Monday, December 22, 2014

SATTLER: It’s prime time for a GOP primary

By DENA SATTLER, Garden City Telegram | 4/23/2014

Activity in the Kansas Statehouse has been memorable this year, and for all the wrong reasons.

Radical-right GOP lawmakers embarrassed Kansas with pursuit of a “religious freedom” bill that would encourage discrimination against same-sex couples; an attempt to undo renewable energy standards key in wind and ethanol production; and creation of more tax breaks for the wealthy that penalize the poor.

Activity in the Kansas Statehouse has been memorable this year, and for all the wrong reasons.

Radical-right GOP lawmakers embarrassed Kansas with pursuit of a “religious freedom” bill that would encourage discrimination against same-sex couples; an attempt to undo renewable energy standards key in wind and ethanol production; and creation of more tax breaks for the wealthy that penalize the poor.

In dealing with one high priority — a Kansas Supreme Court order to increase aid to poorer public school districts — the GOP extremists refused to simply address the dollars. At the last minute, they bundled the funding with ideological, anti-public-schools initiatives, the most controversial in stripping K-12 teachers of their long-held right to due process in employment conflicts.

Instead of blasting the assault on teachers, Gov. Sam Brownback only danced around the issue, then signed the harmful plan.

Such foolishness has no doubt buoyed the chances of state Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, the challenger to a Republican governor aligned with the far right.

Early in the session, though, Brownback’s people dismissed how headline-grabbing, ultraconservative GOP bills — including proposals that didn’t gain momentum — would affect his re-election bid.

“Voters care about real results, not dead legislation,” David Kensinger, Brownback’s top political adviser, wrote in an email to The Kansas City Star.

Not true. Successful or not, the outlandish proposals gave Kansans a look at legislators’ thinking — and the special interests driving them — which was disturbing.

Clay Barker, Kansas Republican Party executive director, also misfired.

“I don’t think people will consider the Legislature owned by Sam Brownback,” Barker told The Star.

Really? Brownback and his allies — Americans for Prosperity, the billionaire Koch brothers and Kansas Chamber of Commerce — seized control of the Legislature in 2012 by aggressively supporting candidates who would vote in lockstep with the governor.

Brownback cannot conveniently disassociate himself from lawmakers handpicked to rubber-stamp his agenda.

That said, all of the misguided legislative ventures put Davis in a better place, which is encouraging.

At the same time, the recent nonsense also created an opening for Republicans who aren’t in step with the radical GOP faction now in charge. The question is whether those traditional, more moderate Republicans will take full advantage in the August primary.

They should. The Sunflower State needs leaders who — unlike the current regime — covet good schools, effective social services and tax policies that foster economic growth without hurting the poor.

In a state where it’s always tougher for Democrats, Kansans should have a choice of Republican candidates — especially in the governor’s race.

Of course, Republicans who might step up — former state lawmakers in particular — know the sting of being maligned by the Americans for Prosperity-Koch-Kansas Chamber special-interest machine, which in 2012 targeted those in the Statehouse who challenged their quest for an ultraconservative utopia.

The extremists used last-minute attack ads to purge select Republican lawmakers in the GOP primary. The ads deliberately misled voters on numerous counts, not the least of which was trying to link targeted legislators to Obamacare, a federal — not state — law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

As laughable as it was, the stunt still swayed voters.

But we now know Koch-fueled campaigns of misinformation aren’t foolproof, as attempts to manipulate other elections in Kansas and beyond have failed.

As much happened in Ulysses. Mayor John Battin, who was on the receiving end of such an assault, said he thought the attack ads actually helped his re-election campaign in April 2013, when he easily defeated a fellow councilman praised in Americans for Prosperity ads.

Relentless campaigns of misinformation — even those supported by seemingly endless financial resources — can indeed turn off voters. Add in the senseless legislative pursuits of ultraconservatives in control in Topeka, and more reasonable Republicans now have an attractive opening.

The governor is vulnerable, and the faster his opponents move, the better. A GOP primary challenge would compel Brownback to defend a record that’s shaky at best. Otherwise, the ultraconservative camp gets a pass in August — one it does not deserve.

Kansas’ future is worth more of a fight.

Dena Sattler is editor and publisher of the Garden City Telegram. Previously, she was assistant publisher of The Ottawa Herald. E-mail her at denas@gctelegram.com

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