Topeka Gov.-elect Sam Brownback's inauguration will make Jan. 10 a heady moment for fellow Kansas Republicans, but also a politically dangerous one.
Brownback's victory in this year's election was part of the GOP's first sweep of statewide and congressional offices on the ballot since 1964. Republicans have huge majorities in the Legislature and will hold more state House seats than they have since 1954.
But the Republican "clean sweep" and the GOP's legislative dominance also have sown the seeds of future problems for Brownback and the party. Expectations are high among GOP legislators who want to push anti-abortion proposals and legislation on social issues, but other Republicans want Brownback to stick to creating private-sector jobs and controlling government spending.
Many Republicans anticipate that tensions will rise between House leaders and their less conservative Senate counterparts. They're expecting bills that deal with abortion, embryonic stem cell research, gun rights and other social issues to fly through the House and stall in the Senate.
The tensions could lead to spirited GOP legislative primaries in 2012 — and the kind of GOP infighting Democrats need to eventually emerge from their shellacking this year.
"This election was not about social issues. It was about economic issues," said Andy Wollen, a Lenexa marketing consultant who's chairman of the moderate Kansas Traditional Republican Majority. "If Republicans dash down the path of social issues — making our culture more conservative — then they're heading in the wrong direction."
But no matter what issues come to the fore in a given election year, abortion foes, religious conservatives and gun rights enthusiasts are important constituencies for the state GOP.
Many of those conservatives link social and economic issues. They contend the state and nation can't be truly economically healthy without healthy families. And they view abortion, any drift toward same-sex marriage and no-fault divorce as undermining the family.
"Nobody's denying that there are some serious financial problems looming in America," said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life. "We have a society where the family is broken. The more it breaks, the more costs we incur."
The Legislature will open its annual session, also on Jan. 10, with GOP majorities of 31-9 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House.
Republicans picked up 16 seats in the House, and legislators of all philosophies concede it has moved to the right on issues such as abortion, stem cell research and gun rights.
But legislators also don't see a big philosophical shift in the Senate, where only two seats were filled in special elections and all 40 seats won't be on the ballot until 2012. While it's likely to pass some abortion legislation, key leadership jobs will still be held by GOP senators who resist social issues.
As governor and the real leader of the state GOP, Brownback will have to mediate conflicts among Republicans.
It could be tricky. As a U.S. senator, he was a strong opponent of abortion and gay marriage, and his identification with religious conservatives in the past has built expectations that he'll help them achieve their goals as governor. Yet, as a candidate and governor-elect, he's warned publicly against overreaching and has made it clear that he'll emphasize economic issues.
"His No. 1 priority is going to be getting the economy growing again," said Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag. "The governor-elect isn't worried about being distracted from his No. 1 priority."
Steve Cloud, a former Kansas House member from Lenexa who served on the GOP National Committee, said Republicans prospered this year because voters were unhappy with how President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats handled the economy and sense that government spending and the federal debt are out of control.
He said centrist voters supported Obama in '08 because they were tired of the GOP's "right-wing" agenda, then switched back to the Republican Party when Obama and his fellow Democrats proved too liberal for them on issues such as health care and the federal economic stimulus.
"If the Republicans in Kansas don't learn from that and they come back with an avalanche of right-wing issues, then they're going to push all of the independent and centrist voters back to the Democrats," Cloud said.
Yet some Republican legislators argue that many of the same voters who told them this year to fix the economy and control government spending are also concerned about social issues.
"I think an awful lot of people want to see some change in those areas, too," said Rep. Forrest Knox, an Altoona Republican who plans to push legislation on gun rights next year.
And House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican and conservative leader, argues that Republicans won't lose their focus on the economy even if numerous proposals on social issues are considered. Kinzer serves on Brownback's transition team but emphasized he's not speaking for it when discussing his and other GOP legislators' desire to tackle social issues.
"The reality is that we will have the time during the legislative session," Kinzer said.
Conflict among Kansas Republicans isn't new, of course, and probably dates to statehood in 1861. Almost a century ago, conservatives who backed President William Howard Taft fought with progressive Bull Moose supporters of former President Theodore Roosevelt.
And another round of conflict among Republicans appears inevitable once the Legislature reconvenes in January.