Some of the messages from Tuesday’s primary election were clear, but others have left a number of questions for Kansans to ponder.
First, the primary was a clear victory for Gov. Sam Brownback, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and other political contributors who had targeted a group of Republican Kansas senators for removal because they didn’t support the governor’s conservative agenda for the state. All but a couple of the moderate Republicans on the chamber’s list went down to defeat on Tuesday, including some in key leadership positions, such as Senate President Steve Morris. Barring upsets by Democratic or third-party challengers in the November general election, Republicans who identify themselves as conservative will hold 27 of the 40 Kansas Senate seats next year.
Interestingly, there appears to have been at least slight movement toward a more moderate Kansas House, but not enough to shift that body’s conservative bent significantly, meaning that both houses of the Legislature will be mostly in support of the governor’s social and policy agenda. That likely will include continued efforts to stymie the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Kansas, alter the way judges are appointed to the Kansas Court of Appeals and shift more responsibility for funding public schools to local districts and local property taxes.
The other major message from Tuesday’s election appeared to be a rejection of the moderate Republican tradition in Kansas. The Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity was quick to portray Tuesday’s conservative victory as a shift in Kansas Republican values and a blanket endorsement of the governor’s current direction. But with the governor’s approval rating in the state standing at around 35 percent in recent polls, is that really the case?
Do a majority of Kansas Republicans support the conservative agenda or did moderate Republicans simply fail to vote? Some political observers speculate that, unlike their conservative cousins, moderate Republicans may not be angry enough to flock to the polls. Dick Bond, a moderate Republican and former state senator from Johnson County, told a Kansas City newspaper that he agreed with that assessment, adding that the situation may have to grow more dire — perhaps in the form of more cuts to K-12 funding and other state services — for moderate Republicans to mobilize. “I suspect,” he said, “it will only come back when disaster strikes — and I believe it will — from the kind of policies that the far right has proposed and led by Governor Brownback.”
So, is that what it takes to get voters to the polls? A disaster?
The 23 percent of Kansas voters who went to the polls on Tuesday have set a course for the state. Although there will be fewer moderate Republicans on the November ballot, Kansas voters will have an opportunity to either confirm or modestly alter that trajectory. It’s time for Kansas voters — all Kansas voters — to be heard.