Advertisements

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.

<

Advertisements

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

Swimming in a Flood of News

The news comes at a fast and furious rate in the age of President Donald Trump, but Wednesday’s pace was downright discombobulating. Some bigger than usual bombshells about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia came not from anonymous sources somewhere in the bureaucracy but rather from four under-oath high level figures, here in Kansas the more conservative sort of Republican economic philosophy took a hard hit, and just to the south the University of Oklahoma’s longtime football coach unexpectedly up and quit.
The most attention was paid to the written testimony of fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, which confirmed all those previously anonymously-sourced stories that Comey says Trump had expressed a hope that the FBI would relent in its investigation of Trump’s fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and had asked for a pledge of loyalty to the president. As far as Trump’s most strident critics are concerned that’s sufficient for an impeachable obstruction of justice charge, which seems a bit of an overreach, for now at least, and Trump’s staunchest supporters are claiming vindication by Comey’s admission that he had indeed assured Trump on three separate occasions that the president wasn’t being investigation as an individual, as Trump had noted in Comey’s termination letter, which is not likely to make anybody but other staunch Trump supporters feel good.
Comey will provide oral testimony and answer questions from Republicans and Democrats today, and Trump’s staunchest supporters should be ready with some better arguments. All of the broadcast networks will be televising the Senate hearings live, just like in the Watergate days, and the bars in Washington, D.C., are opening early and offering such specials as “covfefe cocktails” for the expected audience, and the story Comey will tell is far more fascinating than anything that’s going on in the pre-empted soap operas.
Comey’s seven pages of written testimony, apparently backed up by some very contemporaneous notes he’d written on the way home from his encounters with the president, include some novelistic but believable details.
He recalls a moment during a private presidential dinner when “the president said, ‘I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.” Comey later recalls that “Near the end of our dinner, the president returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, ‘I need loyalty.’ I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’ He paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want. Honest loyalty.’ I paused, and then said, ‘You will get that from me.’ As I wrote in the memo that I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase ‘honest loyalty’ differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further.”
Today’s rating-grabbing telecast will likely include further literary flourishes, along with Republicans and Democrats and Trump’s most strident critics and staunchest defenders understanding the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but our guess is that Trump should ready himself for another bad news cycle. Comey’s recollections are apparently backed up by provably contemporaneous notes, and all the dialogue does seem to have a certain verisimilitude about it, based on what we’ve seen of Comey and Trump. Although Comey has infuriated Democrats by announcing an investigation of the Democratic nominee during the late stages of the campaign and infuriated Republicans by failing to lock her up, at least his bipartisan honesty has never been questioned, while Trump has undeniably been caught in some whoppers. Even if the public does accept Comey’s version of events it’s still an overreach to make an obstruction of justice case, given the different interpretations of “honest loyalty” and almost anything else Trump says, but it’s going to be hard to make Trump look good.
You might not have seen it floating by in the flood of news, but The Washington Post had also reported in a mostly-anonymously-sourced story that Trump had also asked a couple of other top-notch national security types to push back against that whole Russia thing with Trump and Russia, and two of them gave under-oath testimony to that pesky Senate committee. National intelligence director Dan Coats and Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, both denied they had ever been asked by anyone to do anything untoward, but when the questions got more specific they declined to answer, and at one point Coats freely admitted he didn’t have any particular legal basis for not answering. Even the Republicans seemed peeved by the arguable contempt of Congress, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, taunted by Trump as “Little Marco” during their primary duel, made some good points.
All that is obviously getting in the way of Trump’s infrastructure and health care reform and tax reform agenda, and the tax reform part of the agenda took way out here in Kansas. Enough establishment-type Republicans joined with the Democrats to override the staunchly anti-establishment Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a tax increase, which pretty much brings to an end the tax-cutting program that Trump is proposing. Economics is a complicated science, and there’s an argument to be made that the Kansas economy wouldn’t have thrived any better under the tax-and-spend schemes that have harmed so many blue states, but the Brownback tax cuts inarguably haven’t produced the economic growth that was promised and we’ve even lagged behind the Obama-era overall economy, and the state’s school and social service funding were getting down to the bare bones that alarm even such old-fashioned Kansas Republicans as ourselves, so of course even the national press is gloating. The old-fashioned establishment sorts of Republicans around here arguably acquitted themselves in the matter, but Trump shouldn’t count on them having his back in the coming news cycles.
It was such a busy day we’re still not sure why Bob Stoops relinquished control of that OU Sooners football team, which looks to have another exciting and maybe even championship season coming up. Over the years he’s infuriated Sooners fans with some inexcusable bowl game losses and then delighted them with some chapionship-trophy-hoisting upsets, but he’s got Kansas State ties and seems a decent sort of fellow and after 18 years he’s leaving his successor a much better team than the one he inherited, so we wish him well in his future endeavors.
As for all the rest of these characters in the news these days, we’re wishing all them and all the rest of us our best.

— Bud Norman

The Sunflower State’s Momentarily Embarrassing Moment in the Sun

The national media usually pay no attention to what’s going on in Kansas, which is fine by most Kansans, but they have taken notice of the state’s recent budget problems. Our state government’s revenue collections are once again short of projections, this time around by $350 million or so, and although the sum must seem quaint to a New York or Washington newspaper editor they can’t resist the angle of a cautionary tale about Republicans and their crazy economic schemes out here on the prairie.
There’s no denying the angle has some validity, and the hook for the latest stories is that even the Republican-dominated legislature came up just three votes short of overriding a Republican governor’s veto of tax hike bill, which is the sort of internecine Republican squabbling that always draws national media to even the most remote portions of the country. Although it pains our old-fashioned Kansas Republican souls to admit, there’s also no denying that all that tax-cutting that started about six years ago has not yet kept all the extravagant promises that were made. Even after six years there’s still a plausible argument to be made for patience, and the dismal science of economics cannot prove for certain that higher taxes would have proved a boon to the Kansas economy, and we can think of some tax-and-spend states that also have newsworthy budget problems, but for now there’s no denying the $350 million shortfall or any of the fun the press is having with it.
The tax cuts are the creation of our ultra-Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who of course has long been hated by Democrats everywhere since his days in the United States Senate for his unapologetic anti-abortion and pro-free market beliefs. Although he has a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University’s world-class agricultural economics department and a law degree from the University of Kansas and is married into the family that owned the newspaper chain that owned The Topeka Capitol-Journal and served in the United States Senate and has been in politics since he became national president of the Future Farmers of America and the KSU student council, Brownback is still considered an anti-establishment type, so he’s also been a controversial figure even within his own party. Starting with all those high-minded New England abolitionists who poured into the state for the Bleeding Kansas battles that presaged the Civil War, the Kansas Republican Party has always been the establishment around here and long fended off the scruffier sorts of populists. Even with the help of the Emporia Gazette’s great William Allen White they had to resort to firearms to expel the Prairie Populists who gained a brief majority in the statehouse on a program of nationalizing everything and coining endless free silver and all sorts of other craziness, and they only kept the notorious quack and shrewd showman “Doc” Brinkley from becoming governor by not counting all the misspelled or imprecise write-in votes that were cast, but for the most part they’ve kept a steady course down the middle of the road over the many years, and at first they balked at Brownback’s admittedly radical fiscal policies.
Despite the intra-party resisters and their unified allies among the Democratic minority Brownback got most of what he wanted, and then he egged on the anti-establishment sentiment that was taking hold among Republicans in every state, and saw many of his longterm Republican adversaries ousted from office by more hard-core primary challengers, and then he got the rest of it. It was all very acrimonious and much mud was slung and it was not at all the sort of thing that Kansas Republicans like, and the Democrats everywhere greatly enjoyed it until the saw which side had won, and of course it didn’t end there. With like-minded Republicans firmly in control of both sides of the capitol building Brownback surely knew he would be due all the credit or blame that might accrue in the aftermath of his policies, and at the moment that’s a $350 million shortfall.
The notion that lower taxes are more conducive to economic activity than higher taxes has long been generally accepted by all sorts of Republicans, from the country clubs to the union halls, and although you might not find it in Kansas at the moment there is plenty of evidence to support that notion. The doubling of federal revenues that followed Reagan’s admittedly radical tax cuts is one example, and despite our doubts about this Trump fellow he might yet provide more proof. We can hardly blame those back east newspapers focusing their attention on Kansas, and we’ll give them some credit for acknowledging deep into their stories that it’s all very complicated. There are any number of reasons why the Kansas economy hasn’t outpaced even the sluggish growth of the nation at large over the past six years, many of which can plausibly be blamed on the policies of the D.C. Democrats and the eight years of Democratic governors who preceded Brownback, one of whom was that Kathleen Sibelius woman who got kicked out of the Obama administration for bungling the the Obamacare rollout, and the dismal science of economics being what it is there’s always that very real possibility things could have been worse.
There’s also an argument to be made that Kansas had the right idea but went about it the wrong way. Tax policy is mind-numbingly arcane, and all the newspapers in the state are pretty much broke and nobody’s paying us to wade through all that stuff anymore, but so far as we can tell the bill that Brownback vetoed would have rescinded a previous measure that nearly eliminated taxes on income from certain legal entities used by small businesses, which is apparently known as “pass-through income.” This sounds like the sort of pro-Mom-and-Pop policy that every variety of Republican can support, but apparently some 330,000 Kansas businesses started passing all their income through those certain legal entities, and in a state of only 2.5 million people that’s a lot of Moms and Pops and probably enough to make a dent in a $350 million shortfall, and apparently that particular lower tax rate does yield to the usually reliable Laffer Curve.
After the first couple of shortfalls happened the establishment sorts of Republicans started winning primary challenges against the newly-minted anti-establishment types, and the paleolithic Sen. Pat Roberts won re-election despite an anti-establishment challenger that all the talk radio hosts loved, Brownback won re-election against one of those crazy tax-and-spend Democrats by a slighter margin, and the Kansas Republican party largely returned to its stodgy budget-balancing and non-boat-rocking ways. With help from the unified Democrats it came within three votes in the Senate from overriding the veto, and when everything’s up for grabs in Kansas’ off-year elections two years hence we won’t be betting on that pass-through exemption lasting long. The first rounds of shortfalls were met with spending cuts, which struck us as entirely reasonable after eight years of spendthrift Democratic administrations, but there are roads to be paved and bridges to be buttressed and kids to be educated in the state, and the biggest chunk of the state budget is obligated by the feds, so after the first few rounds of plucking there got be some squawking in even in the most Republican precincts. We read there’s a similar exemption included in the much speculated-about tax proposals from President Donald Trump, who won the state’s electoral votes just like every Republican does but finished a dismal third in the state’s Republican caucus, and we wonder how many Grand Old Party establishment types will be around to raise any objections to that.
We really don’t want to be ragging on Sam, as we call him, because we do like the guy. It’s an annoying stereotype about Kansans that we’re all supposed to know one another, but we have known Brownback since our teenaged days as interns with the famously Kansas Republican Sen. Bob Dole, and we’d run into him on the KSU campus where he was king and the Kansas State Fairs that he ran as Kansas Agricultural Commissioner and along his endless campaign stops, and we’ve always known him to be a very nice guy with a good enough sense of humor that he got our jokes. We also remain steadfast in our old-fashioned Kansas Republican belief that lower taxes are indeed generally more conducive to economic activity than higher ones, but we’re the old-fashioned sort of Kansas Republican who would prefer to get things right enough to balance the budget. Tax policy is arcane stuff, but if you delve deep enough into you’ll find that some tax cuts are better than others, and that sensible policies elsewhere would make it all less important, and that it’s all very complicated, and sometimes you have to pay at the bottom line. We rather like that some stodgy budget-balancing Republicanism is still afoot in the country, too, and hope that the old adage about lower taxes and economic activity will survive. May God have mercy on our souls, but we also hope they can work something out with those damned Democrats.

— Bud Norman

Our Annual State of Satire Address

Some of the time we usually spend perusing the news and composing our thoughts about it has been taken up this past week by our annual appearance in an amateur theatrical production, a revue of skits and songs spoofing local and state and national newsmakers, so we hope you’ll forgive any resulting lack of our usual depth of analysis and gloominess you might have noticed over the past few days. The show has been a rather desultory affair this year, and as usual all the money is going to journalism scholarships that we don’t approve of, so on a slow news  day that and an infuriating speech by “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau have set us to thinking once again about the sorry state of satire.
The other folks involved in the show are mostly a swell bunch, and we highly recommend the brief camaraderie that amateur theatrical productions provide to anyone who is looking for a once-a-year hobby, but of course there are always what we show biz folk call “creative differences” involved. This year we were limited to a few lines in a skit about a recently deceased cast member, which got some nervous laughs on opening night, and a more featured role in our own script about a poor fellow who just wants to order a cup of coffee at Starbucks without being subjected to a meaningful conservation about the state of racial relations in America, which got even more nervous laughs, and perhaps that was for the best. There’s an entirely apolitical bit by one of the veterans about dealing with computer tech support robots, a version of “Mein Herr” from “Cabaret” about Bruce Jenner’s sex change that would be considered egregiously transphobic in more enlightened communities, and a sharply partisan skit about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and what might be on them, all of which we found very funny, but the rest was mostly about Kansas’ Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and we weren’t in on the joke.
Those of you who are out of state and also not in on the joke need only know that Brownback is a sexually repressed Puritan who gleefully slashed the state’s education budget to such levels that the poor urchins in the state’s schools cannot afford the alphabet, and Kobach is such a racist that he does not want illegal immigrants to vote in Kansas elections. All the right people here in Kansas seem to think so, so audiences are grateful to be let in on the joke, but even that exquisite frisson of blessed conformity that comes with thinking like all the right people and being let in on the joke can’t quite square those creative differences for us.
Having known Brownback since we were 18 and working as summer interns for the now-venerable Sen. Bob Dole, and having run into him often on the campus of Kansas State University when he was student body president, and having run into him again here and there on campaign trails and at Kansas State Fairs during his other stops on a long career of public service, we know him as a nice guy and decent family man, and although he would probably be sympathetic toward any baker who didn’t want to bake a same-sex wedding cake, and he did support that stupid “sin tax” to raise revenue on the backs of smokers and beer-drinkers and other fine Kansans we know,  otherwise we can assure you that he does not seem to harbor any sexually-induced neuroses that might affect his duties as governor. As for the education cuts, we note that the average school district in the state was spending around $13,000 per pupil the last reported year, which for some reason doesn’t include the generous bond issues that voters have approved, and which is around the national average, and with the lower-than-average cost of things around here that means we’re still ahead of the rest of the country, and we’re ahead of all the countries in the world except Sweden and Norway, and we’re way ahead of countries such as Japan and South Korea, which seem to have better math students, and there’s no denying that the Catholic schools around here do a better job for a lower fee, and a friend of ours has a kid in this “classical school” who is clearly getting three times the education at nearly one-third the cost, and we guess that all the right people who are in on the joke just don’t know this.
Neither do we get the joke about Kobach hating Mexicans because he doesn’t want them to vote in Kansas elections, any more than we feel the least bit hated because the Mexican government doesn’t want us to vote in their elections. Such policies have been a fixture of representative government since its inception, and consistently poll more than 70 percent approval, which is more than same-sex marriage or the latest Spielberg movie or the First Amendment gets, and it was enough to win Kobach an easy re-election just last November, but apparently all the right people who are in on the joke think otherwise.
All the right people who are in on the joke, we have begun to suspect, are the wrong people to do satire. This suspicion was heightened by reading Trudeau’s speech accepting Long Island University’s George Polk Career Award, which is as annoying a piece of drivel as we’ve come across lately. The award is named in honor of a journalist who died in the line of the duty, yet Trudeau took the occasion to criticize the editorial staff of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for publishing the cartoons that offended their murderers. Poking fun at the sort of radical Islam that would murder the staff of a satirical magazine is “punching down,” said the once-edgy Trudeau, noting that it satirized a “powerless” and “disenfranchised” minority rather than “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” The Muslims are France are not disenfranchised, of course, and their growing demographic strength will soon make that fact unhappily apparent at the polls, even if a French Kobach should somehow emerge, and they are not so powerless that they can’t slaughter the staff of any magazine that offends their strict notions of proper respect for their religion, and enlist the support of award-winning and well-heeled and oh-so-respectable cartoonists and other gullible examples of the right sort of people who are in on the joke, and we’d like to think this is the reason no one outside Long Island University has heard of “Doonesbury” since the early ’80s.
Satire and journalism should indeed comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, tiresome as that old cliché has become, but Trudeau and all the rest of the right people who are in on the joke should know that the roles have been reversed since the good old days when Groucho Marx and his brothers were sticking it to Margaret Dumont’s society dame. These days it’s the Starbucks and the computer tech support robots and the rich and corrupt feminist ceiling-breaker Hillary Clinton and the award-winning cartoonists who are the comfortable that need afflicting, and now  it’s the guy who just wants a cup of coffee, the reader subjected to the latest developments in Bruce Jenner’s sex change,  the guy who just wants his e-mail working, and the guy who sees through Clinton’s champion-of-the-common-man schtick, and the taxpayer who’s expected to pay more for an educational system that needs thorough reform more than it needs more money, and the people who are being slaughtered rather than merely offended, who need comforting.

— Bud Norman

On the Importance of Making Welfare More Fun

On those frequent occasions when the elite eastern press wants to explain the benighted nature of those unwashed rubes in that vast electoral red splotch in the middle of the country, they usually come here to Kansas. The state almost always has a Republican legislature, and these days it even has a governor who obligingly conforms to all the nastiest stereotypes of middle American Republicanism, which allows the likes of The Washington Post to frighten its more sophisticated readership with such headlines as “Kansas wants to ban welfare recipients from seeing movies, going swimming on government’s dime.
Underneath a file photo of some presumably welfare-dependent people happily plunging into an enticingly blue swimming pool on a presumably  hot Kansas summer day, the ensuing article leads with unmistakeable outrage that “There’s nothing fun about being on welfare, and a new Kansas bill aims to keep it that way. If House Bill 2258 is signed into law by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) this week, Kansas families receiving government assistance will no longer be able to use those funds to visit swimming pools, see movies, go gambling or get tattoos on the state’s dime.” To add the horrors that are being visited upon the Kansas poor, the article further notes that the bill “means limiting spending on body piercings, massages, spas, tobacco, nail salons, lingerie, arcades, cruise ships or visits to psychics.” Worse yet, according to the increasingly outraged article, the bill also “forbids recipients from from spending money at a theme park, dog or horse racing facility, parimutuel facility, or sexually oriented establishment which provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state for entertainment, or in any business or retail establishment where minors under age 18 are not permitted.”
Lest you think that The Washington Post and its sophisticated readership regard swimming in the rare Kansas swimming pool that charges an entrance fee, watching the latest Hollywood offerings upon their immediate release, gambling, tattoos, body piercings, massages, spas, tobacco, nail salons, lingerie, arcades, cruise ships, psychics, theme parks, gambling on horses and dogs, and adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe are all fundamental human rights a respectable state is obligated to subsidize, and that being on welfare should be fun, be assured that they offer a more nuanced argument against the bill. Even in Kansas they were able to find a Democrat in the legislature who groused that “I just think that we are simply to saying to people, ‘If you are asking for assistance in this state, you’re sort of less than other people and we’re going to tell you how and where to spend your money.'”
Maybe we’ve been living in Kansas too long, but it seems to us that the bill merely restricts how welfare recipients can spend the taxpayer’s money. Should any welfare recipient choose to take a job or swing a lucrative meth deal he would still be able to swim, watch movies, get pierced or tattooed, enjoy a spa or smoke, get his nails done, dress up in lingerie, listen to the dubious predictions of psychics, visit an arcade, gamble on the dogs or ponies, swill cocktails on a cruise ship, ride roller coasters, gamble on the dogs and ponies, or ogle naked entertainers to his or her heart’s content. The article also scoffs at the idea that Kansas’ poor are spending their meager alms on cruise ships and such luxuries, in which case the bill will not affect them at all, and it links to yet another  article arguing that it’s blatant hypocrisy to limit what welfare recipients might spend the taxpayer’s money on when property tax-paying home owners aren’t obliged to prove that they’re not running brothels out of their homes in order to qualify for federal tax exemptions, which is a bit too nuanced for us to wrap our Kansas minds around, but we’ll add our own link and let the reader make up his own mind.
Being on welfare in Kansas might not be as much fun as The Washington Post and its sophisticated readership think it should be, but with the price of wheat being what is and the aircraft industry still struggling under the current administration’s opprobrium the Kansas taxpayer who is expected to pay the tab surely deserves some consideration.

— Bud Norman

A Good Day, All in All

There was a lot of good news on Tuesday. Republicans won control of the Senate, increased their majority in the House of Representatives, reelected a few governors who will now be formidable presidential candidates, and the drubbed Democrats are blaming their already unpopular president. Still, our reaction is a sense of relief rather than elation.
That unpopular president will remain in office for another two years to create all sorts of domestic havoc with his pen and phone and penchant for ignoring constitutional restraints, he’ll still have plenty of legitimate authority to continue his disastrous foreign policy, and the best one can hope for from the newly Republican Congress is that they’ll limit the damage. Although the president was brusquely rebuffed by the electorate that will likely make him all the more defiant of public opinion, and the election results cannot be seen as a widespread public embrace of any Republican principles rather a much-needed obstructionism. Several races were saved by a temporary truce between the warring factions of the Republican party, a welcome development, but the divisions remain and the elections will likely bolster the less conservative side. Such godawful Democrats as Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall survived the night, too, and such sizable states as New York and California remain lost causes.
Our reflexive Republican gloominess notwithstanding, however, there really was a lot of good news. The sound of “Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid” is soothing to our ears, and a more conservative and assertive House majority might well prod its Senate colleagues into a more confrontational stance. The surviving Democrats won’t feel any further obligation to rally around a lame duck president who did little to offer them help and often seemed intent on sabotaging their campaigns, and whatever mischief the president might attempt on his own is going to be a good issue for the Republicans to run on in the next presidential race should the country survive to that late date. That nonsense about a “Republican war on women” fell so flat it probably won’t be revived any time soon, shameful efforts to increase black turnout with talk of Republicans gunning down innocent black children in the streets didn’t prevent their candidates from losing in Georgia and North Carolina and other southern states, and even great gobs of money from labor unions and fashionably liberal billionaires and gullible unemployed hipsters living in their parents’ basements under a fading “Hope and Change” poster couldn’t buy a win in the most hotly contested races.
Some pretty impressive politicians also stepped into the spotlight, too. We’re expecting good things from Senator-elect Joni Ernst in Iowa and Representative-elect Elise Stefanik in New York and Utah’s Representative-elect Mia Love, among others who won their first races, and we can also hope that their hard-earned wins put a final nail in the coffin of that “war on women” nonsense. Gov. Scott Walker’s comfortable margin of victory in Wisconsin, which was his third win in four years after a brutal recall effort two years ago, and came despite the more bare-knuckle sort of tactics by the pubic sector unions he had bravely challenge, sets him up nicely for a presidential run that we would be inclined to support. Wins by the similarly successful governors Rick Perry of Texas, John Kasich of Ohio, and Rick Snyder of Michigan indicate that the party will have a strong field of candidates outside of Washington, D.C., to choose from. Almost as satisfying was that such odious Democrats as Texas gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis and incumbent Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and Wisconsin gubernatorial nominee Mary Burke not only lost but wound up as laughingstocks in the process.
Things worked out well here in Kansas, as well, although it was too close for the comfort to which we have become accustomed. Gov. Sam Brownback had to sweat out a tight race, having annoyed the teachers’ unions and the Republicans who had been nicked by his budget-cutting and the hard-core Democrats who for some reason seethe with a red-hot hatred for every curly hair on his head, but he won despite the further disadvantage of not being able to tie a gubernatorial candidate to that unpopular president. We know Brownback to be a good man, but we’re mainly glad that the Democrats won’t be able to claim that his tax-and-budget-cutting policies had been repudiated.  In a race without an admitted Democrat, Sen. Pat Roberts won by a more comfortable margin, although not nearly what a Republican incumbent should expect in this state.  We attribute the victory mainly to that unpopular president and the putatively independent opponent’s inability to avoid an association with him, but also to the endorsements of such locally beloved conservative icons as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has been at the forefront of a national effort to restrict voting to eligible voters, survived an challenge that had been well-funded from donors around the nation who seek make voter fraud easier. All the Republican congressional incumbents won handily, including the First District’s Tim Huelskamp, whose conservative fervency had so annoyed his own party’s leadership that he was stripped of important committee assignments and was at one point thought vulnerable. Our favorite Sedgwick County Commissioner won, too, despite the reservation of the Republicans with a business interest in county politics and the Democrats’ lavish backing of an heiress to a local black political dynasty.

All the state and local races were close enough that the Democrats around here had great expectations, so it was also nice to see their hopes dashed yet again. Tuesday might not prevent another desultory couples of years, but it did provide some compensatory satisfactions.

— Bud Norman

Another Election Day

Today is Election Day, at long last, and we are glad of it. No matter how the races turn out, we will welcome a respite from the relentless campaigning.
Kansas is usually spared the worst of it, but this year a confluence of unfortunate events have made the state’s gubernatorial and senatorial elections unusually competitive, and as a result the state’s politics have been unusually pervasive. One can turn off the radio and television to avoid the barrage of advertisements, and curtail the evening walks to avoid all the yard signs proclaiming the neighbors’ poor choices, but there’s no escape in the internet, no avoiding the mailbox stuffed with fliers, and the phone has constantly been ringing with robocalls. Our avid interest in politics led us to consider all of it carefully in the beginning, but by now the fliers go to the trash unread and the commercials are ignored and the robocalls are hung up on as soon as they begin. Not that we’re shirking our civic duty to be well informed, as we knew all the arguments and had made our choices the day after the primaries, and although we’ve taken care to be apprised of any new revelations there haven’t been any worth noting.
The polls and the pundits give no indication of what the results will be, which is also unusual for Kansas at this late date in an election. Part of the problem is that the war within the Republican party between the “tea party” and “the establishment” has been especially hard fought here, leaving its candidates bruised and battered. Gov. Sam Brownback’s aggressive tax-cutting and budget-cutting was accomplished with help from like-minded “tea party” types who pulled off a remarkable primary purge during the movement’s high-water year of 2014, and a number of “establishment” types who had grown comfortable with expensive and bloated state government so long as they ran it have bolted from the party. Their support plus the wrath of the teachers’ unions who resented Brownback’s sensible proposal to allow incompetent teachers to be fire and all the liberals who hate Brownback with a red-hot passion that can not be explained in any possible terms have given a good chance of victory to Democratic opponent Paul Davis, a typical liberal from the typically liberal college town of Lawrence who has plenty of money to spend on adds that make his typical tax-and-spend politics sound some sensible and mainstream. Sen. Pat Roberts would be considered a “tea party” type in most jurisdictions, by contemporary Kansas Republican standards his 86 percent rating from the American Conservative Union is considered wimpy and he barely survived a primary challenge by a more rock-ribbed amateur only because of the opponent’s amateurishness and the fact that a couple of no-name votes split a crucial share of the widespread anti-Roberts sentiment. The Democrats still withdrew from the race, however, in order to clear the way for a self-proclaimed independent named Greg Orman whose personal fortune and the donations of some even more well-heeled out-of-state liberals have allowed him to run a very professional campaign positioning the former Democratic candidate and longtime Democratic donor as a non-partisan centrist. Throw in a widespread anti-incumbency mood among that significant bloc of voters too stupid and lazy to consider which party’s incumbents they hate most, and it’s a rare nail-biter in this state.
We remain cautiously optimistic that both Brownback and Roberts will survive close calls, but won’t make any wagers. All the tiresome cliches about how it all comes down to turnout are applicable, and it’s hard to figure who has the edge in this regard. The Democrats are fired up with their red-hot hatred of Brownback, but his ardent supporters in the anti-abortion movement are reliable voters with the extra incentive of Davis’ radically pro-abortion record and the more libertarian among the party will be spooked by the prospect of handing another two years of control of the Senate to Democrats.and we expect that many of the “establishment” types who don’t actually hold jobs in the state government and party establishment are still Republican enough that they won’t vote for what is after all a tax-and-spend platform. All those Democrats itching to vote against Brownback will also vote against Roberts, even if without the enthusiasm of voting for an admitted Democrat, but we expect that Republicans will also wind up voting for Roberts, even without the enthusiasm of voting for a more full-throated and rock-ribbed Republican. Numerous politicians with impeccably conservative credentials have pitched in on the campaign, that vanquished primary opponent has belatedly offered his endorsement, and the non-stop argument that a vote for Orman could keep the Democrats in control of the Senate should limit the number of conservatives sitting this one out.
So it really all comes down to getting out those voters who haven’t been paying attention, and there’s no telling how that will unfold. The National Rifle Association has spent a great deal of money to get the state’s sizable population of gun owners revved up on behalf of both Brownback and Roberts, a ridiculous referendum proposal to raise Wichita’s already sky-high sales taxes will bring out a lot of tightfisted taxpayers in the state’s largest city and will probably add a few votes to the Republican totals, the weather is forecast to be chilly, Roberts has a party organization while Orman will be piggybacking on the Democrats efforts, Kansas State University’s beloved football coach has come out strong for Roberts, and the same anti-Obama sentiment that is said to be brewing a Republican wave has been washing over Kansas for the past six years. Only the most hard-core of the Democrats seem fired up, too, and the all-important hipsters down at the local dive seem not to have noticed all the pervasive politics. It’s enough to make us confident, but quite cautiously so.
We’ll take our biennial stroll to a nearby Lutheran church and cast our votes, then anxiously follow the results here and across the nation. We’re watching the Wisconsin gubernatorial race and the Iowa Senate contest and of course will be keeping track of the Republicans’ numbers in the Senate and House, so it will be a full day of politics. After that we’ll try to take a day off from the stuff, and savor of the sound of the phone not dining with robocalls.

— Bud Norman

Strange Times in Kansas

The Democrats aren’t even running a senatorial candidate in Kansas, the conventional wisdom is that the Republican is therefore more likely to lose, and it goes to show how very convoluted the state’s politics are at the moment.
There was a Democratic candidate in the race, duly nominated by a relative handful of voters in a primary where all the action was on the Republican side, but on Thursday he dropped out of the race without stating any particular reason. Our best guess is that with little money, less name recognition, and the nomination of a party that’s quite unpopular in these parts he simply decided to forgo the prolongated embarrassment of running a losing race. Ordinarily this would further ensure the already inevitable re-election of the entrenched Republican incumbent, but these are not ordinary times.
In this case the entrenched Republican incumbent, Sen. Pat Roberts, is not popular within his party. Although he has a respectable rating of 86 percent from the American Conservative Union, and has been far higher during the age of Obama, that heretical 14 percent has riled the Kansas conservatives. Over all those years in Washington Roberts has racked up a lot of debt ceiling increases and back room bargains and the sort of business as usual that Kansas’ rock-ribbed Republicans are now revolting against, and he survived a mud-slinging primary with less than 50 percent of the vote only because the anti-incumbent sentiment was split between a strong but tarnished challenger and a couple of no-names who were so little known that many people knew nothing bad about them and thus decided to award them a protest vote. Despite this desultory primary the Republicans had reason to hope that Roberts could wash off the mud and rally the base with the valid argument that he is far more conservative than the alternatives, and let the anti-incumbent sentiment split between the Democrat and the Libertarian and the independent who were crowding the ballot.
The departure of the Democrat is a boon to that independent, however, and that independent was already leading Roberts in the polls. He’s an Olathe businessman named Greg Orman, and according to his widely disseminated advertisements he’s all about non-partisan practical solutions and common sense and all the other focus group-tested cliches. There’s enough talk in those ads about balanced budgets and fighting the Washington establishment to imply that he’s a conservative, but he ran for the Senate as a Democrat in 2008, he’s been suspiciously coy about which party he would caucus with as a Senator, and the Democrats here and elsewhere seem quite pleased with the prospect that he might wind up denying the Republicans another seat in such a supposedly safe state as Kansas.
The Roberts campaign has already started deploying its considerable war chest with the message that Orman is a “closet Democrat,” which seems wise. Talk of businessmen and common sense and practical solutions always plays well in Kansas, and that nonsense about non-partisanship has eternal appeal to those apolitical voters who can’t quite understand why the mutually exclusive political philosophies of the two parties won’t allow them to get along nicely and do all the simple things that would surely make everything right, so Orman must be pressed for some specificity. We would be surprised if Orman’s common sense and practical solutions were conservative enough to garner an 86 percent rating from the ACU, and stunned if he proved anything but a partisan Democrat, and even the most disgruntled Republican should be willing to forgive Roberts’ sins against conservatism when offered that alternative. To whatever extent Orman does try to veer right of Roberts it will only diminish the enthusiasm of those Democrats who have been abandoned by their candidate. There’s still a possibility that the Democrat will be on the ballot even without a campaign, something to with a Kansas law that requires some specific reason for dropping out, and with the minuscule Libertarian vote splitting more or less equally between the free-market types and the dope-smokers it would still be the four-way race that supposedly favored Roberts.
Orman could try to exploit Roberts’ unhappy reputation in the state as an establishment sort of Republican, but it’s hard to say how that might play in these unpredictable days on the prairie. While the too-establishment Roberts finds himself in the fight of his life the incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback also finds himself vulnerable in the polls and largely because he’s been such an unabashedly tax-cutting and down-sizing Republican radical. Brownback’s feuds with the “arts community” and the teachers’ unions and the public sector at large have provoked an energized and well-organized opposition, a sizable minority of his own party’s primary electorate preferred a more polite and well-bheaved young woman who barely campaigned at all, and the Democrats around here are giddy with the expectation that a State Representative from the commie college town of Lawrence will vanquish their hated right-wing foe.
They might be right, and Kansas might turn out to be that unexpected Democratic triumph in what is otherwise expected to be a bleak election cycle. There are those polls, after all, and these are undeniably strange times. Still, we’re not putting much stock in polls that were taken before Labor Day when people were still wearing white shoes and straw hats and paying little attention to the state’s suddenly convoluted politics. The state still feels like a conservative and Republican and generally sensible jurisdiction, as it has been almost without interruption since the Republican abolitionists won that shooting war with with the Democrat slavers back in the Bleeding Kansas days, and a gut instinct suggests that it will return to form after all the momentary fussiness is dissipated. The Democratic president remains palpably unpopular here, his party is held in the same disrepute, Roberts’ sullied record is more in in opposition than any of his opponents, Brownback’s feuds with the “arts community” and the teachers’ unions and the public sector at large were all necessary, and better an establishment Republican such as Roberts as a fire-breathing right-winger such as Brownback than any old openly or closeted Democrat.
The state’s media won’t be of much of help, as they all hang out with the “arts community” and the teachers’ unions and the public sector at large, but the Republicans are well-funded and have plenty of unflattering photos of President Barack Obama to show juxtaposed against their opponents in saturation advertising. Money and media attention will pour into the state from Democrats hopeful of denting such a deeply Republican state, but that will only rile the natives. Both Roberts and Brownback will have to campaign well, but they’ll always having the advantage of making their arguments to a Republican state. We might be wrong, as we sometimes are, but we still like the Republicans’ chances here in Kansas.

— Bud Norman

Another Kansas Laughingstock

The catastrophic failure of Obamacare has caused a widespread feeling of schadenfreude among Republicans everywhere, who are all well entitled to one of the most satisfying “I told you so” moments in American history, even as they suffer the expense effects of the law along with everyone else, but the exhilarating sense of vindication is especially sweet for Republicans here in Kansas.
More significant calamities are sure to come, but thus far the most widely acknowledged failing of the new health care boondoggle is the thoroughly botched computer system  and general bureaucratic bumbling that has been unanimously blamed on former Kansas Governor and current Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Her ineptitude in implementing the ambitious reform of one-sixth of the economy has been so stark that even such reliably supportive satirists as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and the wags of Saturday Night Live have been piling on with their ridicule, and no less a purveyor of conventional wisdom than The Hill has dubbed her “the laughingstock of America.” Kansans are by now well-accustomed to having one of their own be the laughingstock of America, sometimes for valid reasons and sometimes for reasons having more to do with the rest of the country’s absurd prejudices, but it is a rare pleasure to have the Kansan in question be a Democrat. When the Democrat in question is Kathleen Sebelius, it’s all the better.
Kansas is a mostly Republican state, after all, and from Alf Landon to Dwight Eisenhower to Bob Dole most of its native sons and daughters who have achieved sufficient prominence to be a national laughingstock have been Republicans. Having the laughs directed to one of our Democratic minority is a refreshing change of pace, and all the more so when it one of the party’s locally beloved figures. If you’re not a true-blue Kansan or a true-blue Republican, and it’s not quite possible to be one without being the other, it’s hard to explain how very mellifluous is the laughter being hurled at Kathleen Sebelius.
It’s hard to explain, for that matter, how Sebelius ever became governor of this state. To begin with you must understand that also Kansans have very rarely sent Democrats to Washington they have a stubbornly contrarian way about them that doesn’t mind sending one of the danged fools to Topeka every now and then. Anti-tax and pro-life Democrats in particular have a history of winning occasional gubernatorial elections in the state, which has the undeniable benefit of keeping the state’s politics competitive enough to limit the complacency and corruption that characterize one-party jurisdictions, and once or twice in the average Kansan’s lifespan there might be even be a Democratic majority in the state’s House of Representatives for a single term. One also must understand the schisms within the state’s Republican party to understand how the likes of Sebelius ever won the governorship.
Prior to Sebelius the state had been guided for two four-year terms by the blissfully unobtrusive hand of Gov. Bill Graves, a successful trucking magnate who was handsome in a distinguished and silver-tinged sort of way and preached free enterprise, kept the occasional crony-capitalism eco-devo deal coursing the legislature, and pursued a more-or-less limited-government agenda that also limited the government’s intervention in such matters as abortion. Kansas survived such governance in pretty good shape, as far as most Kansas were concerned, but a more fervent portion of Graves’ party found it too weak a Republican brew and its fervor managed to win the nomination for a more full-throated champion of traditional social values and free enterprise. The nominee was easily caricatured as a Bible-thumping zealot by Kansas’ liberal-as-anywhere-else media, the reform rhetoric spooked the state’s well-connected Republican establishment, and the Democrats shrewdly nominated Sebelius as the more moderate and reasonable alternative. She was handsome in a distinguished and silver-tinged sort of way, and although a relative newcomer to the state she was the daughter of governor in her native land of Ohio, so there was an aura of competence about her. After decades of Republican occupation of the Insurance Commissioner’s office had led to the inevitable complacency and corruption of one-partly rule Sebelius had won the post, and acted with an anti-corporate bias that was widely perceived as populism, so she also had a plausible record of public service to run on. Throw in a professionally-run campaign financed largely by out-of-state contributions and the usual corporate suspects, along with the unease many of the moderate sorts of Republicans felt about the fire-breathing challenger, and Sebelius was elected by less than a landslide but more than a squeaker.
The first four years of Sebelius’ governorship were barely noticeable, which can be attributed her politically-savvy instincts and the seemingly good health of the national economy, but after that led to her re-election she seemed to be auditioning for a role in the national party. Kansas was suddenly surprised to learn that it had re-elected a rather doctrinaire Democrat as governor, and in addition to a number of liberal initiatives Kansas further enraged the state’s Republican sensibilities by using the tragedy of a tornado that virtually wiped out the tiny town of Greensburg to criticize the Iraq war. Her claim that the town had been denied necessary state assistance because of the war’s use of state National Guard equipment was baseless, and enraged even formerly supportive Republicans, but it endeared her enough to the national party to win a plum cabinet appointment during her second mid-term after the president’s first pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services fell victim to a tax-evasion scandal.
The ostensible promotion was widely expected by the state’s Democrats to be a boon to both her and the party at large, but thus far it doesn’t seem to have worked out that way. She was replaced by her Lieutenant Governor Mark Parkinson, a former state Republican chairman who had left the party as a result of his estrangement with the social conservatives and his ambition to be governor, but after two years of tax hikes and nanny state initiatives he bowed out of pubic life. For the sake of full disclosure we divulge that Parkinson is a friend of ours since high school, and that we once spent a summer painting apartment buildings together and we are also quite fond of his parents and eccentric B-movie-producing brother, but we also came to admire his smarts and they were very much in evidence when he declined to run against former Sen. Sam Brownback, also an old friend of ours and a fire-breathing social conservative and staunch opponent of Obamacare, who would have easily trounced any Democratic rival after eight years of a Sebelius-Parkinson reign.
Meanwhile, back in the rarefied air of Washington and the national scene, Sebelius is now an officially-designated laughingstock. The apparent failure of the Obamacare program that she had been chosen to implement will prove a textbook example of the failure of the “smart government” she had claimed to represent, and the big government philosophy she had so long denied, and the very antithesis of that represented by Gov. Sam Brownback seems likely to win re-election handily. As bad as the damage from Obamacare will be, a Kansas Republican can’t help feeling that some good might come of it.

— Bud Norman