Entries from blogs tagged with “Kansas government”
News outlets in Kansas are not reporting the good news about the Kansas economy, and if they did, voters might feel differently about the impact that Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax policies have had on the state.
That’s the message that Brownback himself has been delivering lately, in talks to various groups around the state, including a recent get-together with the Kansas Press Association board of directors.
So when word of that conversation got back to the news desk, the Lawrence Journal-World asked to meet with the governor and let him make his case. Brownback agreed, and in the course of a 25-minute interview, he laid out his case — complete with a wealth of charts and graphs — with data that he says prove the Kansas economy is in better shape than people give it credit for.
“It just never gets out,” Brownback said at the outset. “That’s what I was complaining about, because we’ve got some really good employment numbers and small business growth numbers in the state, and that just never gets out.”
Much of that, he said, is directly due to the tax cuts he championed in 2012 and 2013. And in the areas where the state’s economy seems to be lagging, Brownback blames global, macroeconomic forces, such as commodity prices in the farm and energy sectors that are beyond the state’s control.
Brownback has good reason to try to shore up his case at this point. His allies in the Legislature who helped push through the tax cuts — at least those who actually ran for re-election — suffered badly in the Aug. 2 primary, and many people say there's a good chance they could suffer more defeats in the Nov. 8 general election.
If 2016 turns out to be a "wave" election, in which the balance of power in the Legislature completely shifts, then Brownback could be in for a tough ride in the last two years of his administration. And although there's every reason to believe that most voters who are motivated on the tax issue have already made up their minds, Brownback has an incentive for trying to make his case while he still has time.
The purpose of the tax cuts, Brownback reminds people, was to spur business development and increase private sector jobs over the long term. And by putting more money in the pockets of individuals, the theory was, that would generate economic activity that would produce revenue for the state from other sources, such as retail sales taxes, to offset the loss of income taxes.
“What that was built upon is, if you get a kind of normal economic situation, that as you cut income taxes, you’ll gain it back in sales,” Brownback said. “That was the theory. That was the experience in some other areas.”
Here are some of the numbers that Brownback cites to make his case.
The border wars. One of the boldest claims Brownback makes is also the most difficult to verify independently. That is the claim that Kansas tax policy has reversed the outflow of economic wealth from the Kansas side of the Kansas City metropolitan area to the Missouri side.
“We were losing tax filers to Missouri for 19 years in a row,” Brownback said. “That’s us losing wealth to Missouri. Enact the tax policy, and boom. We were having out-migration from Kansas the last three years prior. We now have in-migration, and a lot of that’s Missourians moving to Kansas.”
According to one of his charts, based on Internal Revenue Service data, in the three years just before the tax cuts were enacted, Kansans moving across the state line into Missouri were taking with them $150-$200 million a year in adjusted gross income.
But immediately after the tax cuts, in 2013 and 2014, the trend reversed, and now Missourians are moving back, bringing with them about $85 million worth of income.
According to Census Bureau data, however, there was no out-migration of people in the metro area from Kansas to Missouri.
Looking at migration data from 2009 through 2013 for Johnson, Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties on the Kansas side, and Jackson, Clay and Platte counties in Missouri, Kansas was a net winner in migration, gaining 2,396 more people from Missouri than Missouri picked up from Kansas.
“We are not saying we were losing residents to Missouri prior to the tax cuts,” Brownback’s spokeswoman said in an email. “We were gaining residents but that rate tripled following the implementation of the tax policy.”
“We had been losing wealth (and) money to Missouri, but not people,” she continued, “and now we are gaining people from Missouri and seeing wealth transfer in to Kansas as well.”
Business creation. According to data from the Kansas Department of Revenue, Brownback said, roughly 18,000 new businesses filed tax returns in the first two years of the tax plan, either under business names or Social Security numbers that had never shown up in state tax records before.
"And you've got 650 of those in Douglas County," he said pointedly.
Jeannine Koranda, spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, said that was based on internal analysis of individual tax returns, which are not available to the general public, and no more detailed information about that analysis was available.
But even accepting that the numbers are accurate, the creation of those new businesses has not translated into large numbers of new jobs.
Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that since the tax cuts took effect in January 2013, Kansas has added, on a seasonally adjusted basis, only 34,400 new private sector jobs, a growth rate of just 3.1 percent over three and a half years. That’s less than half of the national average of 8 percent growth in private sector employment over that same period.
“We’re a little flat,” Brownback said.
Nor would Brownback say that the job growth Kansas has seen is directly related to his tax policies.
“We don’t have the hard data that I know of to say that because of our business policy, we have this growth in private sector jobs,” he said. “But I do know we’ve hit near record on private sector employment. We’ve got record numbers of new small businesses formed.”
Furthermore, Brownback acknowledged, some new business entities are merely extensions of existing businesses, especially among real estate developers who commonly set up separate entities, known as limited liability corporations, or LLCs, for each individual development project.
But Brownback said even that represents economic growth.
"I’ve talked with developers, and one developer in particular in Douglas County," he said. "They form a new LLC to put the new building in. He’s out of Wichita, but he says, ‘Look, I’m using this to build buildings — the tax benefit of being able to put this, the revenue generated off of it.’ And he says we’re doing this in Lawrence. And you’ve got a lot of building going on."
Individual income tax collections. The tax cuts that Brownback championed came in two phases. In 2012, lawmakers passed a bill that slashed individual income tax rates overall and completely exempted income derived from certain kinds of business entities. The following year, lawmakers attempted to fix some technical problems in the original bill, but also passed a formula, which some called the "glide path to zero," that was meant to phase out income taxes altogether over a period of time.
In the first full fiscal year of the tax cuts, 2014, individual income tax receipts in Kansas fell 24 percent, to 2.2 billion. They bounced back slightly by 2.7 percent in fiscal year 2015, to nearly $2.3 billion, but fell again in the most recent fiscal year.
In the fiscal year that just ended June 30, Kansas collected about $2.25 billion in individual income taxes, still 23 percent less than the $2.9 billion collected in fiscal year 2013, before the full impact of the tax cuts took effect.
According to the Legislature's nonpartisan Research Department, the full impact of the tax cuts is that Kansas is now collecting about $920 million less each year than it would have if lawmakers had made no changes to the tax code.
But so far in the new fiscal year, Brownback said, individual income tax receipts have started to recover. In the first quarter of the new fiscal year, receipts have grown by $25 million, or nearly 5 percent over the same period last year, and they've actually beaten the official estimates by nearly $1.7 million.
"My point is, when people criticize the tax policy, the places where we’re not getting the yield are corporate taxes, which we didn’t do anything to; sales taxes, which we actually raised; and personal income. That’s the one where we’re actually ahead of last year, and we’re ahead of the estimate. That’s the one we cut."
But if income tax receipts are rising, it does not appear that the personal income of Kansans overall is changing very much. According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, growth in per-capita personal income in Kansas has not kept pace with the rest of the nation.
Sales tax receipts. One of the most disappointing revenue figures that have been reported since the tax cuts were enacted is the lackluster growth in retail sales. That was, after all, a built-in assumption about cutting income taxes — that it would put more money in people’s pockets and spur consumer spending.
In fiscal year 2014, the first full year after the tax cuts, retail sales tax collections actually declined 3.7 percent, to $$2.1 billion. That was also the year that the sales tax rate dropped slightly, the result of a previous tax plan enacted by former Gov. Mark Parkinson in 2010 that included a “temporary” increase in the wake of the Great Recession.
Since 2014, sales tax have grown slightly, but not nearly at the pace that budget analysts had expected. In the most recent fiscal year, sales taxes grew 6.2 percent over the previous year. Of that, however, 5.7 percent can be attributed to the 2015 Legislature raising the sales tax rate, leaving only half a percent attributable to increased consumer spending.
The rural economy. Brownback says that has begun to turn around in the new fiscal year, with sales tax receipts in the first quarter beating the same period last year, and exceeding current estimates. But he acknowledges that hasn’t been even throughout the state.
“The urban areas are working. The rural areas are not,” he said. “If you add up all the rurals, it does actually matter.”
The rural economy, Brownback said, has been beset by global economic factors that state government is unable to control.
“We cannot overcome a huge falloff in oil prices, or a huge falloff in cattle prices and wheat. … You go west of Salina, it’s basically the pits. You go into the oil areas and gas areas, really bad. And your ag area is not very good, but the urban, where you’ve got a more normal situation.
“We’re flowing against a bad commodity market for us that normally hammers Kansas pretty hard,” Brownback said. “Because once you drop in ag prices, they don’t buy farm equipment; then our farm equipment manufacturers cut back employment. Once you’re not drilling for oil, you don’t have those employment jobs.”
“The urban areas are working. The rural are not,” he said. “If you add up all the rurals, it does actually matter.”
But the Kansas economy has always been moved by global economic forces that are beyond state government’s ability to control. And some have suggested it was folly from the beginning to think that those forces could be overcome with changes in the state of Kansas income tax code.
“I disagree with that,” Brownback said. “I agree we can’t impact the price of oil or the price of cattle. That’s a global commodity market. But I do think you can impact people moving. I think you can impact the growth of business, or decline over time. And we’ve got the data to show that’s indeed the case.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released polling results Tuesday showing Democrat Hillary Clinton leading Republican Donald Trump by double digits in the 3rd Congressional District of Kansas, and that Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder is locked in a surprisingly close race with Democrat Jay Sidie.
The poll was conducted Oct. 5-8, so most of the responses were recorded before release of a recording of Trump making lewd comments about women during a 2005 interview. The telephone survey of 456 likely voters was conducted for the DCCC and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.
It showed Clinton leading Trump, 52-42 percent, and Yoder leading by only 5 percentage points, 50-45 percent, over Sidie.
It also showed that Gov. Sam Brownback's low approval rating may be dragging down GOP candidates further down the ballot. Within the 3rd District, which includes Johnson, Wyandotte and a small portion of Miami counties, the poll showed Brownback with only a 19 percent approval rating in the district.
Kansas political experts said the idea that Clinton is leading in the 3rd District fits a pattern that has been seen elsewhere in the country where highly educated, upper-income suburban white voters — the dominant demographic in Johnson County — have largely rejected Trump and are gravitating to Clinton.
"Clinton is outperforming normal Democratic numbers among high education and high income white voters, and has been winning them in many national polls," said University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller. "That never happens for a Democrat, so that alone is a shocking development this year. But Trump is outperforming typical Republican numbers with lower education and lower income whites — the 'white working class.'"
Normally, he said, such trends would cancel each other out. But within certain congressional districts, even those that went Republican in the last two election cycles like the Kansas 3rd, Miller said Clinton has been pulling ahead.
Emporia State University political scientist Michael Smith agreed with that assessment.
"Intuitively, I do agree that the 3rd District is not Trump country," he said. "Johnson County doesn’t feature the working-class, white population that is associated with Trump’s base, except perhaps in pockets. Wyandotte County is Democratic but suffers from low voter turnout. Northern Miami County might actually be a bit more Trump-ish."
The poll offered a couple of different looks at the 3rd District congressional race. On one hand, when respondents were asked a generic partisan question, where the candidates' names are not mentioned, it showed a Democrat beating a Republican, 49-44 percent.
But when the candidates' names are mentioned, it showed Yoder up by 5 points in a two-way trial heat, and by 4 points in a three-way match-up that includes Libertarian candidate Steve Hohe.
“To put it bluntly: Congressman Yoder is not well liked by his constituents and a solid majority of voters believe that he will put his political party and special interests ahead of Kansans,” DCCC spokesman Tyler Law said in a statement. “Yoder’s shameful embrace of Donald Trump and Governor Brownback has made his already shaky case for re-election even less credible. There’s no doubt that this is going to be a close race.”
Republicans, however, did not appear nervous about the poll.
"We've heard this tale before," said Yoder's campaign spokesman, C.J. Grover.
In 2014, Grover noted, when Brownback and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts were seen as on the ropes, political handicapper Larry Sabato downgraded both the 3rd District and Rep. Lynn Jenkins' 2nd District to "likely Republican," arguing there was a chance that anti-incumbent fever could trickle down to the congressional races.
Both Yoder and Jenkins won those races by margins of about 20 percentage points.
Also, the poll was released the same day that the Yoder campaign began airing a negative TV ad against Sidie, a financial adviser who, according to state records, has never been registered with the Kansas securities commissioner.
Officials in the office of Securities Commissioner Josh Ney confirmed that neither Sidie nor his firm, Counterpunch Financial, is registered in Kansas, which is required for most individuals and companies that offer financial advice to the general public.
But Sidie reportedly is citing an exemption to that requirement, which says registration is not required if the individual or firm has fewer than 15 clients and does not "not hold itself out generally to the public as an investment adviser."
When you’re enclosed in the Statehouse on a full-time basis, it’s easy to get consumed by it all, and it’s often hard to see a world beyond the partisanship, the budget shortfalls and whatever else that may constitute the Scandal of the Day.
So in fairness, Gov. Sam Brownback may have done the Statehouse press corps a service Friday morning by opening and closing a press conference by redirecting reporters’ attention to a few things going on outside the building that many people might find positive and interesting.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty of questions about the current budget situation, the prospect of a costly Supreme Court order on school finance, or the true condition of Kansas highways.
But this reporter is willing to admit it was kind of refreshing to hear that despite all of its budget woes, the people of Kansas – with or without state government’s help - are still capable of doing some pretty cool things, like developing a 117-mile Flint Hills Trail, which will eventually stretch between Herrington and Osawatomie.
“It’s been worked on for a number of years by different volunteer groups, different segments of it, but we’re getting it built up to a high-quality hiking, biking, horseback riding trail,” Brownback said, reporting that he’d just visited one segment of the trail. “This is a nice trail. I believe when we’re done with this, it will compete with, and be better than, the Katy Trail in Missouri.”
He also mentioned that as of now, nearly 24 percent of all the electricity generated in Kansas is coming from renewable sources, mostly wind but also including some solar, which is far more than the original Renewable Portfolio Standard goal of 20 percent by 2020. And on particularly bright, windy days like the ones we’ve had lately, the number can run as high as 30 percent.
Brownback also tried to highlight the condition of Kansas highways, which is a subject of much dispute around the Statehouse. He pointed to a recent report that ranked Kansas third in the nation for the overall quality of its highway system.
But reporters quickly bristled at that, as most did when the report came out in September, because it was based on 2013 data, and the study was conducted by the Reason Foundation, a self-described libertarian think tank that is funded in part by various Koch family foundations. And what the report actually said wasn’t that Kansas had the third “best” highways, but rather third most “cost effective,” which is still a nice thing, but not the same thing.
Questions, however, quickly turned to other matters, such as whether he will propose a 5-percent budget cut next year and, if so, where the axe will fall.
Brownback’s budget office had earlier instructed agencies to include in their budget proposals contingency plans for a 5-percent cut in the upcoming fiscal year. Then he instructed them not to release those documents to the media. Later, his budget director Shawn Sullivan announced that the governor would not propose any “across-the-board” budget cuts next year, leaving open the possibility that there could be deep, but targeted cuts throughout state government.
Most governors, however, are loathe to divulge their budget plans before they deliver it to the Legislature, and Brownback is no exception. He quickly brushed off nearly all budget-related questions, including one about whether higher education should prepare to take another big hit.
“I’m not going to say,” he said. “I want to look and see what the situation is, and ultimately it’s up to the Legislature. They’re the appropriators.”
He then detoured into familiar territory, giving his description of the Kansas economy, which he maintains is the root cause of the state’s revenue problems, not the tax cuts enacted in 2012 and 2013.
“There are kind of three geographic regions of the Kansas economy,” he said. “Kansas City is doing great and producing a lot of revenue for the state. The Wichita-Topeka axis in this area is doing okay. Not doing what Kansas City is, but it’s okay. Then you’ve got that third, basically, Kansas economy that’s more rural and has really been struggling.”
He compared the current rural economy to the farm crisis of the 1980s, when land values collapsed, many farms went bankrupt and roughly 100 banks in Kansas went under.
He said he attended a recent agricultural law conference, “and people there said we’re starting to see things line up of a similar difficulty. Not the same. It won’t be the same. The agriculture industry structure is different. The oil industry structure is different. But they’re saying, you’ve now had multiple years of very low commodity prices. People can hold on for several years, but then after that, there’s not anything left, and that’s the piece that’s really been a struggle.”
And that, he suggested, is why the consensus revenue estimates have been so far off the last couple of years. And he said a task force he appointed will issue a report Tuesday on suggested changes in the way budget officials should forecast future revenues.
Brownback was a little more forthcoming on the subject of K-12 education funding. He said there has been a lot of response to his public call for suggestions and comment about what a new funding formula should look like, but so far nothing very specific.
One idea that, surprisingly, has had some quiet but serious discussion in the Statehouse would be not to write a school funding formula at all, but instead to turn the entire K-12 budget over to the Kansas State Department of Education and let them figure out how to divvy it up. That department, the argument goes, has a large and professionally trained staff that, unlike the Legislature, works on education issues year-around. Also, it could mean that the department, not the Legislature, would be the one to get sued the next time there's a complaint about funding equity.
“I’ve heard that. It’s similar to what we do with the Regents. We’ll see what people want to do,” he said.
Like everyone else, Brownback said he’s waiting to see how the Kansas Supreme Court rules in the pending school finance lawsuit. But one thing he did appear to take off the table was the Kansas State Board of Education’s suggestion, included in its budget request, that to achieve the educational outcomes that both the court and the Legislature have said are necessary will take an additional $900 million over the next two years.
“Nine hundred million. Wow, that would be a big tax increase somewhere. I don’t know where you would come up with $900 million additional funding from the current, existing structure,” he said.
All three recognized political parties in Kansas have named their slate of people who will cast the state's six electoral votes in the event their presidential candidate wins Kansas in November.
During presidential elections, a lot is written about electoral votes. And with the miracle of modern computer graphics, newspapers and TV stations love to show maps of the United States shaded as either "red" or "blue."
But it's sometimes easy to forget that the "Electoral College," as it's referred to in the Constitution, is actually composed of real people. And once the final canvass of votes is complete, those people gather, usually in their respective state capitols, and mark paper ballots reflecting the state's electoral votes. Those are then sent to the United States Senate where they are opened and counted. And that's the point when the presidential election is officially decided, although in reality, we all know the results long before that happens.
Being chosen for the Electoral College is largely an honorary thing that usually goes to high-ranking party officials. Of course, parties have to be careful about whom they choose because there is no law that says electors must vote in accordance with the popular vote in their state. But they always do, and state party organizations try to make sure of that.
So, for those who hunger for an utterly arcane piece of Kansas political trivia, here's the list of each party's designated presidential electors for this year:
Kansas Republican Party:
• Ashley J. McMillan, Concordia, party vice chair.
• Helen Van Etten, Topeka, national committeewoman.
• Mark Kahrs, Wichita, national committeeman.
• Ron Estes, Wichita, Kansas State Treasurer.
• Clayton L. Barker, Leawood, party executive director.
• Kelly Arnold, Wichita, party chairman.
Kansas Democratic Party:
• Oletha Faust-Goudeau, Wichita, state senator.
• Jean Schodorf, Sedan, party secretary.
• Teresa Krusor, Winfield, national committeewoman.
• Rehan Reza, Topeka, 2nd District vice chair.
• Tom Sawyer, Wichita, state representative.
• Christopher Reeves, Scott City, national committeeman.
Libertarian Party of Kansas:
• Rob Hodgkinson, Stilwell, party chairman.
• Sharon DuBois, Topeka, party vice chair.
• Stacey Davis, Auburn, party volunteer.
• Joey Frazier, Salina, 1st District coordinator.
• Michael Kerner, Lenexa, 3rd District deputy coordinator.
• Robert D. Garrard, Edgerton, candidate, U.S. Senate.
A new analysis of the state's financial condition shows that if revenues hit the mark for the rest of this fiscal year, it will end the fiscal year on June 30 with only $5.6 million in its general fund.
But as anyone who has watched the monthly revenue reports knows, Kansas has only met the revenue estimates once in the last year, and many are expecting the estimates to be revised downward when the state's Consensus Revenue Estimating Group meets again in November.
The latest report, known as a "budget profile," was released this week from the Legislature's nonpartisan Research Department. It shows the state is expected to have almost $6.363 billion available to spend this year and a budget calling for $6.357 billion in spending.
That means that if revenues miss the mark again in September and October, the state will be confronting a budget deficit in its general fund, which is not allowed under Kansas law or the state Constitution. And if that were to happen, Gov. Sam Brownback would be under pressure to use his "allotment" authority to order even more spending cuts before the next Legislature convenes, and possibly before the November elections.
But Brownback's press secretary, Eileen Hawley, said there are no such plans in the works.
“The Governor will present his budget proposal to the Legislature when it returns in January,” Hawley said in an email Thursday.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, however, said that would present a difficult situation for the next Legislature, which is expected to have a large number of new members.
"It's very serious. It's a very dire situation, and it's going to take legislators who are willing to make tough choices if the governor isn't willing to lead," Hensley said.
The Kansas Department of Revenue is expected to announce September tax collections on Monday, Oct. 3. The Consensus Revenue Estimating Group is scheduled to publish its new, updated revenue forecasts on Thursday, Nov. 10, two days after the general election.
The website Morning Consult published results of a new 50-state poll on Tuesday, once again ranking the nation's governors according to their approval rating.
And yes, once again, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback came out as the least popular governor in America. But that's happened so many times in recent months, it's hardly news anymore. But there's another interesting factoid in the polling results that, when you see it, really makes you wonder how that could happen and what it really means.
Remember that in these kinds of polls, respondents are typically given three options: they can either approve of the governor's performance; disapprove of the governor's performance; or — and this is the interesting one — they either don't know or have no opinion about the governor's performance.
If you go to the web page where the poll results are published, you can sort the results based on any of those three categories. And if you click on the "don't know/no opinion' category, you find that Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has the highest, for lack of a better word, "indifference" rating of any governor in the United States.
Nearly one in four registered voters (24 percent) in Wyoming who were surveyed said they really didn't have much of an opinion one way or the other about Mead.
Overall, Mead ranked right in the middle of the pack in terms of popularity, with 52 percent approving of his performance (tied with New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan), but only 23 percent disapproving (tied with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott).
Mind you, Mead has been governor in Wyoming for the same length of time as Brownback. Both were elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Mead is also a grandson of another former Wyoming governor and U.S. Senator, Clifford Hanson, so it's not like he's a stranger in political circles.
Mead, who is also a Republican, won his first race with 66 percent of the vote and with 59 percent in his re-election bid.
Wyoming has, in fact, had some of the same kinds of budget shortfalls that have beset the Brownback administration in Kansas. State government in Wyoming operates on a two-year budget of about $3 billion, and this year state revenues could fall $240 to $510 million short of projections, according to a press release from Mead's office.
But unlike Kansas, Wyoming is heavily dependent on revenues from the energy sector, and its problems are more related to downturns in the oil, gas and coal industries. And while Wyoming does have a huge "rainy day" fund for just such emergencies, Mead has nonetheless asked for some huge budget cuts that would be highly controversial in other states.
There are some who argue that's a sign of success. After serving six years as Wyoming's chief executive, apparently he hasn't messed anything up so badly that it has caused huge numbers of people to dislike him. Sometimes in government, "not messing up" can be an ambitious goal.
Another theory is that the nature of Wyoming itself keeps state government out of the news. Wyoming covers more square miles than Kansas but has roughly the population of Johnson County. The people are so spread out, one colleague who used to work there said, there's just a lot more passion and interest in local politics than in state government.
But Mead's press secretary David Bush probably had the most plausible theory: It was a small-sample poll among only 127 respondents in Wyoming, leaving a margin of error of plus or minus 9 percentage points. Other recent polls with larger sample sizes have shown Mead's approval rating much higher, he said.
"That being said, Governor Mead is grateful for the support he receives from the people of Wyoming and continues to work hard on their behalf," Bush said.
Meanwhile, in case you're wondering, Gov. Brownback ranked 44th on the indifference scale. Only 6 percent of those polled in Kansas said they had no opinion about him.
Lowest on that scale was Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, where all but 3 percent of those polled have at least formed an opinion of him.
Note: This story has been updated from an earlier version to include comments from Gov. Mead's spokesman.
Some people may have noticed that the use of firearms in political campaign ads has been on the rise the last few election cycles.
In 2010, a Senate candidate in West Virginia ran an ad in which he shot a hole through a climate change bill, making a metaphorical point about his opposition to environmental regulations and a literal point abut his support for Second Amendment gun rights.
And this year, Missouri gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens fires off an actual machine gun on camera to show that when he fights back, against things like Obamacare, he "brings out the big guns."
To date, it's safe to say, nearly all such ads have been run by conservative Republicans. But this year, state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, has rolled out a new digital ad in which he fires off a shotgun, not once but three times, to demonstrate how he "takes aim" at Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's policies.
There are a couple of interesting aspects to the ad, starting with the fact that it's currently being distributed only through social media, via his Facebook and Twitter accounts — another growing trend in campaign advertising. Holland said it may air on cable networks in the district later in the cycle.
Second, it would appear in the ad that Holland actually hits three clay pigeons in a row in the span of about 30 seconds. There are no jump cuts or visible signs of editing or digital enhancement.
"I really hit all three birds in one take, no digital enhancements really," Holland said in an email when asked to verify that fact. "There were a few takes, however."
Finally, though, the ad makes no mention of his opponent, or even the fact that he has one. Her name, by the way, is Echo Van Meteren of Linwood. She hasn't yet joined the ad wars, although it's a virtual certainty that she will, since she's married to a principal in one of the leading GOP consulting and PR firms in Kansas, Singularis Group.
Instead, Holland's ad tries to convey the message that the election is all about Brownback, which has been a consistent message among most Democratic candidates in Kansas this year.
But Holland could be wandering into treacherous waters with a gun ad since another significant issue this year, especially in college communities like Lawrence, is the state's new concealed carry gun law, and the mandate that public colleges and universities allow concealed carry on campus beginning July 1 next year.
Given that, it may be unlikely we'll see too many more ads from Democrats in Kansas this year touting their marksmanship skills in campaign ads.
Two recent 50-state polls show Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump with a big lead in Kansas but Democrat Hillary Clinton with a significant lead in electoral votes nationwide.
But Trump’s numbers in Kansas are far below what previous GOP candidates have received here, while Clinton’s numbers are about average for a Democrat in the Sunflower State.
The Washington Post poll said if the election were held today in Kansas, Trump would beat Clinton 49-37 percent, with 14 percent undecided.
But Clinton showed up well ahead of Trump in the battle for electoral votes, 244-126, with 168 electoral votes hanging in tossup states. It takes 270 electoral votes to win.
In the last five presidential elections, Republican candidates have averaged 58 percent of the vote in Kansas while Democrats have averaged 38 percent.
The Post poll was an online survey of 74,886 registered voters in the United States, including 741 registered voters in Kansas. Responses were gathered using the SurveyMonkey polling platform, and responses were weighted to match the demographics of each state. It did not report a margin of error because that is a statistical property that only applies to random sample surveys.
The Post survey also showed widespread dissatisfaction among Kansans for both major candidates, with a vast majority saying they believe the nation’s well-being will be worse in the future no matter which candidate wins. Sixty-six percent said that about a potential Clinton presidency; 57 percent said that about a Trump presidency.
The Morning Consult poll showed much the same pattern, although it estimated that Clinton would get 321 electoral votes if the election were held today, more than enough electoral votes to win the race.
In Kansas, though, it showed Trump has widened his lead since Morning Consult conducted a similar poll in July. Then, Trump led Clinton by 11 points, 46-35 percent. The July poll showed that lead has grown to 18 points, 49-31 percent.
Nationally, the Morning Consult poll showed Clinton’s lead widening in the Electoral College, mainly due to Trump’s support slipping in states like Arizona, which is now considered a tossup, and Ohio, which has shifted from tossup into the Clinton column.
Both polls show that adding third-party candidates into the polling mix changes the numbers somewhat, but doesn’t really affect the trends overall.
The Morning Consult poll included responses from about 18,000 voters nationally. It then used statistical modeling to calculate state-level results from the national data.
In Kansas, both Trump’s and Clinton’s numbers fall 6 or 7 percentage points when the names of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are added to the polling question. In that four-way matchup, Johnson shows up at 17 percent while Stein gets about 4 percent. But political experts note that third-party candidates always show up better in pre-election polls than they do when actual votes are counted on Election Day.
Both Johnson and Stein were their respective party nominees in 2012. Johnson ended up with only 1.7 percent of the vote, and Stein barely registered a blip on the radar screen, getting only 714 ballots total.
Kansas does not officially recognize the Green Party, so Stein’s name will appear on the Kansas ballot as an independent.
TOPEKA — As school officials, lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration open discussions about writing a new school finance formula, expect to hear a lot of discussion about “putting money in the classroom.”
This has been a long-running debate whenever people talk about how much Kansas does or doesn’t spend on schools, and how much additional money is or isn’t needed to keep up with rising costs.
Conservative groups in particular like to emphasize “classroom” spending, also referred to as “instructional” spending to distinguish it from things like the high salaries of administrators, or bond and interest costs to pay for football stadiums and basketball arenas.
The subject came up almost immediately Wednesday when Brownback held a news conference with Education Commissioner Randy Watson and Kansas State Board of Education Chairman Jim McNiece.
First, there was Brownback reading some prepared opening remarks that touched on some broad, unifying themes about focusing on the needs of individual students and the challenge of preparing them for success, “in an increasingly competitive world.”
But then he added: “A new funding system must increase the percentage of state funding that gets to the classroom.”
A few minutes later, McNiece talked about the state board’s new “vision” for Kansas schools, which puts a lot more emphasis on the needs of individual students. More specifically, it suggests a larger role in the future for guidance counselors, social workers and other kinds of professionals to help students and their parents chart their own educational path, geared toward their own unique needs, interests and college or career plans.
What might have escaped most observers’ notice is that those two sets of ambitions are almost diametrically opposed to one another. That’s because, under standard definitions used in both state and federal education agencies, guidance counselors, social workers and a whole host of other services that schools provide to students don’t count as “instructional” programming.
Instructional services under those definitions include only the cost of teachers, teachers’ aides, clerks and graders, and equipment that assists in the instructional process.
Counselors and social workers, however, are in a whole other category of “student support services.” Also in that category are school nurses and other health aides, speech pathologists, audiologists and substance abuse counselors.
School library and media services are in yet another category of “instructional support services.”
That’s why, when looking at budget summaries for the Lawrence school district, for example, the official tables show only 57 percent of all the money the district spent from its general fund and local option budget last year went for “instruction,” while Kansas statutes express a policy “goal” that at least 65 percent of the money go toward instruction.
McNiece bristled when asked during the news conference how the board plans to sell its new "Kansas Can" vision to the Legislature during discussions about a new finance formula.
“You’re talking to a former high school principal who lived this every day,” McNiece said. “I would tell people this for years, and not to be argumentative, but everything goes to the classroom. Everything touches the classroom. We don’t do anything in the schools that doesn’t touch the classroom.”
McNiece said he personally would like to rewrite the definition of instructional spending to include more kinds of services. It’s something that the Kansas Association of School Boards and other organizations have suggested as well.
That’s not likely to happen anytime soon, however, because those definitions were developed by the U.S. Department of Education, and they are used by everybody, from the Census Bureau down to local units of government, as a standard way of measuring and comparing education cost figures nationwide.
That means they will also be used in political debates by groups fighting over how much money to spend on education, and where to spend it. And the public will just need to know what the words actually mean when they're used in those debates.
Former Rep. Paul Davis has been showing up a lot at political events throughout Kansas this summer.
Just in recent weeks, he has spoken at events in Wichita and in southwest Kansas. He was with the Kansas delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last month. And he has more events planned in the coming weeks in southeast Kansas.
His name and face also show up frequently in Democratic Party fundraising emails, all of which have led many people to wonder if he isn't lining up another bid for governor in 2018.
In fact, some party insiders have said privately that they have no doubt Davis is at least eying the 2018 race.
Wednesday night, Davis was stumping in Lawrence where a dozen or so people showed up to meet, and write checks for, 2nd District congressional candidate Britani Potter, who is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins.
During a brief interview there, Davis would only say he's not thinking about the 2018 gubernatorial race, at least not yet.
"We'll think about the future at another point in time," he said. "But I'm still very concerned about the direction the state's going, and I think we have an opportunity to restore some much-needed common sense to the Legislature. That's why I've been as active as I have, trying to help candidates out there. I'm not doing it for my own reasons. I'm doing it because I think it's the best way we can bring about change in this state."
It has been nearly two years since Davis, the former Kansas House Minority Leader, lost the gubernatorial race to incumbent Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
It was a loss that still stings for many Democrats. With Brownback's disapproval rating hovering above 50 percent at the time, polls showed Davis ahead throughout most of the race, until the final weeks when Brownback's campaign launched a barrage of negative TV ads against Davis.
Some have also suggested that Brownback was helped by a flood of money from national Republican groups who helped save U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts' struggling re-election campaign that same year.
Davis said he’s had a lot of time to think about what happened in 2014.
“You learn a lot when you run an unsuccessful campaign,” he said. “When you are successful in a campaign, you think you did everything right, and you probably did a number of things wrong. When you are not successful, you tend to take some more time to analyze what all happened.”
“We certainly were swimming upstream in a tough political year across the country, in particular in a red state like Kansas,” he said.
But Democrats also lost five more seats in the Kansas House in 2014, leaving them with only 27. And after losing every statewide and congressional race in each of the last three election cycles, they don't have a deep bench from which to find another viable candidate for governor.
Republicans, however, have a wealth of political talent on their bench. So far, most of the speculation has focused on Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, both of whom have been elected to statewide offices twice.
And there continues to be talk about U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, the 2nd District congresswoman whom Potter would like to beat this year. But it's considered a long-shot race at best. Meanwhile, Jenkins recently set up her own state-based political action committee to help fellow Republicans win state legislative races.
Davis acknowledged that the Kansas Democratic Party has a lot of work to do if it hopes to rebuild its own strength in the Legislature, which is often the place where candidates for higher office are groomed.
Specifically, he said Democrats have good chances in some southeast Kansas districts, an area of the state where Democrats once were quite strong. And he said southwest Kansas, with its rapidly growing Latino population, could become competitive in the near future.
“You have a number of legislative districts there that are majority-minority districts,” he said, referring to districts where a majority of the voting-age population are non-white, and therefore statistically more likely than not to vote Democratic. “People just need to be engaged by people who are running for office and engaged by political parties.”
A Democratic candidate running for a state Senate seat in Johnson County released a poll this week purporting to show her ahead by three points over the Republican incumbent. But the poll can also be read as suggesting there are a lot of voters in Kansas who simply don't eat, breathe and drink politics the way others do.
Vicki Hiatt is challenging Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, in the 10th District of northeast Johnson County. The poll was conducted by a national Democratic firm, North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, and the top-line numbers show Hiatt ahead, 43-40 percent, with 17 percent not sure.
The survey of 500 voters in the district was conducted Aug. 9-21. The material Hiatt released did not report a margin of error, but a poll of that size would typically be accurate within 4.5 percentage points in either direction, which would make the race a statistical dead heat.
There are several lists floating around in political and media circles that identify Senate districts where Democrats stand a fighting chance of taking seats away from Republicans. Most of those stop short of including the 10th District, which Pilcher-Cook won with 58 percent of the vote in 2012, and 55 percent in 2008.
But a look at some of the other numbers Hiatt released to the media paint an interesting picture of the voters in that district, one that is probably not very different from voters in any other district.
For example, only 30 percent of the people surveyed said they have a favorable opinion of Pilcher-Cook while 33 percent have an unfavorable opinion, and 37 percent said they weren't sure.
People can say what they will about Pilcher-Cook, but it's hard to imagine anyone who knows her not having an opinion one way or the other. She is a two-term incumbent and, some would say, quite possibly the most polarizing figure in the Kansas Senate.
One of her most notable acts in the Senate came in 2014 when she used her Public Health and Welfare Committee to conduct live ultrasounds of pregnant women on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. She later lost her chairmanship of that committee amid a political fight this year with Senate President Susan Wagle.
Pilcher-Cook was also the only member of the Kansas Senate to vote no on a school funding bill during the special session in June that ultimately prevented the Kansas Supreme Court from closing public schools this year.
But if people in the 10th District don't know much about Pilcher-Cook, they apparently know even less about Vicki Hiatt: 79 percent of those surveyed said they didn't know enough about Hiatt to form an opinion of her.
Possibly the most interesting number from the poll, though, concerned the last presidential race in 2012. These questions fascinate political scientists who use the term "retrospective voting" because it asks people to think back and recall whom they voted for in some past election.
True to form, 11 percent of the people in this poll said they couldn't remember whom they voted for in the last presidential race; only 49 percent of those surveyed said they voted for Republican Mitt Romney, and 40 percent said they voted for President Barack Obama.
Those numbers are particularly odd because Romney carried the 10th District, 57-41 percent over Obama, so either PPP under-sampled Republican voters (which the firm is not known for doing), or a whole lot of people who claim to remember how they voted really don't remember.
"Another reminder that politics doesn't matter that much to some people, even some who vote," said University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller. "Another thing that you tend to see is that people tend to over-report voting for the winner, even in states that the winner lost."
Looking ahead to this year's presidential race, however, the PPP survey showed there is reason to think Republican candidates could under-perform in the 10th District. It shows Republican Donald Trump ahead of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the district, but only by six points, 45-39 percent.
Looking at past presidential races, any given Democrat can win 40 percent of the vote in the 10th District. That's also generally true of Kansas as a whole. But each of the last two Republican candidates won more than 50 percent in the 10th District: 57 percent for Romney; 53 percent for Sen. John McCain in 2008.
In presidential election years, the top of the ballot is what drives voter turnout. So the fact that Trump is polling at just 45 percent in the district, while Clinton is showing up about as expected, could indicate that GOP voters there aren't terribly excited about this election.
If that trend holds through November, it would not be helpful for other Republican candidates like Pilcher-Cook further down the ballot.
On this day in 1920, women in the United States finally received the right to vote nationwide. That was the day that Tennessee, by a narrow vote of its Legislature, became the 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment that put universal women's suffrage into the U.S. Constitution.
In Kansas, of course, women had been voting for some time already. But that wasn't the case in most other states, including Illinois, where my grandmother, just 19 years old at the time, witnessed this monumental change political culture first-hand during the fall elections of 1920, the first elections in which women had a constitutional right to vote.
Ellen Gillespie grew up in Cantrall, Ill., a small coal mining town just north of Springfield. It was populated then mainly by the families of Irish and Polish immigrants, many of whom had come to central Illinois by way of Pennsylvania. In the years that followed, she would often tell the story of that election, and how the women of Cantrall reacted.
My mother, Ellen's daughter, recounted that story recently in a family email, mainly for the benefit of Ellen's millennial generation great-grandchildren who are too far removed from that time to fully appreciate its significance. With her permission, I'll let Mom tell it from here:
The first time an election occurred when women could vote, my mother was not yet eligible. But she recalled the whole day vividly.
On this first Election day since the adoption of the 19th Amendment, the women of Cantrall — mostly wives and / or daughters of coal-miners — gathered together at one woman's home and spent the afternoon there, drinking tea and supporting one another. They did this because they did not feel comfortable going to vote individually. They wondered if they might get "hassled" or perhaps might run into some complication they wouldn't understand. So they gathered.
Toward the end of the afternoon they proceeded en masse to the polling place. I am not sure where it was located in Cantrall. The grade school? A church? The town jail? (Never used for jailing anyone, ever — but quite handy for miscellaneous gatherings, even wedding receptions!) They all voted with no problem. And thereby accomplished a shared goal. I have to admit my jaw dropped and I said "Whaaaaaatttt???" when Mom told me this part. Using the force of their numbers these Irish Catholic women were able to accomplish this goal: they elect, for the very first time ever in their town, a Catholic man to be a member of the school board.
There isn't much left of Cantrall anymore. The coal mines shut down decades ago, and only about 140 people live there today. It does still have an elementary and middle school, though, and I would like to think it's no longer considered revolutionary if one or two of the school board members happen to be Catholic.
The story does illustrate, however, just how much has changed in America during the span of just a few generations. Ellen Gillespie was born at the dawn of a new century, and she almost lived long enough to see the dawn of the next one. The cultural, political and technological advances that happened during her lifetime are too numerous to count.
She did live long enough to see a Catholic man elected president, but not long enough to see an African-American man do the same. And it's hard to know how she would have reacted to the news of a woman being a major party nominee for president. I suspect she would have been disappointed that it took so long.
It's also hard to imagine how any of those changes would have been possible if this country had continued to deny more than half of its citizens the right to be full participants in its democracy and its workforce. And that's something worth celebrating on this anniversary of universal women's suffrage in America.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has begun putting a field operation together in Kansas, hiring a full-time state coordinator and opening an office in Wichita to coordinate his Kansas campaign.
"Trump Team Kansas" sent out emails Wednesday providing contact information and soliciting volunteers to help with the campaign.
Kansas GOP executive director Clay Barker confirmed Wednesday that Carly Couture has been hired to lead the Kansas campaign. She is the wife of former state Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady, R-Palco, who resigned this year to take a job as a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.
Couture did not return phone calls Wednesday, but Barker said she had been hired within the last week and would be setting up operations at a state party office in Wichita. He also said that, in an unusual move, the Trump campaign itself would be supplying the office with yard signs, bumper stickers and other campaign material to distribute.
"Mitt Romney and John McCain didn't do that," Barker said, referring to the 2012 and 2008 GOP presidential candidates. "That was all decided a while ago."
Wednesday's email in Kansas came out the day after Trump overhauled his national campaign staff by demoting campaign manager Paul Manafort while naming Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway to top positions.
But Barker said the effort to hire a Kansas campaign coordinator had been in the works for weeks before those changes.
Although the Trump campaign has been struggling nationally, especially in the wake of a series of campaign gaffes that led up to the staff shakeup, he is still heavily favored to win Kansas, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.
"I haven’t quite figured out his support in Kansas, but at the (party headquarters) office we’re getting far more phone calls than we normally get this early from people wanting yard signs and stuff right now," Barker said. "He has some hard-core supporters."
Kansas Democrats, however, are hopeful that Hillary Clinton will at least do well in the 3rd Congressional District of suburban Kansas City. That's a district heavily populated with the kind of upper-income, college-educated voters that Trump has had a particularly difficult time attracting.
The 3rd District is also the last congressional district in Kansas to have elected a Democrat. That was former U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, who served six terms before stepping down in 2010 for health reasons. He was succeeded by Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder, who Democrats believe could be vulnerable, either this year or in 2018.
The Clinton campaign has had a state organization in place since late June. Andrea Johnson, a native Kansan who has worked on several Democratic campaigns around the country, is serving as Clinton's state director in Kansas, working out of the Kansas Democratic Party's headquarters in Topeka.
TOPEKA — Conservative Republicans in Kansas legislative races suffered heavy losses in Tuesday’s primaries, and if the trends continue through November, they may be in danger of losing effective control of the House and Senate.
That was the assessment Wednesday morning when the full picture of Tuesday’s election results came into focus.
All told, conservatives lost between six and eight seats in the Kansas Senate, depending on how one scores a candidate as moderate or conservative, and between 10 and 13 seats in the Kansas House.
Going into the primaries, many Democrats and moderate Republicans hoped this year’s elections would be a referendum on Gov. Sam Brownback and his conservative allies in the Legislature who have reshaped state government in Kansas for the last six years.
Few people expected that moderates could win enough votes to take over the caucus and elect their own leadership teams. And almost nobody expected them to win enough seats in the Senate to change the balance of power there.
But moderates hoped to win enough seats in the House that, when combined with expected Democratic gains in November, they could put back together the kind of working majorities they had before Brownback’s election.
What happened Tuesday, however, exceeded nearly everyone’s expectations, and may have put conservatives in danger of losing control of both chambers.
“I always thought the numbers were there but I wasn't expecting this kind of sweep,” University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller said. “I think that whatever gains the Democrats make will determine the difference between moderates having a "legislative veto" by voting with the Democrats to stop legislation Brownback supports versus moderates actually being able to elect leadership and control the agenda.”
Currently, Republicans hold 32 of the 40 seats in the Senate. And of the 32 Republicans, roughly 28 or 29 of them would be classified as “conservative,” depending on the issue.
The six to eight losses they suffered to moderates on Tuesday drops that number down to between 21 and 23. That means if Democrats can pick up a handful more in November, the conservative block in the Senate would no longer have its own majority.
“Most Democratic gains would come at the expense of Brownback Republicans, so that would change the math in the Republican caucuses on leadership votes,” Miller said.
Much of the damage occurred in Johnson County where moderate groups motivated primarily around the issue of public school funding backed candidates who took down two conservative senators, Jeff Melcher and Greg Smith, and four conservative House members: Craig McPherson; Brett Hildabrand; Rob Bruchman and Jerry Lunn.
But the anti-conservative wave extended far beyond Johnson County, even as far as southwest Kansas where Sen. Larry Powell was ousted by a moderate, Rep. John Doll, both of Garden City.
Perhaps the biggest upset was in Reno County where Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce of Nickerson was ousted from his seat by Edwin E. Berger.
Other conservative victims of Tuesday’s primaries included Sens. Tom Arpke of Salina, and Forrest Knox of Altoona.
Moderates also made gains in open Senate seats that are being vacated by conservatives who are retiring. In southeast Kansas, for example, where Senate Vice President Jeff King of Independence stepped down, Dan Goddard, a retired businessman and former Parsons city commissioner, edged out Rep. Virgil Peck of Tyro.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley called Tuesday’s results “a repudiation of Brownback and his policies.
“This was very evident in the defeat of Republican incumbent Senators, including the Senate Majority Leader, who have rubber-stamped his agenda over the past six years,” Hensley said.
For his part, though, Brownback did not view Tuesday’s primary vote as a referendum on him or his administration. Instead, he saw it as part of a larger national trend.
“Kansas is not immune from the wide-spread anti-incumbency sentiment we have seen across the nation this election season,” his spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said. “Governor Brownback looks forward to working with strong Republican majorities in the legislature to make Kansas the best place in America to raise a family and grow a business.”
But Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, took a subtle dig at Brownback, suggesting the public was not satisfied with his performance.
“Too many Kansans still feel that the sun is not rising for them and their families, despite what some leaders tell them,” Wagle said, referencing a slogan used frequently in Brownback’s own 2014 re-election campaign.
She also said she is confident that going into the general elections, “Republicans will unite this fall to keep Kansas conservative.”
9 p.m. update - 92 of 97 precincts:
42nd House District - Republican primary (Douglas County only; 4 of 4 precincts):
Rep. Connie O'Brien, 45 percent; Jim Karleskint, 55 percent
44th House District - Democratic primary, 16 of 16 precincts:
Rep. Barbara Ballard, 82 percent; Steven X. Davis, 18 percent
45th House District - Republican primary, 31 of 31 precincts:
Rep. Tom Sloan, 70 percent; Jeremy Ryan Pierce, 30 percent
Douglas County Commission, 3rd District - Democratic primary, 39 of 39 precincts:
Bassem Chahine, 54 percent; Jim Weaver, 46 percent
Douglas County Commission, 3rd District - Republican primary, 39 of 39 precincts:
Michelle Derusseau, 56 percent; Jim Denney, 44 percent
8:15 p.m. update — 23 of 97 precincts:
42nd House District - Republican primary (Douglas County only):
Rep. Connie O'Brien, 47 percent; Jim Karleskint, 53 percent
44th District - Democratic primary:
Rep. Barbara Ballard, 82 percent; Steven X. Davis, 18 percent
45th House District - Republican primary:
Rep. Tom Sloan, 67 percent; Jeremy Ryan Pierce, 33 percent
Douglas County Commission, 3rd District - Democratic primary:
Bassem Chahine, 53 percent; Jim Weaver, 47 percent
Douglas County Commission 3rd District - Republican primary:
Michelle Derusseau, 54 percent; Jim Denney, 46 percent
7:45 p.m. update — Advance ballots only:
42nd House District - Republican primary (Douglas County only):
Rep. Connie O'Brien, 58 percent; Jim Karleskint, 42 percent
44th House District - Democratic primary:
Rep. Barbara Ballard, 79 percent; Steven X. Davis, 21 percent
45th House District - Republican primary:
Rep. Tom Sloan, 67 percent; Jeremy Ryan Pierce, 33 percent
Douglas County Commission, 3rd District - Republican primary:
Michelle Derusseau, 55 percent; Jim Denney, 45 percent
7:30 p.m. update:
Polls in Kansas closed at 7 p.m. as the state now waits to see whether there will be a significant shift in power at the Kansas Statehouse.
Much of the attention will be in the Kansas House where there are 39 Republican primaries, most of them pitting incumbent allies of Gov. Sam Brownback against moderate GOP challengers who hope to wrest control of the House away from conservatives.
Among them is the 42nd House District that includes parts of Leavenworth and Douglas Counties, including the city of Eudora, where Jim Karleskint, a former school superintendent, is challenging incumbent Rep. Connie O’Brien of Tonganoxie.
But a few incumbent moderates are also facing challenges this year, including Rep. Tom Sloan of Lawrence, who is being challenged for the second election in a row by conservative challenger Jeremy Ryan Pierce.
Meanwhile, there are 16 GOP primaries in the Kansas Senate, although it’s believed moderates have much less of a chance of winning control of that chamber.
Much of the attention will be focused on races in Johnson County where two conservatives, Sen. Jeff Melcher of Leawood and Sen. Greg Smith of Overland Park, face tough challenges.
The election is being conducted under unique circumstances this year after a Shawnee County judge on Friday issued a temporary injunction blocking the state from strictly enforcing its law requiring documentary proof of citizenship in order for voters to register.
The order means that an estimated 17,500 voters statewide — including about 800 in Douglas County — were allowed to cast ballots in all races, not just in federal races as Secretary of State Kris Kobach had initially planned.
Those are voters who registered at motor vehicle offices when renewing their drivers licenses, or by filling out federal mail-in cards before a federal agency agreed in February to change the cards used in Kansas to require citizenship proof.
But those voters are still required to cast provisional ballots, which are set aside on election night and not counted until county Boards of Canvassers meet next week to certify the elections.
That could delay declaring a winner in very close races where those provisional ballots could determine the winner.
Original post, 1:36 p.m.
There were a few hiccups Tuesday morning when polls opened for state legislative and county primaries, but Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said they had little significance.
The problem was with scanning machines that read the bar codes on the backs of driver's licenses. Those scanners, which recognize the person's name and address, connect to electronic poll books that verify that the person is a registered voter and is voting at the correct polling place.
"It took more than several minutes to manually enter the information to get a signature page to pop up for me to sign and the attendant to initial it," one voter wrote to the Journal-World early Tuesday morning. "This made me a little uncomfortable as it looked like I was trying to use a fake ID! My driver’s license is valid until July 2018, I have been a Kansas resident all my life, have a valid voter registration card, and vote in every election."
Shew confirmed that some scanners were having difficulty reading the bar codes on some licenses but that it should not interfere with anyone's ability to cast a ballot. He said the manual process serves as a backup to the electronic scanners, and going through that process does not mean voters have to cast a provisional ballot.
"We have also found if the birth date on the DL does not match the birth date on the voter registration it will not scan, so we do manual searches," he said. "Scanning the DL is not necessary, just a convenience to move the voter through the process faster."
The Kansas Chamber on Monday issued the closest thing it could to an endorsement of 1st District Congressman Tim Huelskamp.
"While the Kansas Chamber PAC does not endorse or contribute to candidates for federal office, we can certainly thank them for standing up for the Kansas business community and Kansas taxpayers," Chamber CEO Bill Pickert said in a statement released Friday.
Huelskamp, a three-term Republican from Fowler, is locked in a tight re-election bid against GOP primary challenger Roger Marshall, a Great Bend physician. Like Huelskamp, Marshall describes himself as a conservative who opposes abortion and many of the policies of Democratic President Barack Obama.
But Huelskamp has angered many of the traditional farm interest groups in western Kansas, first for being removed from the House Agriculture Committee amid a political dispute with then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and then for voting against the Farm Bill.
As a result, Marshall has garnered endorsements from leading agricultural interest groups, including the Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Livestock Association and others.
The Kansas Chamber is a state-level political action committee but is not registered with the Federal Election Committee to make contributions in federal races. Nevertheless, it issued what might be called a glowing "statement of support" saying "Thank you Tim Huelskamp for being a stalwart example of a legislator who does not cave, but stands firm against an ever-expanding government, refusing to support special-interest gold-mines that hurt working Americans."
That statement, however, put the Kansas Chamber squarely at odds with the U.S. Chamber, which has been sponsoring independent TV ads in the 1st District criticizing Huelskamp and supporting Marshall.
A poll released July 24 by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University showed Huelskamp and Marshall locked in a statistical dead heat, with 15 percent of the voters surveyed still undecided about the race.
TOPEKA — The 42nd House District, which includes part of eastern Douglas County, may be as good a place as any to watch for signs that a more moderate, pro-public education wing of the Kansas Republican Party will make a resurgence this year.
That’s where Rep. Connie O’Brien, of Tonganoxie, who has been a loyal, conservative ally of Gov. Sam Brownback, is facing a stiff challenge from Jim Karleskint, a former school superintendent.
Karleskint is one of about 50 or so current or former public school teachers, administrators and school board members who are running this year against conservatives who are seen as part of Brownback’s governing coalition.
O’Brien’s campaign finance report wasn’t yet posted on the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission website when the Journal-World first reported on those numbers Monday. But it became available early Tuesday, and the report shows Karleskint has raised more ($6,475 to $4,970) and spent more ($4,421 to $2,818) than O’Brien so far in the primary campaign.
Of course, campaign finance numbers don’t tell the whole story. In fact, many veteran politicians will tell you that the average Kansas House district is small enough that most elections are won and lost on voters’ front doorsteps.
Also important is voter turnout and which side can actually motivate its supporters to show up and vote on Election Day. In recent election cycles, conservative Republicans have been much more effective than moderates at doing that.
But finance reports do give some indication about how broad of a support network a candidate is able to build.
Karleskint’s report, for example, shows a large chunk of his support coming from fellow-educators and the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.
O’Brien’s report, by contrast, shows she received about 60 percent of her contributions from a standard list of regular Statehouse lobby groups such as the Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Realtors Association and the Kansas Chamber.
The 42nd District is a good place to take the temperature of the Brownback coalition because he carried that district by five percentage points over Democrat Paul Davis in 2014, and Mitt Romney took 60 percent of the vote there in the 2012 presidential race..
Although it reaches into the city of Leavenworth, it’s a mostly rural district that leans conservative. Republicans account for 40 percent of registered voters there, followed by unaffiliated voters at 34 percent, and Democrats at just 24 percent.
Whoever wins the GOP primary will go on to face Democrat Kara Reed, a Tonganoxie city councilwoman.
Recent public opinion polls show Brownback’s approval ratings have plummeted on a statewide level. But a loss for a Brownback ally in the 42nd District could indicate that both he and the governing coalition he has built in the Legislature are in trouble.
Conversely, if O’Brien survives the challenge, that would be another bad omen for moderate Republicans whom Brownback all but purged out of the Kansas Senate in 2012.
There are several other races around the state where pro-public education groups are trying to unseat incumbent conservatives. Among those are two Senate districts in Johnson County: the 11th District, where John Skubal, an Overland Park city councilman, is trying to unseat Sen. Jeff Melcher; and the 21st District, where Dinah Sykes is trying to unseat Sen. Greg Smith.
But a few moderate Republicans in the Legislature are facing some stiff challenges of their own, including Sen. Carolyn McGinn, of Wichita, who is being challenged from the right by Renee Erickson, and Sen. Vicki Schmidt, of Topeka, who faces a tough challenge again this year from former Rep. Joe Patton, whom Schmidt barely defeated in a 2012 primary.
Although the general elections are still more than three months away, some Kansas lawmakers are already lining up to run for leadership positions next session.
The latest was Rep. Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, who confirmed Wednesday that he plans to run for speaker of the House in the 2017 session, hoping to succeed current Speaker Ray Merrick, of Stilwell, who is retiring from the Legislature this year.
Leadership elections are typically held in late November or December following the general elections.
Vickrey is currently the House majority leader, which is considered the second most powerful position in the House. He was first elected to the House in 1992 in a stunning upset race when he unseated then-House Speaker Marvin Barkus, the last Democrat to serve in that position.
Talking with reporters Wednesday following a State Finance Council meeting, Vickrey was at first coy on the subject and said he isn't actively campaigning for the job just yet.
"I've told my caucus, now is not the time to be running for leadership because we have members that need to be elected," he said.
But when pressed about it, he relented.
"I do plan to be running for leadership," he said.
"Running for speakership, or just leadership?" one reporter asked. "Leadership is broader than just the speakership."
"Yes," Vickrey said.
"Yes what?" another reporter asked.
"I will be running for speaker," Vickrey said. "But, now is not ... I'm not announcing anything because we have work to do."
Traditionally, Kansas House speakers serve no more than two terms (four years) in that position, then retire from the House. A few, including Democrat John Carlin (1977-78) and Republican Mike Hayden (1983-86), have gone on to become governor.
It's not known who else might run for speaker. Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, the current House speaker pro tem, would be an obvious candidate, but she chose not to run for re-election this year.
Much of it will likely depend on the outcome of the Aug. 2 primaries and to some extent on the Nov. 8 general elections. That will determine, among other things, how strong the conservative wing of the House GOP caucus will be in the 2017 session.
On the Senate side, Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, has said he will likely challenge Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, for the job of Senate president, according to a July 9 story by the Wichita Eagle.
TOPEKA — Republicans meeting at their national convention in Cleveland this week adopted what some are calling the most conservative platform in Republican Party history.
In fact, one of the people calling it that is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach who played a significant role in drafting many of its statements.
"Yes, I absolutely believe that to be the case," Kobach said in a telephone interview from the convention Monday.
Kobach was chosen by Kansas Republicans to be one of the state's 40 delegates to the convention, and one of nine who are pledged to support presumptive nominee Donald Trump for president. And last week, before the full convention began, he spoke to the party's Platform Committee urging adoption of statements on issues ranging from immigration and gun rights to abortion and same-sex marriage.
That platform endorses Trump's campaign pledge to build a wall along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border; opposes any effort to restrict ownership of any type of guns or ammunition; opposes the use of federal money to fund Planned Parenthood or similar organizations; and expressly condemns the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
"I was involved in drafting language that criticizes the Obergefell decision (legalizing same-sex marriage) and the flimsy reasoning of the Obergefell decision," Kobach said.
According to recent polling data, many of those positions put the party directly at odds with rapidly changing public opinion, particularly on the issue of marriage equality. But Kobach made no apologies about that.
"I would compare it to the life issue, the abortion issue," Kobach said. "The Republican Party, after Roe vs. Wade (in 1973) took a stand and said we think the decision is wrong, and we think that the Supreme Court made a mistake, and we think the laws on this subject are still open to debate. And the party began persuading the public ... and public opinion has shifted. Now, for the first time, since Roe v. Wade, you have the majority of Americans stating that they are pro-life."
But recent polling data on abortion is far from conclusive. A CNN/ORC International poll conducted in March showed 78 percent of those surveyed believe abortion should be legal at least some of the time. And in a separate poll by Suffolk University and USA Today in December, a sizeable majority, 58 percent, said they opposed defunding Planned Parenthood.
On the issue of marriage equality, a CBS News poll last month found 57 percent of those surveyed saying it should be legal for same-sex couples to marry, although a majority of Republicans in the survey disagreed.
Most recently, a CBS News/New York Times poll earlier this month showed 57 percent of voters overall oppose building a wall along the Mexican border, although 73 percent of Trump voters support the idea.
The GOP platform, and Kobach's involvement in drafting it, has prompted a predictable level of outrage on the editorial page of the New York Times, which condemned the platform Monday under the headline, "Kansas Zealot Helps Shape the G.O.P.’s Right-Wing Platform."
It's the kind of criticism Kobach says he's grown accustomed to, and which bothers him not at all.
"Generally, if the New York Times editorial page disagrees with what I'm doing, then I think I'm probably doing the right thing," he said.
TOPEKA — A political ad airing on TV stations in Topeka and other parts of Kansas raises an interesting question: Why do the owners of the Chicago Cubs and World Wrestling Entertainment care about who represents western Kansas in Congress?
You wouldn't immediately know that just from watching the ad, which criticizes U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp for getting thrown off the Agriculture Committee and endorses his Republican primary opponent, Great Bend physician Roger Marshall.
It's only when you get to the end of the ad when, if you listen closely, you hear that something called the ESA Fund is responsible for the ad's content.
The ESA Fund, formerly known as the Ending Spending Action Fund, describes itself as "an independent organization that proudly supports candidates regardless of party affiliation who favor enhancing free enterprise, reducing the size of government, and balancing our nation's budget. We are also proud to strongly oppose those who do not."
That's as much information as you'll find on the group's website, and it's an example of how difficult it can be for the average voter in the post-Citizens United election environment to really know who is behind the campaign messages they hear, and why.
According to the website OpenSecrets.org, the ESA Fund is a conservative super PAC made up of a handful of billionaire investors and hedge fund managers that includes the family that owns the Chicago Cubs and the family that turned World Wrestling Entertainment into a multibillion dollar international entertainment business.
Specifically, Marlene Ricketts is listed as contributing $850,000 to the PAC this election cycle. She is the wife of T.D. Ameritrade founder J. Joseph Ricketts. In 2009, their son Tom Ricketts led a bid by the family to purchase the Cubs for an estimated $875 million.
Joseph and Marlene Ricketts, who live in Omaha, are also the parents of J. Peter "Pete" Ricketts, the Republican governor of Nebraska.
Another contributor to the ESA Fund is Linda McMahon of Greenwich, Conn., who, along with her husband Vince McMahon, founded a small regional pro wrestling promotion company in 1980 and built it into the WWE, which is now a multibillion dollar entertainment behemoth. She served as CEO of the enterprise until stepping down in 2009 to run for U.S. Senate from Connecticut. She was the Republican nominee in 2010 and 2012, losing both times to Democratic candidates.
The largest donor to the ESA Fund is billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer of New York, who Forbes magazine estimates has a net worth of $2.2 billion. Singer is also a major contributor to the American Unity PAC, which supports pro-gay rights candidates.
So far this election cycle, the ESA Fund has spent about $2.6 million in various campaigns, much of it for Republican candidates and against Democratic candidates.
But nearly half of that money, $1.1 million, has been spent opposing U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire. And a small amount, $319,748, has been spent opposing Huelskamp, with $64,717 going to support Marshall, his opponent.
At this point, it's difficult to see why the 1st District race in Kansas would have any particular importance to billionaire investors in Omaha, Chicago, New York or Florida, or why, out of the hundreds of races happening this year for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governor's offices, they chose to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in western Kansas.
Perhaps we'll have to wait until after the election to find out.