Editorial: A small state with a big impact

Kansas still has a prominent voice in national debates over voting rights and tax policy

The Kansas State Capitol in July 2017. (File photo/The Capital-Journal)

Kansas has had an outsized impact on national politics lately. While we sometimes lament the national embarrassments we’ve endured (such as the highly publicized failure of the Brownback tax cuts and Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s dishonest claims about voter fraud), there are also reasons to embrace our disproportionate influence. Our state may account for only 0.9 percent of the U.S. population, but the country has been paying close attention to what goes on here.

 

This gives Kansans an opportunity to affect the national conversation on a range of important issues. For example, there are good reasons why the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, Dale Ho, has described Kansas as the “epicenter of voter suppression.” With the passage of the Secure and Fair Elections Act in 2011, Kansas established some of the most prohibitive election laws in the country. The state also introduced the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program in 2005 — a system that has put millions of voter records at risk with its shoddy security protocols and labeled a huge number of legitimate voters “potential duplicate registrants.”

As the ACLU of Kansas notes, “Since 2010, states have passed a string of new measures limiting the right to vote.” Kobach has worked to impose these measures across the country, but he has faced substantial opposition in his own state. After thousands of Kansans were disenfranchised after failing to produce citizenship documents when they registered, the ACLU launched several successful lawsuits against Kobach and restored their right to vote. Kansans have witnessed the effects of Kobach’s campaign of voter suppression firsthand, and this gives us an informed and unique perspective on similar initiatives in other states.

Although the GOP’s deficit-exploding tax bill already passed, Kansans still have an important role to play in national debates on tax policy. A Dec. 21 editorial in The Wall Street Journal demonstrates why: “Congress passed the most sweeping tax reform since 1986 on Wednesday, and with any luck that success for the country will trigger a new reform debate in many states.” Many conservative state lawmakers, commentators and think tanks will be calling for tax reform as legislatures convene in 2018.

According to The Wall Street Journal’s editorial, “high-tax Midwestern states such as Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota” will be under pressure to “reduce their rates” this year. A Nov. 30 story in The Des Moines Register explained that this will probably be the case in Iowa: “State tax reform will be a top priority for majority Republicans who will control the Iowa Legislature in the 2018 session, which convenes in early January, GOP legislative leaders said Thursday.” Meanwhile, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the most well-known gubernatorial candidate in Kansas (Kobach) describes the repeal of Brownback’s tax cuts as “disastrous.”

While it’s unclear if other states will try to adopt tax reforms that are as radical as Brownback’s experiment, Kansans shouldn’t let their fellow Americans forget what happened in their state. After the cuts were implemented, revenue immediately collapsed by around $700 million and never recovered. This led to massive budget shortfalls, slashed appropriations for state agencies, credit downgrades and depleted reserves.

As a new year begins, Kansas lawmakers, advocates, policy experts and citizens should continue to share what we’ve learned over the past few years.

CORRECTION: This article originally stated that Kansas comprises 0.009 percent of the U.S. population. The correct number is 0.9 percent.

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.

 

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