Six months into his four-year term, Gov. Sam Brownback last week held a news conference to give Kansans a progress report.
Flanked by two dozen of his Cabinet secretaries and top agency chiefs, Brownback stood by a board that had that number — 3,163.
That is the number of jobs he said his administration has created since taking office in January.
According to his opponents, Brownback didn’t highlight other events during his tenure: budget cuts to schools; shutting down social services offices, including the one in Lawrence; hundreds of state employee layoffs; erasing the Kansas Arts Commission; tighter restrictions on abortion; a proposed faith-based marriage initiative; or his upcoming trip to Texas to pray for the nation.
Brownback, a Republican, wanted to talk about jobs and the economy.
“We are moving in the right direction — and that’s good and we’ve got some great announcements on the way, but we have a lot of work to do to make up for that lost decade,” he said.
The job numbers
Brownback calls 2001-2011 a lost decade because he says there are fewer private sector jobs now in Kansas than there were in 2001.
But even Brownback’s chart shows that private sector jobs were on the rise until the Great Recession hit and the job numbers cratered.
And of the jobs that Brownback claims to have brought to Kansas, many were already in the works when he took office, according to the Kansas Democratic Party.
For example, Brownback includes the 200 jobs coming from the announcement that Mars Chocolate is building a manufacturing plant in Topeka.
Negotiations for that facility started months before Brownback took office, said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka.
Many of the jobs Brownback lists as having helped create are due to highway spending that is supported by a tax increase that Brownback criticized during his election campaign.
Democrats say Brownback has focused on issues besides the economy.
“Instead of creating jobs, growing the economy and supporting education as he promised during the election, Sam Brownback has used his position as governor to dismantle state government and push through his extreme right-wing agenda,” Hensley said.
The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 7.2 percent in February and fell to 6.6 percent in May. According to the Kansas Department of Labor’s latest report for the month of May, the state had lost 7,200 nonfarm jobs since May 2010. Private sector jobs were down by 400 since May 2010.
Regardless of one’s opinions about Brownback’s tenure, the governor has hit the ground running, according to students of Kansas governors.
“He has raised the bar on the level of activity,” said Ed Flentje, a longtime Kansas political observer and participant who is serving as the interim president of Emporia State University.
Brownback has used executive orders to shape government, is pushing to overhaul the tax code and has put his weight behind what he calls “culture of life” issues.
Comparing Brownback to former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who served from 2003 to 2009 before joining President Barack Obama’s cabinet, Flentje said, “The first year of Sebelius’ term, I thought was characterized by caution. I think the term that characterizes Brownback is aggressive.”
Sebelius, a Democrat, faced Republican majorities in the House and Senate, and she needed a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans to get things done.
Brownback rode into office on a tidal wave of conservatism that gave him strong support in the House. The Senate, which was up for election in 2010, is held by moderate Republicans by a slim margin.