The defining issue in state elections is candidates’ positions regarding “the path of our economic recovery.” So wrote Republican state Rep. Steven Becker of Hutchinson in a recent letter to the Hutchinson News, as he asked, “Does the candidate sup-port a reassess-ment of our tax policy or is everything working just fine?”
In other words, does the candidate believe Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax experi-ment has brought on deficit spending, and downgraded credit, higher sales and pro-perty taxes, lagging econ-omic growth, and inade-quate funding of the state’s primary obligation — public education — and should be reassessed?
Or does the candidate believe the governor’s exp-eriment is working just fine?
Republican voters have a chance in primary elections, advance voting for which is already under way, to address Becker’s question.
Registered voters unaffiliated with any political party may also weigh in, if they choose, by showing up at the polls, to regis-ter as a Republican and voting.
Brownback is running for re-election in a contested Repub-lican primary, and Republican voters may show their support for his path to recovery by backing him. Or they may express their opposition by voting for his primary opponent, Jennifer Winn of Haysville.
Winn has been largely ignored by the media, but in a recent independent survey she attract-ed 37 percent of likely Repub-lican voters statewide in a head-to-head contest with Brownback. Winn bested Brownback by more than two-to-one among voters who believe education funding is the most important issue in the election; most surprising, she led the incumbent among Wichita-area Republicans.
Support for Winn likely rep-resents a protest against Brown-back 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 name recognition, helped derail the re-election of former Republican governors William Avery, Bob Bennett and Mike Hayden. Those primaries suggest that if Winn polls 25 percent or more, Brownback is headed for trouble in the gen-eral election, and his tax experi-ment 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 opportunity to weigh in on the divergent paths to economic recovery. Assessing these candidates will require diligence, as voters are bom-barded with robocalls and a flurry of artfully crafted, fact-deficient campaign flyers.
Voters who support the gov-ernor may look to the Kansas Chamber Political Action Com-mittee, which endorsed candidates in 26 of the 30 contested races. The Cham-ber aided Brownback in crafting his experiment.
Or voters may view the Kansas Chamber as selling “modern-day economic snake oil,” as noted by former Republican Party State Chairperson Rochelle Chronister. She adds that the Chamber is backing “incum-bents 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 direction of state poli-tics. So check out the candidates. Get out and vote on Aug. 5.