Topeka Which Sam Brownback shows up for work as governor will determine how things go in state government during the 2011 legislative session, according to several political experts.
The Republican governor-elect takes office Jan. 10 after an easy election victory that also saw the GOP make historic gains to add to its already lopsided majorities in the Legislature.
Ed Flentje, a professor at Wichita State University and longtime Kansas political observer and participant, said that when he was secretary of administration for Republican Gov. Mike Hayden back in the 1980s, Brownback served in the Cabinet as secretary of agriculture. Those in the Hayden administration considered Brownback “a trouper” in the cause of progressive government service, Flentje said.
Then Brownback got elected to Congress as a budget-taming conservative, Flentje said. But the budget couldn’t be tamed, and Brownback morphed into the social conservative for which he is most well-known, or, as Flentje describes it, “wearing his faith in the public square.”
Which Brownback will lead the state?
His early appointments show a mixed bag of social conservatism but also pragmatism.
His economic team selections – state Sen. Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, to be secretary of the Department of Labor, former state Sen. Nick Jordan, as secretary of the Department of Revenue, and state Rep. Pat George, R-Garden City — are all respected around the Capitol.
His pick of Steve Anderson, a certified public accountant from Oklahoma who worked as a consultant with Americans for Prosperity, as the state budget director, has raised eyebrows. A “model budget” for Kansas by the AFP urged cuts in state funding for Medicaid, higher tuition, and the use of tax dollars to send students to private schools.
When asked about that, Brownback has said he has never read the AFP’s “model budget.”
And Brownback will take over with monumental Republican majorities, 32-8 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House.
But with those kinds of margins, there is always the possibility of GOP in-fighting.
Democrats should “pray for family food fights,” said Mark Peterson, chairman of the Washburn University political science department.
Some Republican legislators want to repeal the 1-cent increase in the state sales tax that was narrowly passed by the 2010 Legislature.
Other goals of some members of the Republican caucus include concealed carry of guns on college campuses, making it more difficult to divorce, repeal of the statewide ban on smoking indoors in public places, and an Arizona-type crackdown on illegal immigration.
Facing a projected $500 million revenue shortfall, Brownback has already spoken against repealing the state sales tax increase. But on many of these other issues, Brownback has said little.
Kansas University political science professor Burdett Loomis said that although Brownback is known for his social conservative views, he may be moderated somewhat by national aspirations. Brownback ran for the Republican Party nomination for president in the last cycle, but dropped out after his campaign failed to gain traction.
“I honestly think he does want to be president, and he has to be seen as a success (as governor),” Loomis said. “It’s incumbent upon him to run this state, and he can’t run it into the ground.”