Three-party politics is back in Kansas. The parties consist of moderate Republicans, conservative Republicans, and Democrats. Deals being made and leadership changes afoot all point to a new era — but the state’s problems remain daunting.
In the race for House minority leader, the narrow defeat of the centrist, conciliatory Rep. Tom Burroughs (D-Kansas City) by the more partisan Jim Ward (D-Wichita) portends a new direction for Kansas Democrats.
Meanwhile, moderate Republicans — the other group gaining seats in 2016 — face cross pressures. They have won a number of significant committee spots and other positions, including more power over education funding.
However, recent votes for conservative leadership constitute a sharp reminder that moderate Republicans must work with their conservative party leaders.
Moderates backed conservative leaders. House Speaker- elect Ron Ryckman Jr. (R-Olathe), won on the second ballot, and Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita), who had no serious challenger, was re-elected. Then again, mods won several key committee posts and other important roles within the party caucuses, including House majority leader.
They have already realized that they have to pick and choose their battles while working within the party of Gov. Sam Brownback. They will probably focus on closing the LLC income-tax loophole and on education funding. These are great issues, and this is exactly what voters were promised.
Democrats have a much freer hand. While still badly outnumbered, they did pick up several House seats, notably in Wichita, plus one in the Senate. It now falls to Ward, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and their colleagues to lead, spelling out a clear agenda contrasting
with Brownback’s while reaching out to moderates and others for support. Democrats should fight for: Passing a new base fund ing formula that ensures stable school funding statewide — not just in Johnson County — while avoiding excessive dependence on property taxes.
Ending the pointless and
destructive “border war” tax breaks between Kansas and Missouri that reward the politically well-connected who shake down the system for millions but create no new jobs for the Kansas City area or for either state.
Bringing some sanity to the “constitutional carry” gun laws, starting with a return of the background check, permitting and training requirements for carrying a handgun. Local control over the issue also needs to return to the students and faculty on university campuses, where the pending imposition of concealed-carry is wildly unpopular.
Creating “lockboxes” to protect the highway, children’s health and other trust funds from any further diversion from their original purposes.
solutions to the state’s hemorrhaging budget mess and refusing to support any more one-time quick fixes until there is a plan.
Defending professional ism, experience and competence among state workers and opposing the return of political patronage.
A top-to-bottom audit of
KanCare — Brownback’s privatized approach to Medicaid — to see if the promised savings have materialized and to measure its impact on recipients. These include seniors, the developmentally disabled, those with mental illnesses and others requiring longterm care.
Moderate Republicans are still part of a conservative dominated party They will fight hard for their priorities, but must also pick their battles, often inside the caucus. It’s up to Ward, Hensley and their Democratic colleagues to show Kansans another way forward.
‘They will probably focus on closing the LLC income-tax loophole and on education funding.
These are great issues, and this is exactly what voters were promised.’
Michael Smith is a professor of political science at Emporia State University.