned to become something called Ambassador for Religious Freedom in the administration of President Donald Trump his Lieutenant Governor and accidental Gov. Jeff Colyer could do little to reverse the state’s fortunes in a year’s time, even though his fellow establishment Republicans had won a second round of ugly primary fights against the hard-liners and some common-sense fixes to the tax code were enacted.
Kobach further complicates the Republican’s problems. He only beat Colyer by a hundred votes or so, with about 60 percent of the party voted for another of the crowded field of candidates, and his audaciously far-right stands on various issues will be a hard sell to a state that’s lately reverting to its cautiously center-right character. Nationally-known for his obsessions with illegal immigration and voter fraud, Kobach won our votes in two races for Secretary of State with such common sense reforms as photo identification requirements for voting, but since his reelection many Kansans such as ourselves think he’s taken things a bit too far.
He was tabbed by Trump to head a federal commission to prove that more than three million illegal immigrant voters had robbed the president of his rightful win in the popular vote, but that went down in flames when both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state refused for both Democratic and Republican reasons to comply with the commission’s demands for their voter data, with even Kansas refusing on the basis of state law to comply with all of it. Some rather stringent voter registrations requirements that we’re not sure we could comply with were challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union, and when Kobach represented himself in the lawsuit he not only wound up on the losing side of the verdict but racked up thousands of dollars in contempt of court fines and much public ridicule in the process. Kobach has fully embraced the snarling Trump style of campaigning and credits the president’s endorsement for his victory, but more than 70 percent of Republican caucus-goers voted against that in ’16 and about 60 percent of Republican primary voters didn’t fall for it in ’18.
Longtime state legislator Laura Kelly won more than 50 percent of the Democratic party’s votes against a crowded field that included such formidable challengers as former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer and the folksy rural legislator Joshua Svaty, and we can’t imagine any Democrat in the state opting for Kobach. Democrats are only about 30 percent of the state, but that’s always a good start in any race, and our guess is that most of Kansas’ numerous independents are leaning Democratic about now, and that many of the state’s stubbornly independent Republicans are getting fed up with their party. Trump won the state’s six electoral votes by the usual Republican landslide, but he was running against the historically horrible Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and such a scandal-free and not-at-all-shrill centrist as Kelly is unlikely to inspire such widespread loathing in the Grand Old Party.
The wild card in the race is independent candidate Greg Orman, a rich businessman making his second electoral run in Kansas. Back in the state GOP’s anti-establshment fervor of ’14 longtime Sen. Pat Roberts narrowly escaped a primary challenge, so Orman ran an independent campaign to the right of Roberts, and the Democratic nominee was so lame that the party withdrew him from the ballot and hoped that Orman would at least remove a sitting Republican from the Senate, but he wound up losing by a lopsided margin and Roberts is still in office and at least resisting Trump’s stupid trade wars. This time around Orman is running on the argument that a two-party system of democracy is a rigged game that has brought the state to its knees, and that only a rich businessman can make Kansas great again, and he’s offering few specific plans.
This strikes us as a losing argument around here, but there’s no doubt some significant number of Kansans will fall for it, so it’s a question of whose voters it will attract. The answer, we dare say, is that the vast majority of Orman’s support will come from the Trump-endorsed Kobach’a column.
Kobach’s national notoriety will probably funnel plenty of out-of-state money to Kelly’s campaign coffers, too, and we expect she’ll spend that far-left money on some very centrist advertisements. We don’t expect Kansas’ nationally notorious mega-donor Charles Koch will make up much of the difference, given Koch’s libertarian views on immigration and genteel aversion to the snarling Trump style of campaigning, and the funding gap will be a problem in the expensive media markets up in those well-educated and well-off Kansas City suburbs that are typical of the places where the Republicans have been having a hard time lately.
November is a long time from now, but the days grow short when you reach September, as the old song says, and on this rainy August day we’re wishing Colyer had won. As things now stand, we might have to vote for a damn Democrat.

— Bud Norman

Close Calls But No Cigars on a Summer’s Election Night

Life is full of rude awakenings, but we found it especially annoying when our slumber was interrupted early Tuesday afternoon by a robocall from President Donald Trump. He was calling to urge us to vote for Kris Kobach in the Kansas Republican gubernatorial primary, but we’d already made up our minds to vote for the other guy, and Trump has never persuaded us to do anything, so we hung up at out the outset of what we expected to be a lengthy harangue and went back to sleep for another hour or so.
Even so, it proved a nice enough day. After washing the sleep out of our eyes and finding some clean clothes we took a top-down drive to the Woodland Methodist Church up n North Riverside to cast our ballots, where we ran into three of our favorite neighbors while standing in line, then talked it over with some political friends at a couple of local gathering spots. After that we went home for a long night of poll-watching, and at this late point in the night, we’re still watching. Those most-watched races are very, very close, and although Trump’s picks seem have the slight edge at the moment the closeness should leave him worried.
The GOP is declaring victory for Troy Balderson in that special election in Ohio’s 12th congressional district, but it’s too close for Democratic candidate Danny O’Connor to concede defeat, and far too close for Trump’s comfort. Trump won the district by double digits in ’16, and Republicans have held the seat by larger margins for decades, and this is just another special election in which the Republicans have lost double-digit leads since Trump was elected. So far the Republicans have narrowly edged out wins in most of the special elections, which have mostly been safe safe Republican seats vacated due to Trump administration appointments, but the Republicans have managed to lose a Senate seat in Alabama of all places as well a number of suburban congressional districts, and if you subtract all those votes from the Republican candidate in a number of upcoming congressional races in November the Democrats will be picking the next Speaker of the House and holding subpoena power in all the investigative committees. So far most of the Democrats are distancing themselves from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who always turns out lots of votes for Republicans for here in the heartland, but anyone they might choose will be troublesome for Trump, and there’s no telling where those Democratic subpoenas might lead.
It just turned Wednesday as we write this, and at the moment Trump’s favored candidate in the Kansas gubernatorial primary is clinging to an ever-so-slight lead over incumbent governor and oh-so-establishment candidate Jeff Colyer with plenty of votes left to be counted, but even if that holds up Trump won’t have much to brag about. It’s already clear that some 60 percent of Kansas’ Republican voters didn’t vote for Trump’s endorsed candidate among the crowded field, and given that the Democrats chose long time legislator and cautiously centrist and not very scary Laura Kelly as their nominee we expect another too-close-for-comfort race in November’s general election. The conventional wisdom is that Kobach will be easier than Colyer for her to defeat, and we’re inclined to agree, so it remains to be seen how Trump’s pick ultimately fares here in Kansas.
Here in the Kansas fourth congressional district incumbent Rep. Ron Estes easily defeated another guy named Ron Estes in the Republican primary, and although Democratic nominee James Thompson gave him a single-digit scare in last year’s special election following Rep. Mike Pompeo’s rise through the Trump administration, we figure that’s still a safe Republican seat. The state’s second and third districts overlap with the affluent and well-educated Kansas City suburbs, though, where white collar women who are sick of sexual harassment have an outsized influence, and given the national trends since Trump’s election we’d say that both are very much in play if the Democrats aren’t too shrill. Kansas is still a traditionally Republican state, and has been ever it since entered the union as a Lincoln-ian free state, but what we’ve got right now is not a traditional Republican party.
Although it’s of less importance to the rest of the world, we also kept an eye on our neighborhood’s Fourth District Sedgwick County Commission primary races. As usual we voted in the Republican primary for incumbent Richard Ranzau, who is locally legendary for his tight-fistedness with taxpayer dollars and aversion to any exercise of governmental power, and we also appreciate that he’s principled enough to have made the most noise about a fellow Republican county commissioner serving while under indictment for several serious criminal charges. A few months ago we caught a terrific twenty minutes of alt-folk-rock by an attractive young woman named Lacey Cruse during Kirby’s Beer Store’s Sunday afternoon acoustic sets, and were much impressed by her far-ranging intelligence during a post concert conversation, and somehow she wound up winning the Democratic nomination for the seat. Which makes for an interesting choice.
As much as we admire Ranzau’s tight-fistedness and laissez faire attitude and party-be-damned good government principles, he’s so darned principled he’s voted against a lot of things the state and feds wanted to pay for around here, as well as some public-private projects that probably would have benefited both the public and private sectors. Cruse disappointed us by running an unabashedly-“I-am-woman-hear-me-roar” campaign, with buttons proclaiming “women inspire change” and handbills asking voters to bring their mothers and daughters and aunts and sisters and nieces to the polls with them, but even with out help from fathers and sons and brothers and nephews it prevailed over a longtime black male politico in a district that stretches from our fashionably white and gay Riverside neighborhood through the barrio clear over to the ghetto where you’ll find Kirby’s Beer Store, and by now we can’t deny that Ranzau also represents a certain sort of white male identity politics.
All of which makes our various choices in November more interesting than usual. Usually we vote a straight Republican ticket, as do most respectable Kansans, but these days we’re pondering our choices. If that’s also happening in less reliably Republican states, as the election results suggest, our Grand Old Party could be in for a blue November.

— Bud Norman

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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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