In an August column in The Topeka Capital-Journal, Washburn political scientist Bob Beatty noted the “near-continuous pattern of political and policy experimentation, tumult and revolution under the direction of Gov. Sam Brownback and (Kris) Kobach.”
There’s a reason why Kansas has had an outsized impact on national politics for a state of only 3 million people. From repressive voter ID laws to ultra-restrictive welfare policies to a stubborn refusal to expand Medicaid to massive tax cuts that cost billions of dollars over a few years, Brownback and other leaders in our state have been trying to construct a radically conservative model for the rest of the country.
Brownback has been explicit about this ambition. When he was interviewed about the state’s welfare policies earlier this year, he said, “I think you’re going to see a number of the things we’ve done expand across the country.”
When he delivered the weekly GOP address in 2013, he described Kansas as a model on tax reform. And in a recent interview with The Associated Press, he reflected on the influence Kansas has had nationally: “It’s amazing to me that a tax cut in Kansas was the dominant tax debate in this nation over the last five years.”
Of course, he also insists that it’s only a matter of time before states start emulating his fiscal policies: “I think you will see a lot of places start to tinker with, how do you stimulate small-business growth using this pass-through tax model.” Despite the devastating consequences of the Brownback “model” in our state — constant revenue shortfalls, credit downgrades, depleted reserves, stagnant economic growth, national humiliation, etc. — he still thinks other states are eager to be just like Kansas.
Although Congress just passed a disastrously familiar package of tax cuts, there’s no sign that states will be making the same mistake any time soon.
And it isn’t just Brownback — Secretary of State Kris Kobach has established himself as the most visible champion of stricter voter ID laws in the country. This is why the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, Dale Ho, calls Kansas the “epicenter of voter suppression.”
Kobach was one of the main authors of Arizona’s notorious “show me your papers” law, and he’s now the vice chairman of President Trump’s voter fraud commission. From his frequent appearances on national news networks to his Breitbart columns, Kobach has become the most vociferous critic of what he sees as intolerably lax election laws. And like most ideologues, he’s totally allergic to evidence: He defended Trump’s ridiculous claim that “millions” of people voted illegally in the 2016 election and even wrote a column about his nonexistent “proof” of widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire’s Senate race.
Now Kobach is running for governor on a platform of extreme conservatism and Trumpian populism. He describes Kansas as the “sanctuary state of the Midwest,” assures Kansans that he’ll “drain the swamp” in Topeka and promises to rid our state of its “culture of corruption.” Oh, and he wants to restore Brownback’s tax cuts. Here’s how his campaign announcement video ends: “We can be number one. Let’s make it happen. Let’s lead again.”
Kobach is just another hyper-ideological conservative who wants Kansas to be a “leader” that the rest of the country will emulate, which is why he has been a tireless evangelist for the state’s hardline approach to voter fraud (and legislation like the Secure and Fair Elections Act) across the country. But we’re tired of politicians who use our state as a lab for their political experiments, and Kansans should refuse to be guinea pigs when election season comes around.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.