Meanwhile, There’s Still a Coronavirus

The good news is that the rate of coronavirus infections has lately slowed across America, but the bad news is that’s not true everywhere. The populous states of Texas and Florida have seen alarming increases in the infection rate since loosening restrictions on businesses and public gatherings, and it’s happening here in Sedgwick County, Kansas, too.
Which is not surprising. All those restrictions were the apparent reason the rate of infections had slowed, and numerous experts had warned against loosening them too soon. The restrictions were bad for business and onerous for everyone, though, and after weeks of being cooped up the temptation to get back to normal proved too tempting to resist.
Our fervent hope is that the recent spikes prove temporary, and that hot weather and the remaining restrictions and everybody’s newfound habit of staying several feet away from one another keeps the numbers down, but we’re not betting on it. The coronavirus has largely disappeared from the news because of the attention being paid to all the peaceful protesting and violent rioting about racism and police brutality, and the many instances of videotaped police brutality that have ensued, but that doesn’t mean it has disappeared. It’s still out there, spreading more rapidly in many places, and isn’t likely to go away in time for Election Day.
Even if there’s a second wave worse than the first, those restrictions are so bad for business and so onerous for everyone that the temptation to get back to normal will still be irresistible. Fear of the coronavirus doesn’t seem to have stopped all those peaceful protesters and violent rioters from the taking to the streets in large public gatherings, and President Donald Trump has decided that if they can do it he should be able to resume holding his crowded and raucous campaign rallies this month. He might be risking his supporters’ health, but he’s been in the casino business and presumably knows how to play the odds.
Public health officials around the country are urging anyone who’s been involved a demonstration or riot to be tested, on the other hand, and they’ve been mingling with others outdoors and by what we can tell from the news coverage seem far more likely to be wearing a face mask than the typical Trump supporter. The typical Trump supporter feels as passionate about their president as those demonstrators feel about racism and police brutality, however, so we expect large public gatherings to continue through the summer and into the autumn even if the major sports leagues don’t start up again.
More than 109,000 Americans have already died of COVID-19, which more than have died in every American war since Vietnam, and the final death toll will depend on what Americans do over the coming months. As Trump likes to say, we’ll see.

— 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

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

This Crazy Election Year, Right Down to Our Neighborhood

This crazy election year has been especially crazy here in our beloved Kansas, where we have our own problems, which those of you who are out of state probably won’t want to hear about might want to ponder. That awful presidential election is of course the main topic conversation around here, but there’s avoiding all the talk about those five state Supreme Court justices who are on the ballot or that congressional race up in that most citified and northeastern-most district of the state or that contentious Sedgwick County commission race going on just south of us here in Wichita, not to mention all the statehouse seats and other offices we’ve never paid much attention to all being up for grabs, and all lately all of it seems even crazier than usual even by our local standards.
Our oh-so-Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has already won hviciously-contested second term a couple of long-ago years in our state’s off-year election schedule, but he looms even larger in all these matters than either that awful Republican nominee Donald Trump or that awful Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. To summarize the recent history of Kansas politics as best we can the former Senator and failed Republican presidential nominee won the governorship by promising a radical regime of tax-cutting and budget cutting, then won a sufficient number legislators in the ensuing anti-establishment Tea Party revolution of Republican primaries to get it enacted, and at this point the promised economic benefits haven’t closed the revenue gap and the resulting budget-cuts are irking a lot of the less rock-ribbed sorts of Republicans as well as every last one of the state’s Democrats.
Even the matter of those of five Supreme Court justices who are on the ballot is largely about Brownback, who would be charged with nominating their replacements. They’re all in the unusual danger of not being retained partly because they all agreed to grant a dubiously technical re-trial to a couple of thugs who sexually tortured four entirely innocent people here in Wichita and then killed three of them, along with a dog, in a decision so stupid than the United States Supreme Court and its four liberal Justices overturned their ruling on an 8-1 decision, as well as the more outrageous fact that they found the state legislature’s executive-signed funding of the state’s school system’s per-pupil funding at levels higher than the national average and higher than all but two counties somehow unconstitutional, but all the ads are warning that Brownback would be naming all their replacements. All of those state’s congressional candidates are being hit with Brownback, especially in that northeastern district that’s dominated by the Kansas City suburbans, and right down to the County Commission level here in out south-central portion of Kansas, where we notice that all vandals are sticking “Brownbacker” labels on the the Republican candidate’s yard signs rather than stealing them.
All of which makes for an especially crazy election year here in Kansas, at least from our simultaneously old-fashioned Republican and crazy Tea Party and entirely idiosyncratic perspective. We first met Sam Brownback when we were interns to Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who was at the time the notorious right-wing hatchet-man of establishment Republican nominee President Gerald Ford and is now fondly recalled by the local Democrats as one the more reasonable that have since faded away, and we also fondly recall running into him when he was the student body president at Kansas State University and how he urged against our decision to drop out, and that  time when when we ran into him as the main political reporter for the state’s biggest newspaper despite his advice and how very sorry he was to hear about recent divorce. We can’t help liking the guy even if his tax-cutting and budget-cutting ideas haven’t worked out as promised, and neither will we concede that it won’t work out yet, and at this point in this crazy election year we’ll be voting against all of those Supreme Court Justices and trusting our old pal Sam to come up with at least four-out-of-five suitable replacements.
In such a crazy election year as this we’re disinclined to offer any predictions, but we will go so as far to venture that the Republican presidential nominee wins Kansas’ electoral votes but not by the usual two-thirds majority, that the state government remains Republican but with more of those old-fashioned types, and that crazy-but-likable Democrat will beat that sensible-but-obnoxious Republican in that district just to the south of us. We don’t see the country coming out ahead no matter the results of this crazy presidential election year, but we’ll hold out hope that Kansas and Sedgwick County and Wichita and our neighborhood will somehow muddle through it all.

— Bud Norman

The Establishment Strikes Back

Kansas seems to have reverted to its old respectable Republicanism on Tuesday, for better or worse, and the rest of the country would do well to take note. Over the years such ideas as abolition and prohibition and the most noisome sorts of populism have spread out in all directions from this state, and something similar might once again be afoot.
The big story out of the Kansas primary was the First Congressional District race between incumbent Rep. Tim Huelskamp and challenger Dr. Roger Marshall, which actually did get a lot of national attention, especially from the conservative media, as it provided an interesting plot twist in the popular press narrative about the ongoing Republican civil war. Huelskamp was one of those fire-breathing conservatives who brashly challenged the “establishment” and won, while Marshall proudly positioned himself as a more traditional type of Republican. What turned out to be a blow-out win by Marshall, therefore, is being headlined around the country as a win for House Speaker Paul Ryan and whatever’s left that of that erstwhile “establishment.”
All politics really is local, though, as the old cliche would have it, and of course it’s always too complicated to fit into a headline. So far as we could glean from what’s left of the Kansas press and all those attack ads that were blasting out of the Wichita radio stations and into the nearby First District, and based on our long experience of Kansas politics, the big issue in the race was that Huelskamp was so darned fire-breathing in his anti-“establishment” stance that he wound up getting kicked off the Agriculture Committee and voting against a pork-laden Farm Bill that was considered quite generous to the farmers and ranchers who are pretty much the entirety of the First District’s economy. The challenger was a handsome and polished obstetrician who endeared himself to the formidable anti-anortion vote by delivering a large share of the few babies being in born in the aging district, and he had the financial backing of not only the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Livestock Association but also some well-heeled outsiders with a rooting interest in defeating the fire-breathers. Huelskamp had his own anti-abortion credentials as the adoptive father of two African children, and a pristine voting record on the issue to go along with it, and he had the backing of the Wichita-based and national liberal bogeymen Koch brothers and some shrewd political operators from the insurgent side, but the gruff personality and ideological purity that once endeared him to the “tea party” voters of a few election cycles ago didn’t contrast well with the smoother Marshall and had been a bit grating since he got the First District kicked off the Agriculture Committee for the first ever.
Huelskamp had been an outspoken supporter of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ presidential campaign and never got around to endorsing Republican nominee Donald Trump, who was somewhat more enthusiastically supported by Marshall, which of course complicates that whole Trump versus Ryan version of the insurgents versus the “establishment” narrative. Our guess is that neither Trump nor Ryan had much to do with the race, as neither man in is very popular in Kansas, and those subsidies in that Farm Bill were of far greater local importance. Trump came in a desultory second place finish in the Kansas caucus, and that ag station out of far west Kansas that we listen to during the sunny days when its signal reaches our car radio doesn’t seem to mind his stand on borders and Muslims and all that but does fret how his protectionist trade talk is going to affect wheat exports, and it doesn’t play well here in the aviation-dominated Fourth District, either, but neither do Kansans care much for the likes of Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and all their corrupt wheeling-and-dealing that doesn’t even wheel or deal any meaningful pork to our state.
We note that Trump is withholding his endorsement from Ryan in his own primary race against a more fire-breathing “anti-establishment,” even though Ryan has offered a most tepid and frequently apologetic endorsement of Trump, but all politics is once again local and all reports indicate that in Ryan’s locality they’re quite happy to have a Speaker of the House representing their district’s interests, so given Trump’s poor primary showing in that state we expect that the headlines will succinctly state a clear-cut win for Ryan in that personal battle. Although it remains to be how the larger battle between Trumpism and Ryanism plays out, we expect that Republicans and all sorts of human beings will continue to vote in their perceived self-interest.
Interesting, then, that Kansas seems to perceive that a more respectable and less fire-breathing sort of Republicans is in its self-interest. Across town a friend of ours who’s also a fire-breathing sort lost his County Commission seat to a more polished fellow who promised to be just slightly less fire-breathing and more amenable to federal largesse, and we think it might have had something to do with the incumbent’s widely-publicized speech against radical Islamist terrorism that made sense to us but was not at all carefully worded and really didn’t have anything to do with anything before the Sedgwick County Commission, and it seems in keeping with a local weariness about politics. The state has been pursuing a rather radical tax-and-budget-cutting agenda ever since the fire-breathing Sam Brownback was elected governor, then won a fire-breathing legislature that ousted some long entrenched respectable sorts, and the liberals have been shrieking about it, and the results have thus far been mixed and the national media have gleefully made hay of that, and both the high church and the low church Christians are embarrassed by the ugliness of the politics of the moment, and we sense a certain nostalgia for a more polite era.
Down on the south side of town another friend of ours, this one a crazy-assed tax-and-spend nanny-state liberal, lost a Democratic primary for a state house seat. He used to be a local television reporter until he accidentally let loose with a profanity on the air, which is likely the reason he lost in race that drew only a few hundred voters, so even the Democrats, even on the south side, seem to be pining for some sort of respectability. This could be a trend.

— Bud Norman

Another Trip to a Republican Primary

At some point today we’ll stroll a few blocks over to the lovely Gloria Dei Lutheran Church here in the fashionable Riverside neighborhood of Wichita and cast our vote in the Republican primary, mostly because we always vote on an Election Day. This year there isn’t much reason other than ingrained habit for doing so, except for a certain old-fashioned sense of civic duty and a self-interested point of pride to keep a 38-year perfect attendance streak intact.

There’s a hotly contested and highly intriguing primary race going on just west of the county line in the huge but rural and sparsely populated First Congressional District, but here in the smaller but mostly urban and more densely populated Fourth District our very acceptable Republican Congressman is running unopposed. Across town an old buddy of ours who is a notoriously stingy bare-bones government right-winger of a County Commissioner is in a too-close-to-call race against a challenger who promises to be just slightly less stingy and a bit more generous to the locally beloved Sedgwick County Zoo and more amenable to accepting federal dollars for whatever crazy schemes the feds are offering, but that crosses jurisdictional lines so there’s nothing we can do about it, and our own district’s even more notoriously stingy bare-bones government right winger of County Commissioner isn’t up for re-election in this staggered year. We’ve been so busy brooding about that godawful presidential election to find out if any Republicans are even bothering to run for our state house seat, but in any case we live in such an anomalously hip part of this otherwise reliably Republican town that it is still sprouting “Bernie 2016” yard signs all over the place and will surely wind up once again with the crazy-assed tax-and-spend nanny-state liberal Democrat who also happens to be an old buddy of ours. Kansas chooses its governor in off years, the more-or-less acceptable Republican Senator who happens to be up for re-election this time around is facing only token opposition from one of those no-name and no-money cranks who always shows up on the ballot, and the only voting we’ll do with any gusto is against that Republican district court judge who was ordered to undergo some sort of “sensitivity training” after confessing to a long history of sexual harassment.

Still, the privilege of participating in the primary process is enough, for now, to keep us officially registered as members of the Republican Party. George Will and Jay Nordlinger and other conservative writers we have long admired have recently penned their reasons for disassociating themselves from the party that nominated Donald J. Trump as its standard-bearer, and we can’t find fault with any of it, but none of them live in a state such as Kansas where the Republican Party still means something and just what it means is still very much up for vote.
That hotly contested congressional race over in the First District is a highly intriguing example of the Republican internecine warfare, and because the First District gets its talk radio and other media advertising from here in the urbanized Fourth we’ve been able to follow all the mud-slinging. Regular viewers of the as-the-GOP-turns soap opera know there’s been a trend in the past eight years or so for hell-bent hard-core conservative “tea party” types to challenge the squishy moderate “establishment” types in primaries, which explains how Tim Huelskamp became the incumbent Congressman in the same First District that had previously produced such stereotypically squishy moderate “establishment” Senators as Bob Dole and Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran. Huelskamp has proved so hell-bent and hard -core that he got kicked off the agriculture committee and voted against the pork-laden Farm Bill that his challenged was backed by the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Livestock Association, which can hardly be considered special interests in the First District, but Huelskamp had the backing of the Wichita-based Koch Brothers, which is as deep-pocketed and just as dear to our Kansas hearts, and contributions were also coming from all sorts of donors invested in such Republican squabbles, and all the national talk radio hosts were weighing in, and it wound up a mud-slinging fest with both candidates looking bad. After the initial Marshall argument that Huelskamp was too much an anti-establishmentarian bomb-thrower to get along the challenger wound up going with the theme that Huelskamp was a “career politician” dubbed “Washing-Tim,” which is so utterly ridiculous that we’re now rooting from across the county line for Huelskamp.
We’re rooting for our slightly more stingy bare-bones government right winger of a County Commissioner, too, but we will accept whatever verdict the Republicans in that part of town might render.

We’ll also happily cast a pointless vote for the unopposed Rep. Mike Pompeo here in the Fourth District, as he’s been just as conservative as Huelskamp or any other hell-bent type but has done so with the kind of tactful grace that has actually won him some plum assignments from the party bosses and good ink from the national press and a rising star status in the party. While we’re at it we’ll vote for that squishy establishment Senator running against the no-name and no-money kook who always shows up on the ballot, and figure we could do a lot worse. All the other Republicans down-ballot will get our support, too, and with similar sorts of holding majorities in state houses and occupying governor’s mansions and holding County Commission seats across a wide if sparsely populated swathe of this nation we’ll continue to cast our primary votes and hold out some hope for the Republican Party.

— Bud Norman

Our Primary Duty

At some point today we will lace up our Converse All-Stars and walk the few blocks through our picturesque old neighborhood to the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, where we will emphatically cast our votes in Kansas’ Republican primary. Voting is a favorite pastime of ours, right up there with minor league baseball and rock ‘n’ roll shows at sleazy dives and worship services at the West Douglas Church of Christ and the rest of the best of the glorious American heritage, so we never miss an opportunity.
Part of the fun is running into the liberal Democrat neighbors and friends whose votes we are gleefully canceling, but we don’t expect that many of them will bother to show up today. The Democratic party’s slate was pretty much pre-determined at a committee meeting last winter, where they seem to have concluded that this unfavorable election cycle doesn’t call for running any candidates who might come in handy at some later and more fortuitous time, so all the action is on the Republican side. Some of the Republican races have involved in much slinging of mud, a bit of which will stick to even the victor through the upcoming general election, and a few incumbents who would ordinarily cruise to re-election have been forced to dip into their campaign chests to stave off challenges from pesky insurgents,  but given the Republican mood in this Republican state these internecine squabbles should not prove a problem come November.
The most noteworthy challenges by pesky insurgents are an odd mix of politics by stereotype. There’s been some national attention paid to the senatorial race, where the facts rather neatly fit the press’ preferred narrative. Sen. Pat Roberts is about as establishment as one can get, having started his career in Washington a full 47 years ago as an aide to Sen. Frank Carlson, a name that only Kansans of a certain advanced age still associate with the the very establishment Kansas Republicanism of long ago, and he’s being challenged by Dr. Milton Wolf, a political neophyte best known but hardly known at all as a distant relative and vituperative critic of President Barack Obama and a radiologist who posted some of his patients’ x-rays on his Facebook page with sarcastic comments. We’ll still be debating the choice as we wander over to Gloria Dei, but at this point we’re leaning toward Roberts. He was always enjoyably salty company when we covered his previous perfunctory campaigns for major state newspaper, and although this Dr. Wolf fellow makes a pretty compelling case about the votes that Roberts and the rest of those longtime Washington guys have made over the past 47 years we don’t know him with the same familiarity. There’s a certain national talk radio host who will deride us as sell-out RINOs if we follow this instinct, but it’s such fun to hear him fulminate about establishment victories.
The state’s two contested congressional primaries turn the familiar narrative on its head. Here in the Fourth District, which is basically the relatively big city of Wichita and the relatively big town of Hutchinson and a lot of sparsely populated small towns and farmland, the impeccably conservative and unabashedly Tea Party incumbent Rep. Mike Pompeo is being challenged by his Bush-era predecessor, former Rep. Todd Tiahrt, who stepped down two terms ago to make an ill-fated stab at a Republican Senate nomination and now is arguing to get his old job back on the old promises of delivering federal spending and favorable “economic development” deals. We’ll march to Gloria Dei with enthusiasm for Pompeo, as we’ve promised the several campaign staffers who have called the house in the past few days, partly because we prefer his free market approach and partly because we find him the far more impressive individual. We hope this will placate that national radio host who fulminates against RINOs, and are fairly confident the majority of the Fourth District will reach the same conclusion.
Over in the First District, which is comprised by that huge empty place stretching from the Colorado border clear into northeastern Kansas, the race pits famously irascible Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who became a talk radio sensation and national Tea Party favorite with his full-throated rants about Obamaism, against the more politely Republican Alan LaPolice. The First is close enough to the Fourth that the political advertisements are permeating the local airwaves, and we note that LaPolice is trying to make hay of the fact that Huelskamp lost his seat on the Agriculture Committee by offending the more delicate sensibilities of House Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the RINO Republican leadership. It will be interesting to see how the Republican voters of the First District assess this, but we trust the judgement of a majority voters who can somehow live such enviable lives on the harsh high plains of western Kansas.
There’s an intriguing race between a deal-brokering Chamber of Commerce Republican and a stalwart stingy anti-government incumbent for the Fourth District Sedgwick County Commission seat, too, but that would probably exhaust your interest in our local politics. Suffice to say that we’re foursquare for the nay-saying skinflint, and will almost certainly wind up voting for the Republican in any case. These Democrats that the committee came up with are just awful, and even the most mud-soaked Republicans look good by comparison.

— Bud Norman

The Politics Around Here

Kansas holds a primary one week from today, and the state is already awash in politics. Yard signs are proliferating, the mailbox is full of fliers, the pitchmen for identity theft protection agencies and the guy from the Good Feet Store have been chased off the talk radio airwaves by campaign commercials, and some of the races are intriguingly nasty.
All of the action around here is on the Republican side, as usual. The state’s beleaguered Democrats always pick their candidates well in advance of the primary at some committee meeting or another, where a strange cabal of airplane plant union bosses and political science professors and some die-hard lefty activists left over from the good old Prairie Populist days take care not to choose anyone who might have a chance in the long-awaited favorable election cycle. There’s some faint hope of knocking off incumbent Governor Sam Brownback, a budget-cutting anti-abortion stalwart who is hated by the state’s Democrats with a red-hot fervor usually reserved for the likes of Dick Cheney or Sarah Palin, but the supposedly mainstream candidate they’ve come up with is not only a Democrat but also from Lawrence and will have a hell of a time explaining those embarrassing facts to the rest of the thoroughly Republican and decidedly non-college town state. Meanwhile, all the Republican races are being hotly contested between the go-along-to-get-along crowd and the tar-feather-and-pitchforks folks.
Even. Sen Pat Roberts, who has been winning elections in the state since it joined the Union just prior to the Civil War, has lately been forced to resort to some strenuously negative advertising to stave off a primary challenge by Kansas City-area radiologist and political neophyte Dr. Milton Wolf. Wolf’s shoestring campaign got off to a good start with free publicity about his distant family relation to President Barack Obama and scathing commentary on everything Obama has done, and picked up further free steam from media reports that Roberts hasn’t actually lived in the state for years, but was derailed through the summer by news accounts of how the kindly doctor had posted his patients’ x-rays on his Facebook page with darkly humorous commentary. Lately one of those anti-establishment Republican groups have taken to the airwaves with a compelling critique of all the debt and failed grand bargains that Roberts has voted for after so many decades of practical politics, and a prominent national talk radio host has championed Wolf’s cause, but Wolf’s name recognition remains low and he’s yet to make the case for himself. Wolf’s challenge is serious enough that Roberts is unaccustomedly spending campaign money on a primary, and we’re still undecided how we’ll cast our own vote, but our sense is that Roberts will survive and suffer little damage in what should be an easy general election campaign against whoever it is that the Democrats have already offered up as a human sacrifice.
The weakness of Wolf’s campaign should be taken into consideration when reading the inevitable stories about the establishment-versus-insurgents rift within the Republican, but other races indicate where the rift is actually occurring.
Here in the Fourth Congressional, which includes relatively densely-populated Wichita and the rest of relatively sparsely populated south-central Kansas, an incumbent who is still an impeccably insurgent sort even after two terms is being challenged his predecessor from the Bush-era of the Republican establishment. Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt always ran as a rock-ribbed Republican, and voted as one often enough to thrice win re-election, but to distinguish himself against his post-Tea Party opponent and explain his past spending votes he’s made an old-fashioned pitch to bring home the earmarked pork to the district in general and its key aviation industries in particular, with his ads making special mention of an “aviation zone” project that his opponent declined to fund. Rep. Mike Pompeo, the incumbent, has responded with spots arguing that the aviation industry needs to be freed from burdensome regulation rather than subsidized, touting his own proposed legislation to achieve that, and noting he is a successful aviation entrepreneur backed by all the titans of the local industry. Tiahrt still enjoys the loyalty of many of the substantial number of anti-abortion voters in the district, who played a key role in his initial upset victory and were always rewarded with his undying loyalty, but Pompeo’s voting record on abortion issues has not been faulted by any of the anti-abortion scorekeepers, and the Pompeo campaign has also been airing ads with religious right hero and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee extolling the incumbent’s solid family values. We’re solidly for Pompeo, partly because the top-of-his-class West Point grad and high tech business success strikes us as a far more intelligent fellow, but also because we’re more worried about paying off the debt than bringing home the bacon. Despite some recent tightening in the polls we’re still expecting most of the Republican voters in these parts will reach the same conclusion.
There’s no telling what stories the national media will tell about the Fourth District race, but at least they won’t embarrassed by any attention paid to Sedgwick County’s Fourth District Commission race. The battle between incumbent Commissioner Richard Ranzau and longtime state Sen. Carolyn McGinn is our favorite political pastime of the the summer, much as the Wichita Wingnuts’ campaign in the Double-A American Association is our current sports passion, and we like to think that both of these seemingly local concerns potentially portend the future of the United States of America. Any national media in search of a more rock-ribbed Tea Party insurgent anti-establishmentarian will find no one more closely resembling their favorite stereotypes than Ranzau, who has become locally famous by County Commission standards for voting “no” against almost everything. He’ll spend a Sedgwick Countian’s hard-earned tax money on water and roads and locking up the roustabouts and all of the few other things than even a Republican originalist such as Abraham Lincoln would have sanctioned a county commission doing, but when it comes to the rest of the hogwash that the do-gooders and the teachers’ unions cook up he’s been on the losing end of a lot of four-to-one or three-to-two votes. So principled is Ranzau in his stinginess that he has even voted against programs that would be paid for entirely by federal funds, a response to the nation’s $17 trillion dollar debt that the local media, machine Democrats, and even the more of Chamber of Commerce-y sorts of Republicans regard as utter madness. Ranzau could happily dine in the hippest bistros of San Francisco or New York or anywhere else outside Sedgwick County in complete anonymity, although the other customers would probably notice something suspiciously Sedgwick County Republican about his ill-fitting brown jacket, but among the polite opinion in Riverside and downtown and the other semi-fashionable portions of the Fourth District he’s as reviled as a Koch brother.
Running against Ranzaus and his outrages is McGinn, an exemplar of the more respectable sort of Republicanism that has prevailed in Kansas pretty much since the Reconstruction era. She can legitimately claim a fairly conservative voting record on spending in her ads, in which she proudly declares “I demand accountability,” but she also boasts of having the “courage” to vote for “investments” in the future of the county. We’ve covered enough economic-development conferences and hearings and bill-signings to recognize the reference to the same old eco-devo boondoggles that have become such an entrenched part of federal and state and county and local government it takes little courage to vote for them, so we’re inclined to to Ranzau’s and Pompeo’s preference for lower taxes and fewer regulations. McGinn seems a fine woman, conservative enough by the standards that prevailed through most of our lives in the Republican Party, and we don’t worry that Sedgwick County will perish by rule, but we’d like to see Ranzau’s underfunded re-election bid prevail. We enjoy taunting our more polite neighbors about him, much as we enjoy taunting them with our admiration for the Koch brothers, and would like the think the rest of the Republican party is just as serious as he’s been about the government’s proper roles..

— Bud Norman