Wichita Approximately 200 people met Saturday at the Kanas Democratic Party's annual DemoFest to prepare for the group's 2014 campaign to try to unseat Gov. Sam Brownback and other Republican elected officials.
"People are absolutely dead-set on getting rid of Brownback," said State Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon. She said that dissatisfaction with Republican policies has lit a fire under Democrats to get organized between now and the 2014 elections. Twice as many people showed up to DemoFest as was initially expected, she said.
Clayton Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, disagreed with Wagnon's assessment.
Under Republican leadership, Barker said, Kansas has added jobs, cut taxes and produced a budget surplus.
"The Kansas Republican Party is working hard every day to register and turn out voters who share our values of individual opportunity, limited effective government and personal responsibility," Barker said.
Democrats will face a steep deficit among registered voters. Of the state's 1.73 million registered voters, approximately 45 percent are registered Republicans, 30 percent are unaffiliated and 25 percent are Democrats.
But Democrats said they can win if they can focus the electorate on Brownback's fiscal polices and what event-goers called voter suppression efforts by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, also a Republican.
In addition, Democrats say they are going to increase their efforts at getting more Hispanics involved in the election.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence has announced that he is considering a run against Brownback.
Speaking at the event, Davis said Brownback's agenda runs counter to Kansas values of strong schools, a strong middle class and cooperation.
Davis said of the 2014 election, "It's not about putting a Democrat in the governors office. It's about putting a common sense Kansan in the governor's office."
Tax cuts and voting rights
With large Republican majorities in the Legislature, Brownback has won significant changes in Kansas tax law. These changes include cuts in income tax rates; exempting from income taxes non-wage business income reported by LLCs, Subchapter-S corporations, and sole proprietorships; eliminating or reducing deductions aimed at helping low- and middle-income Kansans; and increasing the state sales tax.
Brownback has said the tax changes will improve the overall Kansas economy.
Democrats have argued that the changes mostly benefit wealthy Kansans and will result in property tax increases and slashes in public services such as education and health care.
Jill Docking, a former chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Regents, said Brownback's cuts to higher education are being driven by the loss of revenue from the tax cuts. "There is no revenue," Docking said.
Recent polling has shown that Brownback has low job approval ratings. In addition, Kobach has been under fire for a new law that he helped get approved that requires proof of citizenship for new voter registrations. The law has put nearly 15,000 would-be voters in limbo because the proof of citizenship process hasn't been completed.
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union notified Kobach that it will file a lawsuit in 90 days if the state doesn’t fix the situation. Kobach has said he will continue to enforce the law.
Businessman Randy Ralston has announced that he will challenge Kobach in the next election.
Focusing on the Hispanic vote
Juan Sepulveda, senior advisor for Hispanic affairs for the Democratic National Committee, said if Democrats continue to contrast their policies with those of Republicans, the party will continue to win a large majority of Hispanic votes.
"The Hispanic vote is a persuadable vote," Sepulveda said. "It's not part of the base. We're up for grabs. We have to make the case. Here is what we stand for, here is what they stand for," said Sepulveda, who grew up in Topeka.
Sepulveda, with the DNC, said the concerns of the Hispanic community match those of the rest of the country and include jobs, the economy and education.
But, he said, immigration reform is also an important issue with Hispanics because it affects their community.
He said religious and business groups and law enforcement have joined together to back "common sense immigration reform." He said Kobach stands in contrast to this effort, pushing for tougher immigration laws and proof of citizenship voter laws.
And, Sepulveda said, Hispanics will benefit by the implementation of Obamacare, while Republicans want to repeal the measure and Brownback has refused to expand Medicaid under the law.
The Kansas Democratic Party also has hired Carlos Lugo as its Hispanic Outreach and Field Director.
Born in Mexico and raised in Washington state, Lugo most recently served as Field Director for U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., where he oversaw the management of a field organization that resulted in an 18-point electoral victory.
"There is so much we can do here in the state of Kansas," Lugo said.