Opinion: The choice is to go forward or turn back
For voters planning to cast a primary election ballot for governor on Tuesday, your choice is move forward and away from the Sam Brownback era or turn back toward it. Candidates have defined this choice on the major issues of the campaign.
Most Kansans do not see abortion and guns as their chief concern, but candidates have spent an inordinate amount of time addressing voters who choose a candidate solely on one or the other of these two issues. Like Brownback, Republican candidates Jeff Colyer and Kris Kobach have aligned themselves with special interest groups demanding more restrictions on abortion or fewer restrictions on guns. In pandering for endorsements, they came to a draw, Colyer slightly favored.
Somewhat surprisingly, two leading Democratic candidates, Laura Kelly and Josh Svaty, sparred at length over their legislative voting records on abortion and guns. In the end both, as well as Democratic candidate Carl Brewer, defend women’s access to reproductive health care — with Kelly earning endorsements for her long record on the issue. Svaty and Brewer spoke out more forcefully in calling for action to end gun violence.
Taxing and spending issues have consumed state lawmakers for the past seven years, as well as candidates this year, with Brownback’s tax experiment framing the debate. Lt. Gov. Colyer championed the experiment as unbalanced budgets, unfair taxes and record debt piled up and service deteriorated. As governor, however, he has happily signed off on spending new revenues generated by abandonment of the experiment last year.
In dramatic contrast, Kobach embraces the Brownback experiment and wants to double down with a new round of tax and spending cuts — with little mention of where spending reductions should occur.
The remaining four candidates, including Republican Jim Barnett and all three Democrats, strongly defend lawmakers’ restoration of state finance and steps that begin to repair the damage to services. Kelly’s direct legislative experience on these matters gives her an advantage in charting a new direction away from Brownback on taxing and spending.
A similar alignment holds for two major spending issues: education and Medicaid. Kobach has condemned court interference in school finance and attacked Colyer for signing legislation that addressed court action on school funding. Both candidates voice support for a constitutional amendment that removes school funding from court review — as did Brownback.
Democrats Brewer, Kelly and Svaty, as well as Republican Barnett, champion high-quality schools as crucial to economic advancement and voice support for cooperating with the courts in resolving funding issues.
In 2017, Brownback blocked extending Medicaid to 150,000 Kansans, even with 90 percent of the cost federally funded. Colyer and Kobach agree. Barnett, Brewer, Kelly and Svaty favor Medicaid expansion.
Six leading candidates offer primary voters the choice of moving forward or turning back — between charting a new course on fiscal sanity, education and health care or reverting to the miserable experience of the last seven years.
Colyer has made modest moves away from Brownback, but he mostly aligns with his former patron. Kobach wants to relive the discredited tax experiment even more harshly than before. Barnett offers Republican primary voters a forward-looking centrist alternative.
Democrats Brewer, Kelly and Svaty vary in particulars, but all want to put the Brownback years in a rear-view mirror.
Primary voters have clear choices in empowering new leadership for the future of Kansas.
— H. Edward Flentje is professor emeritus at Wichita State University and served with Kansas Govs. Robert Bennett and Mike Hayden.