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Morning Sun
  • INSIGHT KANSAS: History and the Governor

  • When historians review the Brownback era in Kansas state government, they are likely to marvel that the political agenda in Topeka was driven by a series of gambles – long shots that the state couldn’t have covered if conservatives had lost their bets.

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  • When historians review the Brownback era in Kansas state government, they are likely to marvel that the political agenda in Topeka was driven by a series of gambles – long shots that the state couldn’t have covered if conservatives had lost their bets.
    Digging through news accounts, government documents and other archives from this period, historians may be puzzled that Gov. Sam Brownback and conservative Republican leaders repeatedly placed high-stakes ideological wagers on policy issues and exhibited an un-Republican disregard for risk and the virtue of political pragmatism.
    Those who study the early 21st century in Kansas may be particularly intrigued by the activist zeal that defined this brand of conservatism.
    Though historians will have plenty of examples to choose from, they likely will focus on three from the first two years of the Brownback Administration.
    First, as debate raged across the country about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a federal law disparaged as “Obamacare,” the governor decided not to wait for Thursday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to find out whether the state would have to implement mandatory health insurance coverage.
     Historians may be puzzled that almost a year before the Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act, and over the objections of the state insurance commissioner, Brownback returned to the federal government a $31.5 million grant that would have financed a health insurance exchange in Kansas.
    Historians may note that when the Supreme Court upheld the insurance mandate and the Brownback Administration lost the bet, Kansas was placed at a serious disadvantage, with no funding for an exchange to help consumers find health insurance and just five months from a deadline to submit a plan for implementation.
     A second political gamble that may intrigue historians of the future is Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s unyielding commitment to policing undocumented immigration, which placed him at odds with many Kansans in such traditional Republican constituencies as law enforcement, business and agriculture.
    Historians may make the connection between Kobach’s political ambition (being secretary of state was never his career goal, they may discern) and his after-hours work to draft legislation for other states to help them curtail illegal immigration. They may conclude that this ambitious young man bet his political future that the illegal immigration issue would propel him to prominence, only to find that voter ID and “show-me-your-papers” efforts had lost national momentum by the time he sought higher office.
    Even so, historians also may document Kobach’s tenacity, citing his declaration of victory after the Supreme Court invalidated significant parts of a law he helped draft for Arizona.
    Although it might be relegated to a footnote, some historian is likely to mention that the far right in Kansas politics went 0-2 against the Supreme Court in late June 2012, having bet on the losing sides of the significant political questions contained in the rulings on “Obamacare” and illegal immigration.
    Page 2 of 2 - Finally, historians may be astonished at the audacious gamble by Gov. Brownback, who won passage of a bill eliminating the state income tax on most small businesses and reducing it for individuals.
    Historians probably will devote a few paragraphs to explain that opponents of the tax cuts, including many Republicans, had warned that such deep reductions in revenue would bankrupt the state. Taking a long view of history, they also may note that Brownback’s supply-side approach to the state’s economy had led to higher taxes and budget deficits when deployed by previous Republicans.
    Even so, historians may chronicle Brownback’s ideological resolve in the face of opponents offering data to support their concerns. They’ll also likely mention Brownback’s appearance on national television in June 2012, in which he cheerfully conceded that the steep tax cuts were “a real-life experiment.”
     Yes, historians will have reason to marvel.
    Gwyn Mellinger writes for the Topeka Capital-Journal.

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