Kansas’ current governor and a former governor are lining up on opposite sides of the Republican Party fence.
Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday announced he is endorsing some so-called conservative Republican legislative candidates who face so-called moderate Republicans in the Aug. 7 primary.
Meanwhile, former Gov. Bill Graves is returning to Kansas to support moderate Republicans.
The fight is primarily over control of the Kansas Senate, which is now led by moderate Republicans, who hold a narrow edge.
But Brownback and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce have targeted a number of those moderates for defeat.
“Because of the alliance in the state Senate between Democrats and some Republicans that join together to promote a Democrat agenda, the primary election has effectively become the general. Therefore, I am going to be involved in a limited number of primaries,” Brownback said in a statement.
The statement was released by his spokesperson Sherriene Jones-Sontag. She said she did not have a list of the candidates whom Brownback has endorsed.
Brownback has been in England this week attending the Farnborough International Airshow.
Brownback wants to put the Senate under conservative leadership, like the House.
During the past legislative session, a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats in the Senate fought Brownback and conservative Republicans over redistricting, tax cuts and school issues. The impasse over redistricting led to court-drawn districts.
On Thursday, a group of 50 former legislators called Traditional Republicans for Common Sense criticized Brownback’s move.
“It’s astonishing to see a governor who is more interested in politics than policy, more interested in elections than governing,” said Rochelle Chronister, who has served as assistant House Republican leader and chair of the Kansas Republican Party.
“Governor Brownback may want a rubber-stamp majority in the Legislature, but I think Kansans will have something to say about that on Election Day. Kansans want their elected officials to do what’s best for their communities, their schools, the elderly and their children,” Chronister said.
Traditional Republicans for Common Sense have been highly critical of Brownback signing into law a massive tax cut. Critics say the tax cut will mostly benefit wealthy Kansans while bankrupting schools and social services. Brownback has said the tax cut will spur the economy.
Brownback’s spokeswoman said it is not unusual for a sitting governor to get involved in his or her own party’s primary battles. She said Graves and Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, did the same thing.
Graves, who now lives in Virginia, will make stops next week in Johnson County, Wichita and Salina to stump for Senate incumbents who are battling more conservative Republicans in the primary, The Kansas City Star reported Thursday.
Derrick Sontag, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a Washington-based group that advocates for tax cuts and smaller government, said Graves’ planned visits represent “the old guard.”
“They may say it, but they don’t really believe in a limited government,” Sontag said. “Their actions don’t back up their rhetoric at times.”
Graves served as governor from 1995 to 2003, and political observers believe he brings political and fundraising credibility to moderates who are up against Brownback’s conservative backers, which include Sontag’s group and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.
“The moderates who once roamed the Plains very freely are now down to a very limited amount of pasture,” said Joe Aistrup, a political science professor at Kansas State University. “If they don’t step it up and raise the money necessary to compete against the likes of Brownback, the chamber and Americans for Prosperity, their days are numbered.”