Entries from blogs tagged with “politics”
Greg Orman stepped into the 2018 governor's race Wednesday as an independent, banking on the idea that voters have become disenchanted with the two main political parties.
Orman, readers will recall, is the Johnson County businessman who ran a strong challenge against Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts in 2014. But that was a race in which the Democratic candidate, Chad Taylor, bowed out in what appeared to be a coordinated effort with Orman to prevent Republicans from winning a Senate majority. It didn't work, and Orman ended up losing the race by more than a 10-point margin.
And to be precise, Orman has taken only the first step toward getting into the governor's race by forming an exploratory committee and appointing a campaign treasurer so he can begin raising money.
But political experts in Kansas say if he does get in the race, it's unlikely that he can break the grip that the Democratic and Republican parties have on the vast majority of voters in the state, and his candidacy would likely give Republicans an edge that they might not have otherwise.
"If you look at when Democrats and Republicans do their absolute worst in Kansas elections, it looks like about three-fourths of Kansas voters are solidly party voters. They’re going to vote for that Democrat or Republican, seemingly because their name is on the ballot," University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller said Wednesday in a phone interview.
In any given statewide race in Kansas, he said, any given Republican candidate has a lock on about 40 percent of the vote. That's how much Republican Jim Barnett received in 2006 when he ran for governor against Kathleen Sebelius. And any given Democrat can count on 30-35 percent, roughly the amount Sen. Tom Holland got when he ran for governor in 2010 against Sam Brownback.
"So his first task is to own that other 25 percent," he said, "which is difficult because most of those people lean to a party. It’s also difficult because your truest independents are also the least politically knowledgeable, they care the least about politics and they’re the least likely to vote. His most natural constituency is the most tuned out."
The next task, Miller said, is for Orman to peel away votes from both the Democratic and Republican candidates, whoever they turn out to be. But his performance in 2014 shows that he is more likely to peel away votes from Democrats than Republicans.
"It was basically a small version of Paul Davis’ run for governor," he said. "If you look at the precinct-level results and the exit polls, it didn’t appear that he had a really unique constituency that wasn’t already voting for Paul Davis."
Michael Smith, a political scientist at Emporia State University, agreed.
"In my mind there’s no question but that the votes he got against Pat Roberts in 2014 were mostly Democratic votes, with a smattering of independents and moderate Republicans," he said.
According to Smith, and many others, Secretary of State Kris Kobach is currently the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination, although Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer could have the power of incumbency, assuming he is elevated to the governor's office before the Aug. 7 primary.
Democrats would likely be happy with either one, because Colyer will be saddled with all the political baggage of the Brownback administration, and, according to polls, Kobach is seen as a highly divisive figure who may have a hard time winning support from independents and moderate Republicans —although, to be fair, people have said that about him going into each of the last two statewide elections that he ended up winning.
So far, three major Democrats have announced plans to run: former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer; former Rep. Josh Svaty, of Ellsworth, and House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita, the only one in the group who currently holds elected office.
There are, of course, a number of other candidates in the GOP race. But in any circumstance, Democrats will be trying to put together the same kind of coalition with independents and moderate Republicans that carried Sebelius into the governor's office in 2002 and 2006. And Orman's entry into the race makes that more difficult, Miller said, because he can easily be portrayed as a Democrat in disguise.
"He is the only candidate in the race who donated to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Al Franken, and has a history of support from the Democratic Party," Miller said. "And Pat Roberts spent a lot of money spreading that message about him."
After a lull over the Thanksgiving holiday, several interim legislative committees will meet over the next two weeks, with some of them preparing final reports and recommended legislation for the 2018 session that begins Jan. 8.
In an effort to keep tight reins on the Legislature's own spending, Republican leaders didn't authorize many interim committee days this year. But the ones they did approve have a lot on their plate.
First up Monday is the Joint Committee on Pensions, Investments and Benefits, the committee that has general oversight of the state pension system. In 2015, lawmakers authorized issuing $1 billion in pension obligation bonds to shore up the troubled retirement fund. Since then, however, the state has also delayed regular scheduled payments into the fund. Executive Director Alan Conroy is scheduled to give a report detailing the fund's current value and the current size of its long-term unfunded liability.
On Wednesday, the KanCare Oversight committee holds its final interim meeting and will approve its final report to the Legislature. "KanCare" is the name of the state's privatized Medicaid program. Federal officials only recently gave Kansas permission to continue that program for another year after initially denying a renewal because of concerns that the program was being mismanaged.
In the meantime, the Gov. Sam Brownback-Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer administration is preparing to launch "KanCare 2.0" in 2019, an expansion of the program that enables Medicaid workers to help line up recipients with other kinds of social and educational services, in addition to health care, but which would also impose a work requirement for some recipients.
On Thursday, the Joint Committee on State Building Construction will take a bus tour around Topeka, visiting state agency buildings, including many agencies that the Brownback administration has moved out of the now-all-but-vacant Docking State Office Building into rented office space under long-term leases.
The following week, on Dec. 4, the 2017 Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision holds its first meeting, which will focus on reviewing the Kansas Supreme Court's Oct. 2 decision in Gannon v. Kansas, striking down the school funding formula lawmakers approved last session, calling it both inadequate and inequitable.
The Special Committee on Commerce holds two days of meetings Dec. 5-6, with most of the attention focused on Sales Tax and Revenue, or STAR bonds. Those are bonds issued to pay for certain development costs for retail or entertainment districts. The bonds are repaid using the increased sales tax revenue that the new development generates. They were first used in Kansas to develop the area around the Kansas Speedway and the Legends shopping district in Wyandotte County.
Kansas lawmakers this year passed a three-year reauthorization of a law that allows cities and counties to set up STAR bond districts — that is, areas for which they can issue STAR bonds to finance redevelopment of areas that are expected to produce new sales tax revenues — but they also imposed a one-year moratorium on establishing any new districts.
The committee will also get a briefing on the history of sales tax revenues in Kansas, a source of revenue that has been growing in recent months after several months of disappointingly flat growth.
Finally, the Special Committee on Assessment and Taxation will hold two days of meetings Dec. 7-8. The most significant of those will be Dec. 8, when the panel discusses the potential impact of changing the way agricultural land is valued.
In 1986, Kansas voters passed a constitutional amendment changing the way property is valued for tax purposes. While residential and commercial property is measured by "fair market value," agricultural land is valued by its "use value," or the economic production coming off of the land.
Farm groups and rural communities insisted on that language at the time, arguing that taxing farm land at its market value could be financially devastating to farmers, especially during down times in the ag industry.
In recent years, though, as the number of farms has declined and the population of Kansas has shifted largely to urban and suburban areas, there has been less and less sympathy for the "use value" assessment system, which many say amounts to a multibillion dollar tax break for the ag industry.
Many officials say the chances of that happening in the near future are extremely slim. It is widely expected, though, that when new legislative district lines are drawn in 2022, following the 2020 census, the balance of power in the House and Senate will shift even further to urban and suburban areas, and at that point, some say, "use value" property taxes for agricultural land may become politically unsustainable.
Democratic congressional candidate Paul Davis' campaign has confirmed that Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House, will be in Kansas this weekend — a fact that the National Republican Congressional Committee is trying to use against him.
The NRCC issued a statement earlier this week using the event as a link between Davis and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, now the minority leader and a favorite foil for Republicans.
That's important because when he announced his campaign in August, Davis specifically said that if he's elected, he would not support Pelosi for another term as leader of the Democratic caucus.
"Think voters will believe Paul won’t support Pelosi for Speaker while the establishment pulls out the stops to prop him up? Yeah, we don’t either," the NRCC statement said.
Davis, a former state lawmaker from Lawrence and the Democrats' unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2014, is running for the 2nd District seat that Rep. Lynn Jenkins, of Topeka, will vacate next year. There is a crowded field of Republicans seeking the nomination, led by state Sens. Steve Fitzgerald, of Leavenworth, and Caryn Tyson, of Parker.
In their first quarterly campaign finance reports released in October, Davis reported raising more than $400,000 in just a little more than a month, more money than all the Republican candidates combined. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan political handicapping website, rates the 2nd District as leaning Republican, one notch above the toss-up category.
Davis spokeswoman Haley Pollack confirmed in an email this week that Hoyer will be in Kansas on Saturday to stump for Davis as part of a swing through several states where he is campaigning for Democratic House candidates.
But she categorically rejected the idea that Davis is now in the camp of Pelosi, whom Republicans often portray as a quintessential San Francisco liberal.
"Congressman Hoyer is a respected moderate," Pollack said. "Paul has pledged he will not support Nancy Pelosi for Leader or Speaker. His position on this is clear, has not changed, and will not change – period."
She said the event would take place at a "private venue" on Saturday with a small group of supporters after Hoyer campaigns in Kansas City, Mo., for Rep. Emanuel Cleaver that same day.
Wichita — Community college officials in Kansas have begun sounding alarm bells about the potential impact of federal tax changes now being considered in Congress.
Daniel Barwick, president of Independence Community College in southeast Kansas, told the Kansas Board of Regents Wednesday that several parts of the bill being considered in the U.S. House could be devastating for higher education, and especially for community colleges.
"While tax reform is desirable, the country cannot afford to make financing community colleges more difficult," Barwick said, noting that by some estimates, the bill being considered in the House would add $65 billion nationally to the cost of college education over the next decade.
Barwick is co-chairman of the System Council of Presidents, an advisory group to the Board of Regents that includes the chief officers of the six state universities, Washburn University in Topeka and a number of the state's community and technical colleges.
That council urged the 10-member Board of Regents to use its influence with Kansas' congressional delegation to make major changes to the bill. In particular, the council singled out 2nd District Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, who is a member of the House tax-writing committee, and Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
"Our national associations, the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees, have jointly urged both houses of Congress to rethink and reject the dramatic change (called for in the bill) and we hope you will be weighing in as well," Barwick said.
Barwick outlined several provisions of the House bill that community colleges find troubling. Among them were:
• Employer educational assistance and qualified tuition reductions: Most higher education institutions today offer free or reduced tuition to their employees and their families, as well as to graduate teaching assistants. Under current law, they can provide up to $5,250 a year as a tax-free benefit, but the House bill would make those benefits taxable, meaning that those who take advantage of those benefits would have to pay taxes on them, just as if they were part of the person's income.
• Student loan interest deduction: Currently, people can deduct up to $2,500 a year in interest paid on student loans. That would be eliminated under the House bill, something Barwick said would increase the cost of student loans by $24 billion over the next 10 years.
• Charitable contributions: The House bill would double the size of standard deductions, taking away the incentive for many people, especially middle-income earners, to make charitable contributions because they would no longer have a need to itemize their deductions. He said that would reduce charitable giving in the United States by as much as $13 billion a year, something that would affect all charities, not just higher education. He called for a universal deduction for charitable giving that would apply to all taxpayers, whether they itemize or not.
• And changes in tuition tax credits: According to a summary of the bill on Congress' official website, the House bill would replace the Hope Scholarship and Lifetime Learning tax credits, as well as the tax deduction for tuition and qualified expenses, with a new American Opportunity Tax Credit. That would allow a 100 percent tax credit for the first $2,000 of certain higher education expenses, and a 25 percent tax credit for the next $2,000 of such expenses, according to the summary.
Barwick, however, said the net effect would be a much smaller tax benefit for many students, particularly older, nontraditional students who are going back to college to get additional training for their jobs.
In an email, Rep. Jenkins' spokesman, Michael Byerly, said Jenkins has been in contact with higher education officials and believes most of their concerns will be ironed out in the legislative process.
“She has expressed some of their concerns with Chairman (Kevin) Brady (R-Texas) and her Senate colleagues and will continue to do so as tax reform makes its way through Congress," Byerly said. "She remains confident that many of these issues will be resolved and by the time this bill is signed into law it will be greatly beneficial to hardworking Kansans’ bank accounts and the Kansas economy.”
Sen. Roberts' spokeswoman, Sarah Little, noted in an email that there are significant differences between the House and Senate tax bills. For example, she said free tuition would remain a tax-free benefit for most people under the Senate bill, and the Senate bill makes no changes to existing tuition tax credits.
Regarding charitable donations, she said, "Filers who donate significant amounts to Universities and charities will likely not take a standard deduction. But for the rest of lower income donors, doubling the deduction will put more money in their pockets to give to causes they care about."
The House is expected to vote on its version of the bill Thursday. The Senate bill, which is already encountering some Republican opposition, likely will not come up for a vote until December at the earliest.
U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, of Kansas, both Republicans, are saying that GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, of Alabama, should step aside if allegations of sexual misconduct against him are true.
Both Kansas senators issued statements Friday after the Washington Post published explosive allegations that Moore, Alabama's former controversial Supreme Court chief justice, had sexual contact with at least four women when they were teenagers, including one who was 14 at the time, and he was in his 30s.
"If the allegations are true, Senator Roberts would urge Roy Moore to step aside," Sarah Little, Roberts' spokeswoman said in an email to the Journal-World.
“If there is any truth to these allegations, Roy Moore should immediately step aside,” Moran said in a separate email.
Moore is running in a special election in Alabama to fill a Senate seat vacated by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He has vehemently denied the allegations. The election is scheduled for Dec. 12.
The seat is temporarily being held by Sen. Luther Strange, whom Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley appointed until a special election could be held. Strange lost the GOP primary to Moore in September.
The accusations could not have come at a worse time for Senate Republicans who had hoped to dominate the news cycle Thursday with the unveiling of their own tax overhaul proposal. Both Roberts and Moran had issued news releases earlier in the day touting the tax plan. Roberts serves on the Finance Committee that will begin working the bill Monday.
Republicans currently hold a 52-48 majority over Democrats and Independents in the Senate, and divisions within the caucus have already shown they can have a difficult time passing major legislation such as repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
In another controversial measure, Vice President Mike Pence had to cast the deciding vote to pass a bill taking away consumer rights to join class action lawsuits against financial institutions.
If Republicans were to lose the Alabama race — something that was all but unthinkable just a few days ago — that would leave the GOP with only a 51-49 majority, and virtually no margin for error.
The allegations against Moore are just the latest in a long series of sexual harassment and assault allegations against powerful men in business, entertainment and government. In fact, at virtually the same time the Washington Post was releasing its story about Moore, the New York Times published a story on its website detailing sexual misconduct allegations against comedian Louis C.K.
There have also been recent allegations of widespread sexual harassment against female legislative staff and interns in the Kansas Statehouse.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Barnett said Thursday that he would be committed to a nondiscrimination policy to protect gay and lesbian state workers, a policy that current Gov. Sam Brownback rescinded in 2015.
"On the social issues, it’s been a huge black eye for our state, and I will make it very clear here today that if I am governor of Kansas, there will not be discrimination," Barnett said during a news conference Thursday.
When asked specifically about an executive order that was in place during Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' administration barring discrimination in executive branch agencies on the basis of sexual orientation or identity, an executive order that Brownback rescinded, Barnett said, "I would support that."
Thursday's news conference was intended to highlight Barnett's agenda for public education, which he referred to as "the driver of the Kansas economy in the 21st century." He said his agenda would be focused on investing in early-childhood education, increasing funding in order to stop the cycle of school finance litigation, and focusing on career preparation for Kansas students.
Answering questions from reporters, Barnett said that during his recent statewide tour of Kansans, he had heard from businesses all across the state that their biggest need is access to a highly trained workforce.
He was then asked about the number of young people who leave Kansas after high school or college for larger metropolitan areas elsewhere in the country that are perceived as more tolerant than Kansas, where lawmakers in recent years have proposed a series of "religious freedom" bills that critics say would legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Barnett, who is known as a social conservative on many issues, said he recognized that as a problem in Kansas.
Since announcing his candidacy earlier this year, Barnett said, he has tried to identify six major issues that he wants to focus on, spending one month talking about each. Earlier, he has gone on tours to focus on agricultural policy, health care, economic development and tourism.
"This month we're talking about education, and our last tour is going to be a young professionals tour," he said. "How do we change the image of this state in the fashion that you just described? And it's hugely important because a lot of us are going to retire, or are retired already, and if we don't replace ourselves we're going to be in trouble."
Barnett is vying in a crowded Republican field for the gubernatorial nomination in 2018. The perceived front-runner in the race is Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is known nationally for his crusades against illegal immigration, and who earlier this week received the endorsement of the nationally syndicated talk show host Sean Hannity.
Also running for the GOP nomination are Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer; Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer; former Rep. Mark Hutton, of Wichita; former Rep. Ed O'Malley, who now lives in Wichita; Wichita businessman Willis "Wink" Hartman; and a number of other lesser-known candidates, including several teenagers.
People in Kansas who have been pushing to expand KanCare under the Affordable Care Act no doubt took notice Tuesday night when Maine became the first state in the union to settle that issue by popular vote, bypassing a Republican governor who has vetoed such a measure at least five times in the last six years.
After all, a 2016 "Kansas Speaks poll" conducted by Fort Hays State University showed pretty solid majorities in favor of extending the joint state-federal health care program to an estimated 150,000 people who could become eligible if Kansas took advantage of the federal law.
Similar efforts are also underway in conservative states like Utah and Idaho to get Medicaid expansion initiatives on their state ballots.
So naturally the question arises, is there a way to get a Medicaid expansion proposal onto a state ballot in Kansas?
The short answer to that question is no.
The process used in Maine and other states falls under the general heading of "initiatives and referendums," two methods by which citizens can initiate legislation or constitutional amendments by petition, bypassing the regular legislative process.
Although those processes have been allowed in some New England towns since time immemorial, in most other places they are a byproduct of the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The idea was to put real political power directly in the hands of the people so that whenever legislatures or governors became too intransigent or too corrupt, "the people" could take matters into their own hands.
For whatever reason, though, despite the fact that Kansas was steeped in the Populist movement throughout the 1890s, initiatives and referendums were one part of the movement that just never took hold here.
The last governor who even tried to push through a constitutional amendment allowing initiatives and referendums was Democrat Joan Finney in the early 1990s, but that went nowhere fast.
In modern times, some states that allow initiatives and referendums have learned to regret it, in part because "the people" who try to use that process to their advantage tend to be the same well-heeled special interest groups who stalk the halls of statehouses but who use the public vote process when traditional legislative efforts are unsuccessful.
The general public, it turns out, is sometimes much more pliable and persuadable than legislative committees, which have the power to hold hearings, summon witnesses and compel the production of documents when debating complex issues.
Two Democrats from Lecompton have lined up to challenge longtime incumbent Rep. Tom Sloan in the 45th District House race next year.
Aidan Loveland Koster, 37, formally announced her candidacy on Thursday. A native of Lawrence, she is a graduate of the University of Kansas School of Law and public administration master's program.
She joins Terry Manies, 50, also of Lecompton, in what is now a Democratic primary race in the 45th District. Manies ran unsuccessfully against Sloan in 2016.
“I look forward to using my experience to help get our economy moving once again and to provide for and protect our public schools and our foster children,” Loveland Koster said in a news release.
Sloan, 71, from Lawrence, is a moderate Republican who is currently serving his 12th term in the Legislature. In an email, Sloan said he will announce his plans for re-election during the Legislature's break in April next year.
"Both women will have to work hard to fault my record," he said. "If I was not vulnerable when Hillary was soundly defeating Trump among the 45th District's voters in 2016, attacking the Brownback administration after he has moved to D.C. is unlikely to unseat me."
In 2016, Sloan defeated Manies, 55-45 percent, in a district in which Democrat Hillary Clinton received 59 percent of the vote in the presidential race.
Lawrence businessman Scott Morgan has had a difficult relationship with the modern Kansas Republican Party for many years. A self-described moderate, he has never fit in well with Gov. Sam Brownback's conservative wing of the party, and in 2014 he tried unsuccessfully to unseat Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Now he is officially "breaking up" with the GOP and is launching a campaign to start a new party, the Party of the Center. In a tongue-in-cheek letter posted online this week, he spelled out the reasons why their political romance went south.
"This is hard to write but I think we shouldn’t hang out together anymore," Morgan wrote. "I’d like to say it’s not you, it’s me. But I kind of think it is you. I know that’s harsh but you’ve changed and I just feel we’re going in different directions."
The style of his letter was an obvious attempt at humor, but Morgan says his new project to launch a new, centrist party in Kansas is anything but a joke.
"What we’ve realized is that parties have fundamentally changed over the last 120 years," he said during a phone interview Tuesday. "And you see this throughout the economy, where things have been disrupted by technology, by the way we have changed regulatory schemes. Parties, the same thing. It just hasn’t reacted to it yet."
Morgan said he is working with a core group of people, mainly in Douglas and Johnson counties, who feel like the two major parties have polarized to the left and right fringes of the political spectrum, leaving behind a large group of centrists who no longer feel at home in either camp.
"We’re smart enough to know these haven’t worked in the past, but we think the past is the past, and with all the changes the time is right," he said.
Under Kansas law, in order for a new party to be recognized and have its candidates listed on the ballot, organizers must collect petition signatures equal to 2 percent of all the ballots cast in the last election for governor. That would be about 18,000 signatures, based on the turnout in the 2014 gubernatorial race.
Thereafter, it must nominate at least one candidate for a statewide office each gubernatorial election cycle, and its candidates must get at least 1 percent of the vote in order for the party to keep its recognition.
Morgan said he hasn't decided whether he will be a candidate for the new party, assuming it can achieve ballot access. But he said the party will recruit candidates for offices up and down the ballot, not just for the high-profile races. And he said that's a major difference between the organization he wants to launch and "independent" candidates like Greg Orman, the unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate in 2014 who is said to be considering a bid for governor in 2018.
"My issue with an independent candidate is, that affects one, typically high-level office, the state’s governor or Senate, and it does nothing down-ballot," Morgan said. "It does nothing for building a bench so you have a sustainable way to move forward."
Currently, there are only three recognized parties in Kansas: the Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party and the Republican Party.
A recent CNN-SSRS poll found widespread public dissatisfaction with the two major parties, with 62 percent of Americans saying they had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party and 51 percent saying the same about the Democratic Party.
Those numbers might suggest there is room for a new organization to gain a foothold with the public, but University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller says that's unlikely.
"Those disapproval numbers are relatively high, compared to recent years, but that is driven really by glowing hatred for the other party from your own side. The biggest driver is not that Americans across the board are coming to dislike both parties, although there has been an increase in that."
"The biggest driver in those increasing negatives is Republicans hating Democrats more and Democrats hating Republicans," Miller continued. "You don't have a big margin of politically involved people who dislike both parties. You have an electorate that largely likes their side, hates the other, and the people who dislike both parties, and in theory might be open to supporting a third option, are also the least likely to participate or care that a third option exists."
Democrats in the U.S. Senate plan to use procedural moves to delay a vote on Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's appointment to a diplomatic post, citing his record on gay rights, according to a published report.
The report by the Washington bureau of McClatchy, parent company of the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, cited a Democratic aide as saying Democrats would force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to take extra steps to get Brownback confirmed for the job of Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom in the Trump administration.
That could complicate issues in the Kansas Statehouse, where Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer has been preparing to take over as governor in advance of the 2018 legislative session, which begins in January. Between now and then, the governor's office needs to prepare budget proposals and other legislative initiatives for lawmakers to consider during the session.
Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., R-Olathe, did not express concern about the delay when told about the report.
"We have issues here in Kansas to deal with, and what the Democrats do in D.C. is their business. You would think they’d give the same courtesy they gave to Kathleen Sebelius," he said, referring to the former Democratic governor who served as Health and Human Services Secretary in the Obama administration.
Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward of Wichita, however, said Democrats have a right to object to the nomination.
"I think you should, as a minority party, raise the concerns about the appointments as you see appropriate, and they had the information before them," he said.
During his confirmation hearing Oct. 4, Brownback faced tough questions from Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., over his 2015 executive order rescinding workplace protections for LGBT state employees in the executive branch, a policy that had been put in place by Sebelius.
Kaine pointed out that in many parts of the world, gays and lesbians can be imprisoned, or even executed, on the basis of religious laws.
Brownback said his decision to repeal Sebelius' executive order was based on his belief that it was an issue on which the Legislature needed to act.
“That was an order that created a right by the executive branch that wasn’t available to other people and it wasn’t passed by the legislative branch,” Brownback said in response to Kaine's question. “I believe those sorts of issues should be passed by the legislative branch.”
Colyer's spokeswoman Kara Fullmer declined to comment on how a delay in Brownback's confirmation might affect the transition.
"At this point, it doesn’t really help to speculate," she said in an email. "Timing on the confirmation vote is a matter for the Senate to decide. Lt. Governor Colyer is prepared to take the helm in Kansas whenever Gov. Brownback is confirmed."
A former chief of staff to a Kansas House Democratic Caucus was quoted in a national political website Wednesday, saying she was the target of inappropriate sexual advances for years while working for the Legislature.
Abbie Hodgson, formerly of Lawrence, also told The Hill, a Washington-based political news site, that college-age female interns were often called upon to serve as designated drivers after hours to drive inebriated lawmakers home.
Hodgson served as chief of staff under former House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, from 2014 through 2016. In the article, she says that she reported both of those issues to Burroughs and to other House leaders, but when they refused to act, she quit, just two weeks before the 2016 Democratic primaries.
Burroughs disputed that portion of Hodgson’s account. In a separate telephone interview with the Journal-World, he said that as soon as Hodgson reported her allegations he called a meeting of the House Democratic leadership and ordered a stop to the behavior.
Her story was just one example cited in the Hill article detailing how women in state capitols around the country experience sexual harassment on a regular basis. More and more women from all walks of life have been coming forward with similar stories — sometimes posting them on Twitter with the hashtag #MeToo — since the revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and the widespread sexual misconduct in the film and entertainment industry.
Before working in Burroughs' office, Hodgson had been active in Democratic politics for years and held a number of posts in the administrations of Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. In 2014, she ran unsuccessfully for the 46th District House seat in Lawrence, the seat formerly held by Rep. Paul Davis.
Hodgson lost the Democratic primary that year to Boog Highberger. During that primary campaign, Highberger was pressured into firing his own volunteer campaign manager, Melinda Henderson, after Henderson posted Hodgson's campaign finance report on Facebook, adding the comment: “For my friends and followers who might be thinking about voting for Opponent because she’s younger than Boog Highberger for State Rep. and has a uterus.”
State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, confirmed Monday that she is considering a run for Kansas Secretary of State next year.
Francisco, a Democrat, said that others have encouraged her to look at the race. But she said she will not make a decision until after the Nov. 7 municipal elections in order to avoid voter confusion.
The Secretary of State's office will be an open contest in 2018 because the incumbent, Kris Kobach, is seeking the Republican nomination for governor. Francisco could run for the office without risking her Senate seat because that seat isn't up for re-election until 2020.
Francisco, 67, was first elected to the Senate in 2004. She was just re-elected to her fourth term in 2016. She also served on the Lawrence City Commission from 1979 to 1983.
If she enters the race, she would be the first Democrat to do so, although she said other Democrats are looking at the race as well. No Democrat has won a statewide or congressional race in Kansas since 2006. That was the year Kathleen Sebelius was re-elected governor, Dennis Moore was re-elected to the 3rd District congressional seat, and Paul Morrison, a Republican-turned-Democrat, was elected attorney general.
So far, three Republicans have formed campaign committees to run for the office. They include Rep. Keith Esau of Olathe, House Speaker Pro Tem Scott Schwab, also of Olathe, and Kansas Republican Party Chairman Kelly Arnold of Wichita.
U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas both voted late Thursday to advance a budget resolution that could pave the way for Congress to enact tax cuts similar to those that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback championed in Kansas in 2012, but which state lawmakers repealed earlier this year.
The measure passed by the narrowest of margins, 51-49, on nearly a straight party line vote. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was the only Republican to vote no on the measure.
By itself, the nonbinding resolution merely lays out a set of budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. But its passage would mean that the Senate could next pass a tax bill as part of a "reconciliation" process so it would only need 51 votes to pass, instead of the normal 60 votes needed to close debate on a bill.
"Our tax code is burdensome, confusing and outdated,” Roberts, the senior senator from Kansas, said in a statement following the vote. “There is widespread, bipartisan agreement on the need for tax reform, and I’m pleased the Senate took this important step toward providing tax relief to hardworking Americans. I look forward to continuing our work in the Senate Finance Committee to write a tax bill that allows Kansans to keep more of their hard-earned dollars.”
Moran, the state's junior senator, issued a similar statement.
“Our tax code should work for American families, not against them," he said. "Kansans know how critical tax reform is to their ability to find quality jobs, start small businesses, or pay for household items and utility bills every month. In the more than 30 years since we last passed major tax reform, the national and global economies have changed dramatically. We must adapt as well by establishing a fairer and simpler tax code to empower American individuals to succeed and American businesses to compete."
Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration are backing a tax plan that includes several elements similar to the controversial tax initiatives that Brownback championed in Kansas: reducing the number of tax brackets and lowering rates across the board; closing many income tax loopholes; and greatly reducing — but not eliminating, as Kansas did — income taxes levied against nonwage business income from partnerships, sole proprietorships, limited liability companies and other so-called "pass-through" entities.
As Brownback and his allies did in championing those kinds of cuts in Kansas, Congressional Republicans argue that they will stimulate job growth and economic expansion.
In Kansas, however, which Brownback said would be a "real live experiment" of the tax cut theory, jobs and gross state product lagged behind the rest of the nation while those policies were in place; state government suffered from severe revenue shortfalls that forced deep cuts in spending on highways, health care and education.
During the 2017 session, the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature passed a bill reversing course on those tax policies with two-thirds majorities in both chambers, overriding Brownback's veto of the bill.
The U.S. House has already approved a similar budget resolution, and negotiations were already underway Friday to find a path for the House to agree to the Senate's changes in order to avoid a lengthy conference committee process.
The entire Kansas delegation to the House, including 2nd District Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Topeka, have expressed their support for the general outline of the tax plan.
In an op-ed column for Fox News, however, Jenkins said Congress had learned from the mistakes in Kansas, and that the federal tax reform bill would be different.
"It’s no secret that Kansas made a few mistakes with its tax reform plan," Jenkins wrote. "First of all, they zeroed out the tax rate for pass-through businesses, which is the tax status used for most small businesses, and failed to erect any guardrails to discourage tax avoidance. This created a loophole that allowed some existing businesses and wealthy individuals to avoid paying income taxes altogether by simply reclassifying as a pass-through and thus create a new 'business' without adding any employees."
Democrat Paul Davis raised more money in the last quarter than all of his Republican opponents combined, according to campaign finance reports for the Kansas 2nd Congressional District race that were filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Although Davis' report had not been posted on the FEC website by Monday afternoon, his campaign emailed a copy of it to the Journal-World. It showed Davis raised $408,649.58 during the third quarter of the year, July 1 - Sept. 30. Davis did not officially get into the race until Aug. 15, so all of that money was raised during a 45-day period.
That compares to roughly $357,000 raised by the entire Republican field during that same period. Possibly as a result of that, the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan political handicapping website, changed its rating of the 2nd District on Friday from "Likely Republican" to "Leans Republican."
Davis had announced his campaign totals last week, but his campaign would not provide copies of it until the reports were posted by the FEC.
Of that amount, 83 percent, or nearly $340,000, came from individual contributions while 15 percent, or $60,500, came from political action committees. Davis also made a small in-kind contribution to his own campaign, which a spokeswoman described as the value of an email list he brought with him from his unsuccessful 2014 campaign for governor.
Republican Sen. Steve Fitzgerald of Leavenworth raised the most money in the GOP field, taking in $166,004.98, according to his report. That included $100,000 in loans that he made to his own campaign. Virtually all of the remaining money came from individual contributions.
Republican Sen. Caryn Tyson appeared to be the next largest GOP fundraiser, although her report had not been posted by the FEC as of Monday afternoon. In a telephone interview, she said she raised a little more than $150,000 during the quarter. Details about how much came from individuals, PACs and loans from the candidate were not available.
Former Kansas Department of Commerce Secretary Antonio Soave, who formally entered the race Sept. 14, raised $31,425 during the reporting period. All of that came from individual contributions.
Basehor City Councilman Vernon J. Fields took in $2,980 in individual contributions during the quarter and loaned $6,785.52 to his campaign out of his own pocket.
Some Republicans in Kansas are now calling for Phyllis Gilmore to be removed as Secretary of the Department for Children and Families, a fact that could have implications in next year's race for governor.
Gilmore has long been a target of criticism from Democrats who allege, among other things, that she has mismanaged the state's privatized foster care system, where a number of children have died while in state custody. They also have alleged she openly discriminates against same-sex couples in the placement of children in foster care.
Republicans, however, have largely stood by her, even though they did agree this year to form a special task force to review the state's entire child welfare system, although the task force's report won't be released until after a new administration is sworn into office in 2019.
The latest barrage, however, was prompted earlier this week during a meeting of that task force when it was revealed that more than 70 children in foster care are currently missing. People who were in the meeting when that was revealed said Gilmore appeared both unaware and unconcerned about the situation.
Former Rep. Mark Hutton of Wichita, who is now running for the GOP nomination for governor, issued a statement early Friday, "calling for leadership change at the Brownback-Colyer administration's Department of Children and Families."
"Department of Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore has been in her position in the Brownback-Colyer administration for over five years, a tenure increasingly defined by a total lack of accountability and a near endless stream of failures affecting foster children, at-risk youth, and children facing abuse in their home environments," Hutton said.
As Hutton's comment was circulating on social media Friday, a sitting GOP lawmaker went even further, suggesting that the entire leadership team at DCF needs to go, not just Gilmore.
"From what DCF employees have told me, nothing gets better until everyone at the administrative level is gone. It’s never just the Secretary," Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, tweeted at 10:47 a.m. Friday.
Asked if that meant she believed more people at DCF need to be removed than just Gilmore, she replied, "yes."
"And, bear in mind, we have excellent people at the ground-level in DCF. Just at the admin level where there are problems," she said in a follow-up tweet.
The calls for Gilmore's removal have clear implications for Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is preparing to step into the governor's office, if and when Gov. Sam Brownback is confirmed for a diplomatic post in the Trump administration. Colyer is also running for a full term of his own in 2018.
The statement from Hutton, who is not nearly as widely known as Colyer and some other GOP candidates in the race, was obviously aimed at Colyer, who will likely be running as an incumbent governor when GOP voters go to the polls in the August primary, assuming Brownback is confirmed for the State Department job. That, however, could be both a blessing and a curse, depending on how Colyer plays it.
On the one hand, Colyer is in danger of inheriting a lot of baggage from Brownback, who will leave office with perhaps the lowest approval rating of any recent governor since Joan Finney, and many observers say it will be hard for Colyer to somehow distance himself from the administration in which he has played a central role for seven years.
On the other hand, though, the situation with Gilmore could give him the opportunity to do just that.
In recent months, Colyer has been loathe to speak out on substantive issues as long as Brownback is still the governor. "Right now, we have one governor at a time," he told reporters who tried to get him to talk last month.
In another sign that Gov. Sam Brownback's administration is winding down to a close, his office announced Thursday that his policy director Brandon Smith will step down from that role next week.
Smith, a 2011 graduate of the University of Kansas School of Law, has served as Brownback's policy director since February 2015. Among other things, he was instrumental in forging links between the governor's office and the new Trump administration when it came into office in January.
In a short statement, Brownback praised Smith for his work in the administration.
“Brandon’s service has been a credit to the state of Kansas, and I’m thankful for his tireless work on behalf of conservative principles,” Brownback said. “I know he is going to continue to work to promote individual freedom, human dignity, and economic opportunity for all.”
“It has been an honor to serve Governor Brownback and the people of Kansas,” Smith said in the news release. Brownback did not name a replacement.
Brownback's office said Smith will soon go to work in the administration of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.
Brownback is expected to step down himself in the near future. He has been nominated to be U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom in the Trump administration. He appeared before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Oct. 4 for a confirmation hearing and is now waiting for that committee to forward his nomination to the full Senate for confirmation.
Once confirmed, Brownback will resign from office, elevating Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to take over as the state's chief executive.
Colyer is also running for a full term of his own in the 2018 election but he faces a crowded field of competitors for the Republican nomination.
Chief among those are Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and former Sen. Jim Barnett, who ran as the GOP's nominee for governor in 2006. Also in the field, though, are former Rep. Mark Hutton of Wichita; former Rep. Ed O'Malley, who now lives in Wichita; and Wichita oil and gas magnate Willis "Wink" Hartman."
O’Malley enters GOP race for Kansas governor; Orman weighing independent bid; new entry in 2nd District
Former Rep. Ed O'Malley launched his bid for the Republican nomination for governor Tuesday, saying he wants to improve public education and modernize the state government workforce.
O'Malley, 41, a moderate Republican and former aide to Gov. Bill Graves, served in the Kansas House from 2003 to 2006 representing the 24th District in Johnson County. In 2007 he became the first president and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita, a think tank that emphasizes that leadership is an activity, not a position or role that a person plays. He has lived in Wichita since then.
In January, O'Malley announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to look at the governor's race. Since then, he has traveled the state, conducted a number of public events and released several videos on his Facebook page that many people have likened to TED talks.
“My campaign will revolve around three big, bold ideas I will work day and night to deliver.” O’Malley said in a news release. “Number one, we will create the best public education system in the world to fuel our economy. Number two, we will transform government by creating the most innovative, efficient and creative workforce inside government to serve you. And number three, we’ll do all this with leadership that brings people together to solve problems.”
O'Malley launched his campaign Tuesday during a statewide tour that conspicuously did not include Topeka. The tour began in Kansas City, Kan., and was scheduled to continue to Overland Park, Manhattan and Wichita. The tour will stop Thursday in Beloit, Dodge City and Garden City.
Orman reportedly weighing independent bid
Johnson County businessman Greg Orman, who ran an unexpectedly strong race for the U.S. Senate against Republican Pat Roberts two years ago, is now said to be weighing an independent bid for governor, the Wichita Eagle reports.
If he does, that could greatly complicate next year's governor's race, turning it into a three-way contest that some think would make it easier for a conservative Republican like Secretary of State Kris Kobach or Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to win.
In 2014, Orman landed in the center of what turned out to be both a national and international political story as Republicans were struggling to take back control of the U.S. Senate while polls were showing Roberts in a surprisingly weak position at home in Kansas.
Roberts had been dogged by stories that he doesn't actually live in Kansas, stories that were made even worse when Roberts quipped off the cuff that a supporter of his in Dodge City lets him sleep on a recliner whenever he's in town.
Roberts survived a bruising primary against tea party challenger Milton Wolf, and it appeared he was heading into a three-way race against Orman and Democrat Chad Taylor, then the Shawnee County district attorney. In an unexpected move, however, Taylor pulled out of the race, under pressure from national Democrats, including Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who thought an independent would have a better chance of unseating Roberts, and thus possibly denying Republicans a majority.
It didn't work out that way, however. The Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, then led by fellow Kansan Jerry Moran, poured huge amounts of money into the race, as did a number of independent, third-party groups. In the end, the campaign shattered spending records in Kansas with more than $8 million being spent on Roberts' behalf during the campaign, compared with $5.7 million for Orman.
National Republicans also brought in a massive get-out-the-vote machine to get GOP voters to the polls while Orman, running as an independent, had no such organization behind him. Roberts ended up winning the race, 53-43 percent, and many believe the massive push for Roberts also benefited Gov. Sam Brownback, who was in a tough re-election battle of his own that year.
In next year's governor's race, however, there is no chance that the Democratic candidate will bow out, which means that Orman and the eventual Democratic candidate would likely split the Democratic and independent vote, thus making it easier for the Republican nominee to win.
Three major Democratic candidates are currently in the race: House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita; former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer; and former Rep. and former Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty, of Ellsworth.
On the Republican side, besides Kobach and Colyer, the major candidates are O'Malley, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, former Sen. Jim Barnett, former Rep. Mark Hutton and Wichita businessman Willis "Wink" Hartman.
Bevens, 25, enters 2nd District race
A 25-year-old Topeka man jumped into the 2nd District congressional race Tuesday.
Matt Bevens, a University of Kansas graduate with a degree in economics, calls himself a "traditional Republican" and said in a statement announcing his candidacy that “Congress is broken and it is time for a Republican Reset."
Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says a person must be at least 25 years of age to serve in the U.S. House.
Bevens joins a crowded list of Republicans in the 2nd District race. They include state Sens. Steve Fitzgerald, of Leavenworth, and Caryn Tyson, of Parker; Rep. Kevin Jones, of Wellsville; and Basehor city councilman Vernon Fields. Incumbent Rep. Lynn Jenkins, of Topeka, is not running for re-election.
On the Democratic side, former Rep. Paul Davis, of Lawrence, is being challenged by Neosho County resident Kelly Standley.
An announcement over the weekend that the American Civil Liberties Union is launching a political campaign to repeal Kansas' restrictive voting laws prompted sharp comments Monday from Republican candidates running for secretary of state.
Rep. Scott Schwab issued a statement calling the ACLU an "extreme leftist" group that wants to repeal voting laws that he says are overwhelmingly popular.
"These outsiders forget that these elections safeguards were passed with the bipartisan support of even key Democrat leaders like constitutional attorney and 2nd congressional district candidate, Paul Davis, and current House Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate, Jim Ward," Schwab said. "Reality is: we're Kansans. Political hijackers like the ACLU shouldn’t try telling us what our election laws should and shouldn’t be."
In 2011, current Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national crusader against illegal immigration, championed passage of laws requiring people to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote, and government-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot at the polls.
The ACLU is currently challenging the proof-of-citizenship law in federal court. Last summer, a judge issued a temporary injunction barring the state from requiring proof of citizenship for people who register when renewing their driver's license, saying that conflicts with the National Voter Registration Act, or NVRA, also known as the "motor voter" law.
A 2016 survey by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University found Kansans deeply split over those laws. Half of those surveyed said they think the laws have helped prevent voter fraud, but 42 percent said they believe they have made it more difficult for otherwise eligible voters to vote.
Nationally, though, a Gallup poll in August 2016 found that 80 percent of Americans support laws requiring people to show photo ID at the polls.
Kobach is now running for governor in 2018. Three Republicans have announced they will run for secretary of state. In addition to Schwab, they are Sedgwick County Clerk Kelly Arnold, who is also chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, and Rep. Keith Esau of Olathe. No Democrat has gotten into the race so far.
Arnold said in an email that he supports both the photo ID and proof of citizenship laws, and if elected would advocate keeping both.
"Free and fair elections are critical to our system of government," he said. "As Secretary of State, I will work to protect the integrity of each election. In order to provide such protection, Kansas law provides a simple voter ID check to ensure that only those who are eligible may vote. I support both laws as they currently stand. Over 80 percent of Americans, both Republican and Democrat, support Voter ID laws."
Esau also said he supports the laws.
"Voting rights are different from other rights in our Constitution because voting rights are only granted to citizens. Other rights are inherent and granted by God," he said in a phone interview Monday.
Kansas Democrats are embroiled in a bitter feud on the eve of their annual fall "Demofest" convention in Wichita as top party officials are now trying to oust the party secretary while the secretary and her allies are fighting back with a series of blistering blog posts.
At the center of the controversy are party secretary Casey Yingling, a Wichita attorney who also operates a political consulting business, and her business partner, Levi Henry, a longtime Democratic activist and union organizer.
In addition to being party activists, Yingling and Henry operate a political consulting firm, Ad Astra Group, which ran James Thompson's unsuccessful run for the 4th District congressional seat during a special election earlier this year.
According to several sources within the party, Yingling and Henry asked the party to contribute $20,000 to help out that campaign. Party officers met by conference call to consider that request and put it to a vote. Most officers said no, arguing that the party couldn't afford such a large expenditure. But Yingling, in her position as party secretary, voted yes, despite requests that she recuse herself, since she would have been the recipient of that money.
The special election was held to fill the vacancy created when President Donald Trump named then-Congressman Mike Pompeo to be CIA director. It was one of several special elections around the country at that time where Democrats thought they had a chance to win in Republican territory because of Trump's growing unpopularity.
It didn't work out, though. Republican Ron Estes, who was then state treasurer, ended up beating Thompson, 52-46 percent, a much narrower margin than Republicans typically enjoy in the 4th District.
That loss led to back-and-forth allegations about who was to blame, and eventually to the chasm that has now engulfed the upper ranks of the party, and a motion to recall Yingling as party secretary. A vote on that motion will take place Saturday and, according to an email letter obtained by the Journal-World, it is being supported by party chairman John Gibson, vice chair Vicki Hiatt and treasurer Bill Hutton.
"I support the recall because self-enrichment can have no place in the Kansas Democratic Party," Gibson wrote in a letter that was co-signed by Hiatt and Hutton. "The reality of the attempted self-enrichment by Ms. Yingling is actually much graver than what has been alleged in the recall petition. The recall petition focuses on only a single instance of Ms. Yingling attempting to use the funds of the Kansas Democratic Party for her own benefit. The attempted self-enrichment cited in the recall petition was neither the first nor the last attempt by Ms. Yingling to use KDP resources for her personal benefit."
The letter goes on to say that the party actually did contribute tens of thousands of dollars worth of services to the Thompson campaign. But then it adds: "We cannot expect Democrats to be generous in their financial support of our Party if there is a concern that their dollars may be spent primarily to enrich the officers rather than to build the Party. In order for our Party to compete in 2018 and beyond, we must remove even the appearance of self-enrichment from our Party."
Yingling, Henry and their allies, however, have been firing back hard. In recent days, they launched a blog, SaveTheParty.org, in which they have been lashing out at those whom they think are behind the recall effort, particularly Thomas Witt and Chris Reeves.
Witt is chair of the Progressive Caucus of the state party and serves on the executive committee. He also heads Equality Kansas, an LGBT rights activist group, and runs his own political consulting firm, Smoky Hill Strategies. Reeves is a party activist and blogger for the Daily Kos who has at times worked with Witt and is now the state party's national committeeman.
In a blog posted dated Thursday, Henry accused Witt and Reeves of being behind the 2015 ouster of former party chairman Larry Meeker, referring to it as a "hatchet job." And in another blog post dated Wednesday, he argued that Witt and Reeves have also served as paid consultants to the party, as has House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita, now a candidate for governor, and LGBT caucus chair Ryon Carey.
The animosity between the Ad Astra Group and others in the party escalated late this week when an attorney representing Casey and Henry, Tai J. Vokins of Olathe, wrote to Witt, accusing him of making "false and defamatory statements" about them, and directing him to preserve electronic records related to the matter as evidence in possible future litigation.
At least two party insiders told the Journal-World they would like to see a change in the bylaws that prohibits the party from contracting with its own officers, but they also conceded that may be a tough item to sell.
Meanwhile, this weekend's convention will also be the first opportunity many party members have to see the party's new platform. Several officials said there will not be a vote on the platform because it has already been approved by the platform-writing committee.
But some may be surprised by some of its contents, including a plank that reads, "Kansas Democrats support full legalization of marijuana for personal as well as medical use."
Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback will appear before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, Oct. 4, for a confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom.
Brownback confirmed that date while speaking with reporters outside the Statehouse Wednesday.
A former senator himself, Brownback is a familiar name on Capitol Hill, but he said he is not assuming the confirmation process will be easy.
“I would not say that. I don’t know,” he said. “This is a topic I worked on a lot. I helped carry the first bill (establishing the ambassadorship) in 1998. I’ve worked on these issues around the world with minority faiths.”
Once he is confirmed by the full Senate, Brownback said, he will resign from office, elevating Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to become the next governor in the midst of a hotly contested Republican primary race.
Colyer himself has had a more visible presence around the state in recent weeks as he prepares to assume office, and then run for a full four-year term of his own in 2018. But his appearances have largely been photo ops, such as an event last weekend in Andover where he tossed the coin before a high school football game. He told reporters, though, that he’s ready to take over whenever he is called.
“That’s the job of a lieutenant governor. You always have to be ready,” Colyer said. “We’re working very hard on where we’re going, what we’re doing. We’re listening and working with a lot of different people, and you’ll be hearing about it over the next few months or next few weeks.”
The race for the GOP nomination in 2018 has already drawn a crowded field. And although Colyer concedes that his is not yet a household name, Brownback’s resignation will give him several months in the spotlight, including the chance to govern during a legislative session, and give him the status of the incumbent in the August 2018 primary.
One of his biggest challenges, though, will be to separate himself from Brownback, who, according to public opinion polls, has one of the lowest public approval ratings within his own state of any governor in the country. That’s a task that won’t be easy, given his close ties to Brownback and the strong loyalty he has shown the governor over the last seven years.
“I’m Jeff Colyer. I’m going to be working very hard for Kansas,” he said. “We’re going to make sure that we get things done. It’s going to be stable. We’re going to be very collaborative. We’re going to work with people, and people know where I’m coming from.”
Colyer, a plastic surgeon from Johnson County, has been involved in politics in eastern Kansas and at the national level for many years. He served a White House fellowship during President Ronald Reagan’s administration in the 1980s, and also was an aide to former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas.
In 2002, he ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination to the 3rd District congressional seat. He served one term in the Kansas House, 2007-2009, and half a term in the Kansas Senate before he was tapped in 2010 to be Brownback’s running mate.
Outside of Johnson County, however, he is less well known. A statewide survey by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University showed only about 32 percent of those surveyed have heard of him. That compares to a 77 percent name recognition factor for Secretary of State Kris Kobach, another leading candidate in the GOP gubernatorial race.
Also running on the Republican side are Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, former Sen. Jim Barnett, Wichita businessman Willis “Wink” Hartman, and former Rep. Mark Hutton of Wichita.
Former Rep. Ed O’Malley, who now lives in Wichita, has formed an exploratory committee but has not yet formally announced he is running.
Hutton is another candidate who is trying to build up his own visibility. The founder of a construction company that bears his name, but which is now run by his son, he served two terms in the Kansas House before deciding not to seek re-election in 2016.
As part of that effort, Hutton visited the media offices in the Kansas Statehouse this week to get reaquainted with reporters and share his story. Among other things, he said, he expects the Republican field to contract between now and the August primary, with some candidates dropping out and others pairing up together as a ticket, so that eventually there will be only three main candidates. Presumably those would be himself, Kobach and Colyer.
Hutton said he is less ideological than Brownback, Colyer or Kobach and that if elected, his goal would simply be to manage the state competently.
“You get a businessman that started a company from nothing and managed it, that will manage this state just like a CEO would, who goes to the problems and doesn’t wait for them to blow up in front of him, and manages from a perspective of bringing people together, removing barriers to good discussion, so that collectively we can come up with solutions,” Hutton said.
Hutton is not the only lower-profile candidate in the race who is trying to raise his visibility. On the Democratic side, former Rep. and former Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty just completed a 105-county tour of the state where he attempted to introduce himself to Kansans.
Svaty, who is 37 and a native of Ellsworth, served three and a half terms in the Kansas House, from 2003 to 2009, a time when he was one of the youngest members of the Legislature. He also was elected as a Democrat in a district where Republicans hold a two-to-one advantage over Democrats in voter registration.
He stepped down when Gov. Mark Parkinson named him Secretary of Agriculture but has not been active in Kansas politics since leaving that job seven years ago when Brownback came into office.
During a Statehouse news conference Wednesday, Svaty said one of his strengths is that he is a Democrat who lives west of U.S. Highway 81, the unofficial dividing line between eastern and western Kansas. But it’s also a fact that most Democratic voters in Kansas live in the Kansas City-Lawrence-Topeka-Manhattan corridor, and in the Wichita area.
Svaty, however, said his rural roots are what set him apart from other Democrats in the race. And he said it’s an asset that the Kansas Democratic Party in general needs badly.
“If you were to use Gov. (Kathleen) Sebelius’ maps of her victories in 2002 and 2006, you would actually see broad county support across the state,” he said. “She won upward of 20 or more counties in the big 1st Congressional District in western Kansas, so I actually challenge the notion that winning as a Democrat is first and foremost about winning the urban parts of the state. I would argue that one of the reasons Democrats may have stuggled in the last few election cycles is that, if you look at how they’re winning or losing in the rural parts of the state, it’s by margins of 75-25 (percent), or in some cases 80-20 (percent).”
Svaty is up against the sitting House Minority Leader, Rep. Jim Ward of Wichita, as well as former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer in the Democratic primary.