Business lobby, aided by $36,000 from Koch Industries, targets eight Republican incumbents in state Senate for defeat

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce has thrown its support to challengers of eight moderate Republican senators. Clockwise from left, Tim Owens, Overland Park; Carolyn McGinn, Sedgwick; Terrie Huntington, Fairway; Steve Morris, Hugoton; Vicki Schmidt, Topeka; John Vratil, Leawood; Jean Schodorf, Wichita, and Pete Brungardt, Salina.

? Two business heavyweights — the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Koch Industries — have targeted eight state senators for defeat in the Republican Party primary.

“During the difficult economic downturn, while businesses were tightening their belts to survive, some in the Kansas Senate opted for tax increases instead of responsible spending cuts,” Chamber Political Action Chairman Ivan Crossland said Tuesday.

“Bloated state budgets, increased taxes and growing union and trial lawyer support are not the ingredients for private sector job creation. The candidates we have chosen to support are willing to do what it takes to turn things around in Kansas,” Crossland said.

The Chamber said a majority of Republicans in the Kansas House and Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, support a pro-business agenda.

The Chamber PAC’s campaign finance report filed Tuesday illustrates the effort by Brownback’s supporters to wrest control of the Senate from so-called moderate Republicans. The Chamber PAC collected $163,000 in contributions last year with the biggest donors being Koch Industries, which contributed more than $36,000. Among other large contributors was The Lawrence Paper Co., $15,000; and Murfin Drilling Co., $10,000.

The Chamber PAC donated $1,000 and made in-kind contributions to eight Republican challengers, including to state Rep. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, who is challenging Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton.

Asked to respond to the chamber’s comments, Morris said, “I am proud of my conservative, pro-jobs, pro-business record in the Kansas Senate.

“I have fought to create jobs in my district and in our state — jobs like the Sunflower power plant and Abenoga ethanol facility. Jobs will continue to be one of my top priorities as the 2012 legislative session begins.”

The other incumbent GOP senators whose challengers received maximum contributions from the Chamber PAC are Pete Brungardt, of Salina; Terrie Huntington, of Fairway; Carolyn McGinn, of Sedgwick; Tim Owens, of Overland Park; Vicki Schmidt, of Topeka; Jean Schodorf, of Wichita, and John Vratil of Leawood.

Legislators in 2010, who supported an increase in the state sales tax, said it was necessary to avoid damaging cuts in schools, social services and public safety. The increase has also helped fund the state highway plan. The chamber opposed the tax increase and is now, along with Brownback, pushing for tax cuts.