Friday, October 31, 2014

FLENTJE: Defining issue of economic recovery

By H. EDWARD FLENTJE, Insight Kansas | 7/23/2014

The defining issue in our coming state elections is each candidate’s position regarding “the path of our economic recovery.” So wrote state Rep. Steven Becker, R-Hutchinson, in a recent letter to the Hutchinson News, as he asked: “Does the candidate support a reassessment of our tax policy or is everything working just fine?”

In other words, does the candidate believe Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax experiment has brought on unprecedented deficit spending, soaring debt and downgraded credit, higher sales taxes and property taxes, lagging economic growth, and inadequate funding of the state’s primary obligation, public education, and should be reassessed?

The defining issue in our coming state elections is each candidate’s position regarding “the path of our economic recovery.” So wrote state Rep. Steven Becker, R-Hutchinson, in a recent letter to the Hutchinson News, as he asked: “Does the candidate support a reassessment of our tax policy or is everything working just fine?”

In other words, does the candidate believe Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax experiment has brought on unprecedented deficit spending, soaring debt and downgraded credit, higher sales taxes and property taxes, lagging economic growth, and inadequate funding of the state’s primary obligation, public education, and should be reassessed?

Or does the candidate believe the governor’s experiment is working just fine?

Republican voters have an early opportunity to address Becker’s question in the Aug. 5 primary elections, now just two weeks away.

Registered voters unaffiliated with any political party may also weigh in, should they choose, by showing up at the polls on Election Day, registering as a Republican, and voting.

Incumbent Brownback is running for re-election in a contested Republican primary, and Republican voters may show their support for his path to recovery by backing him in the primary. Or they may express their opposition by voting for his GOP primary opponent, Jennifer Winn, Haysville.

Winn has been largely ignored by the media, but in a recent independent survey she attracted 37 percent of likely Republican voters statewide in a head-to-head contest with Brownback. Winn bested Brownback by more than 2-to-1 among voters who believe education funding is the most important issue in the election; most shockingly, she led the incumbent governor among Wichita-area Republicans.

Support for Winn likely represents a protest against Brownback and his risky course on state finance, rather than an immediate threat. But history shows that protest votes by Kansas Republicans do not bode well for incumbent governors. Primary challengers, even those with little or no name recognition, helped derail the reelection of former Republican Govs. William Avery, Robert Bennett, and Mike Hayden. Those primaries suggest that if Winn polls 25 percent or more, Brownback is headed for trouble in the general election, and his tax experiment will undergo reassessment.

In other races across the state, one in every four seats in the Kansas House is being contested by Republican candidates in the primary, offering Republican voters another key opportunity to weigh in on the divergent paths to economic recovery. Assessing these candidates will require more diligence, as voters are bombarded with robocalls and a flurry of artfully crafted, fact-deficient campaign flyers.

Voters who support the governor might look to the Kansas Chamber Political Action Committee that endorsed candidates in 26 of the 30 contested races. The Chamber aided Brownback in crafting and enacting his experiment. [In local races, the Kansas Chamber endorsed Bob Fluke, R-Ottawa, for House District 59, and state Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville. Jones is uncontested in the primary.]

Or voters might view the Kansas Chamber as selling “modern-day, economic snake oil,” as noted by former Republican Party State Chair Rochelle Chronister. She adds that the Chamber is backing “incumbents who helped create the largest deficit in the history of our state” and other candidates who “push an out-of-step, economic agenda that will force sales and property taxes to skyrocket.”

Republican primary voters have the first opportunity to shape the future direction of state politics. So, check out the candidates. Get out and vote Aug. 5.

H. Edward Flentje is a professor at Wichita State University and a member of the Insight Kansas writer’s group.

comments powered by Disqus