Opinion: What will motivate Kansas Democrats?
President Donald Trump campaigns in Kansas this week. This should provoke Democrats into action.
His campaign stop will likely include: blaming Democrats for his shortcomings, mocking claims of sexual assault, condemning the press as fake news, inflaming racial resentments, demeaning officials in the Department of Justice, calling the Russia investigation a hoax, inflating credit for economic growth, disparaging Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and denying chaos in the White House, among other provocations.
Trump havoc may well push the partisan needle blue this November. Most careful analysts project that Democrats will take control of the U.S. House. Control of the U.S. Senate, once thought secure for Republicans, is in doubt.
Kansas Republicans have controlled the state’s four congressional seats for the last eight years, but two eastern Kansas seats are now rated toss-ups or even better for Democrats.
In the Kansas governor’s race, moderate Democrat Laura Kelly is running neck and neck with Kris Kobach.
A key question is whether Trump’s antics and high disapproval ratings will seep into critical down-ballot races to the advantage of Democrats.
Two years ago Kansas voters marched in opposing directions, electing bipartisan legislative majorities committed to abandoning the discredited Sam Brownback tax experiment, while supporting Trump by a wide margin.
This year Trump is fully aligned with Kobach and far-right Republicans who want to resurrect the Brownback experiment with yet another round of tax cuts and drastic spending reductions.
All 125 seats in the Kansas House of Representatives are on the ballot this year. Democrats go into the general election uncontested in 23 of those races, more than either the centrist Republican coalition or the right-wing Republican alliance can claim. And Democratic candidates are contesting in 63 of the 65 House seats that remain in competition this November.
On one level the Trump agenda differs starkly from crucial state-level issues: Will the state continue down the road to fiscal sanity initiated by voters in 2016 and implemented by bipartisan legislators in 2017 and 2018? Will the state adequately fund its public schools, colleges and universities and highways? Will the state repair the damage to services for vulnerable children, seniors and people with disabilities?
Voters should not ignore how Trump’s actions intersect with state issues and affect Kansas residents. His trillion-dollar tax bill heavily favors big business and those with the highest incomes — just like the Brownback experiment did. His repeated sabotage of the Affordable Care Act undermines health care for many Kansans who rely on the act’s protections for those with pre-existing conditions. His tariff war forces farmers into accepting handouts instead of engaging in trade.
Kansas’ State Chamber of Commerce and its dark-money allies will seek to drown out any Trump effect with its one-note refrain: Cut spending! That strategy worked in the August primary, as the chamber targeted and defeated six incumbent Republican centrists who refused to bend to the chamber’s will.
Democratic candidates will now face the same onslaught of media attacks funded by the same chamber alliance. Kelly is already being hammered with these assaults. Voters will soon be inundated with postcard smears and other media slurs against the 63 Democratic House candidates. This mudslinging will seek to stain every candidate through deception, innuendo and scurrilous charges.
Two years ago one of every three registered voters in Kansas did not vote, and roughly 150,000 of those nonvoters were Democrats. If Democratic candidates for Congress, governor and the Legislature are to take advantage of the opening created by Trump provocations, they should get their voters to the polls on Election Day.
— H. Edward Flentje is professor emeritus at Wichita State University and served with Kansas Govs. Robert Bennett and Mike Hayden.