Brownback shows promising leadership traits

December 6, 2010


For four years the Kansas Leadership Center has engaged Kansans in discussions and deep learning about civic leadership. No surprise, but Kansans want more. They have told us that they understand that leadership is difficult and is not always the best way to be or remain popular but that it is necessary particularly in these times.

These Kansans have described to us some of the behaviors they think are necessary for exercising leadership on the toughest issues facing the state. It’s too early to predict success, but Governor-elect Sam Brownback has been modeling three of those behaviors. And we all can learn something for our own leadership by taking note of them.

• A focus on the big, daunting issues

Kansans told us that too often elected officials kick the biggest, most daunting issues down the road for someone else to address because there is no way to make progress on them without compromise and loss.

Brownback seems to be trying to force the tough issues into the center of our civic conversation. During tough budget times like these, public officials try to find incremental savings by “looking in every nook and cranny.” There is nothing wrong with that, but Brownback repeatedly has said in various news reports the state budget is not structurally sound. Squeezing savings here and there will not address the more fundamental problem. It will take tremendous leadership to mobilize legislators and the public to act on the big cost drivers in the budget such as education and Medicaid.

• Willingness to disappoint your own people

Leadership is often about disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb.

Brownback has been described as the first conservative governor in Kansas in 50 years but recently made clear, again in news reports, that he doesn’t think we should repeal the recently passed penny sales tax increase. His conservative stakeholders were surprised and disappointed. After all, the sales tax increase was passed by a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats. It received few conservative votes.

I’m guessing two things were driving Brownback. First, he realizes the state faces another massive budget shortfall and repealing the penny increase could just make matters worse. Second, and I think more important, Brownback understands that repealing the penny increase may feel good in the short run for conservative lawmakers, but will complicate the more difficult, more enduring task of reworking the tax code to make it more economic friendly.

• Engaging across boundaries

Kansans have also have told us that leadership requires engaging across boundaries, collaborating with people who do not represent the same perspective, values or priorities.

During his recent appearance at the Kansas African American Museum’s “Tribute to Trailblazers” event, Brownback discussed race in powerful and personal ways. Brownback didn’t simply attend the event.

He served as an honorary co-chair.

He’d won the governor’s race handily and without much African American support. He didn’t have to attend the event, let alone co-chair it, let alone make such compelling remarks. Reaching across boundaries in this way is a leadership behavior.

During his remarks, he discussed his Senatorial work to bring an African American History museum to the mall in Washington, D.C. He explained how our state’s African American history remains inextricably bound to Kansas and American history. Lastly, he shared how he’d once written legislation calling for an official apology to African Americans for their treatment in this country.

A colleague who was there felt Brownback’s words will linger in the minds of the audience for years as he spoke eloquently and reached out to people who were not part of his core constituency.

No one can know for sure whether Brownback’s connecting with African-Americans or his willingness to disappoint some of his most fervent followers or his keeping our focus on the biggest, toughest issues will help us Kansans deal with the most difficult challenges we face. But it is a promising and hopeful start, and all Kansans who care about the state should welcome these new beginnings and engage in the journey in whatever ways are available to them.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

"Second, and I think more important, Brownback understands that repealing the penny increase may feel good in the short run for conservative lawmakers, but will complicate the more difficult, more enduring task of reworking the tax code to make it more economic friendly."

But this has absolutely nothing to do with "disappointing" his supporters. That's how he intends to finance the reduction of the types of taxes that hit the Koch brothers, and other wealthy supporters-- his true constituency, while raising taxes on the poor and middle class.

1southernjayhawk 7 years, 5 months ago

And just what do you know about anything? Just another negative, pessimistic person with a no-brain attitude that I'm sick of hearing from.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

Well, now that you've put forward such a compelling argument, maybe I'll just shut up, as you request.


Maddy Griffin 7 years, 5 months ago

Who did he show those leadership traits to? I don't know of anyone who has seen them.

Centerville 7 years, 5 months ago

This is so superficial. If Mr. O'Malley would think this through, he'd realize that the 18% sales tax increase is a silver platter re-elect issue for Brownback.
1. It's supposed to end in three years. At that time we'll just see whether or not the static model of reveue projecting was accurate and that the state has, in fact, sucked an additional $410 million out of the Kansas ecomony, as the taxers promised it would. 2. It will be a perfect opportunity to contrast which legislators stand by their committment to end the tax with the legislators who are for taxes uber alles.

SunnyP88 7 years, 5 months ago

just to clarify, what traits does he exactly show?

Phillbert 7 years, 5 months ago

Imagine that. A former Republican legislator praising a Republican senator/governor-elect.

Oh, and while Brownback has said the budget is not structurally sound (big surprise - it isn't), he hasn't once said what his solution is. So I guess that's "leadership."

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

This is the huge problem.

He's promised to protect education and social service funding, lower taxes, and balance the budget.

How exactly is he going to do this?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

Easy. He won't protect either education or social service funding (especially after he cuts the Koch brothers taxes.)

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

Do you think that his supporters will notice that, and criticize him for it if he does it?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

Most of them won't. At best, they'll just pretend it didn't happen.

Bob_Keeshan 7 years, 5 months ago

I believe we must rein in government spending, protect our environment, educate our children, lower taxes, eliminate waste and fraud in government, attract new businesses to Kansas, and give everyone a new puppy, kitten, or domesticated animal of their choosing.

Can I be Governor, too?

olddognewtrix 7 years, 5 months ago

Please tellme if my suspicions are correct that the Kansas Leadership center is a front organization for the Koch brothers?

voevoda 7 years, 5 months ago

The agenda becomes clear if you filter out the praise for Brownback and just look at the desiderata: 1. "mobilize legislators and the public to act on the big cost drivers in the budget such as education and Medicaid." That means cut funding to K-12 and state universities, and resources for the poorest Kansans. 2. "reworking the tax code to make it more economic friendly." That means helping megarich businessmen to become more megarich. In the past 3 decades, we have seen a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class and skilled workers to the wealthiest 1%, who now possess nearly a quarter of the income of the country. Why not raise the state tax rate on the wealthiest 1% to the level necessary to sustain education and Medicaid?
The wealthiest 1% will bluster, of course. They don't send their children to public schools, so why should they pay for them. They don't use Medicaid, so why should they pay for it. Answer: in our society, we depend upon each other, and most people need public education, while the ones who lack insurance (a lot of hard-working folk) need Medicaid. They will claim that the educational system and Medicaid are frought with waste and abuse. I agree that funding should be used frugally. But the megacorporations are frought with even more waste and abuse, so let them clean up and pay more tax. They will claim that tax breaks handed to them ultimately create more jobs and more wealth. That might have been true when the corporations invested in American factories and the megarich bought American-made goods. That might have been true when the megarich donated large blocks of their wealth to found libraries, finance the arts, endow universities, create scholarships, feed the poor, and provide for the sick. Now they spend their money on political lobbyists and overwhelming numbers of political TV ads--and even more conspicuous consumption. They will bluster about "socialism." This isn't "socialism;" this is humanitarianism in the best Christian tradition.

gbulldog 7 years, 5 months ago

The best qualified persons should be working for the State no matter what their party affiliation is. If you do now have an adequately trained workforce that is probably classifed and compensated, how can you expect quality results. An employee in a professional position, should be professionally qualified. "On-the-job qualifications should not be allowed as a substitute for appropriate education (that is one reason for colleges to exist) on professional level positions. If it can be, then the position is overclassified and the State is wasting money no matter how "politically correct" it is.

If your are a State employee, your career has become tainted because of the perception of the public and private employers. This needs to change because as our economy tighnens the need for better government operations becomes even more important.

overthemoon 7 years, 5 months ago

I don't like Brownback and I certainly didn't vote for him. However, we are in far too much trouble for me to say I hope he fails and to take every opportunity to denigrate him and his administration. That would be pretty stupid, right? I sincerely hope that Brownback does show the leadership and intelligence we need at this time and that we can all be better off due to his tenure. If we were to all work together, locally, statewide, and nationally, just think of how much we could accomplish.

I hope that Brownback sees things the same way.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.