An equilibrium in state politics will shift in 2011

Sen. Sam Brownback is again without a credible opponent. Democrat Tom Wiggans dropped out of the race Wednesday. Wiggans, who made a fortune in the pharmaceutical industry in California, decided he didn’t have a chance and opted not to spend the time and money a hopeless campaign would cost.
Wiggans chose wisely. He hasn’t lived in Kansas for years. His name recognition is zero, both with voters and party donors. Brownback has spent his adult life in the public eye — and has millions in the bank from money donated to him while he was in the Senate.
It would be difficult to imagine a more unequal contest.
As of today, Sen. Brownback has no opponent of standing in the Republican primary, and the only Democrat seeking the nomination is Herbert West III of Paola, who ran unsuccessfully for Miami County sheriff in 2008.
The senator can do his campaigning without leaving his living room.

BROWNBACK’S pending coronation as governor next year will change the political climate in Topeka dramatically.
Kansas governors Bill Graves and Kathleen Sebelius, each of whom served two terms, both were women’s rights moderates who vetoed efforts by Republican radicals to make it more difficult for women to make their own reproductive decisions. Brownback’s election as governor will put an anti-abortion zealot in power and almost certainly result in making Kansas a poster state for that cause.
On a much broader range of issues, Graves and Sebelius also favored expansion of health care programs and adequate funding for the public schools and the state’s universities. In comparison to a majority of the Republicans in the Legislature, both were progressives.
As governor, Brownback will most probably side with the conservative Republican majorities in both the House and Senate and resist any increase in spending even if the state’s economy recovers and state revenues revive.
This prediction is made on the basis of the senator’s brief campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2008 in which he proposed further tax cuts as a recipe for job creation and with his campaigns for the House and Senate in mind. No one on the Kansas political scene has been a more consistent advocate for lower government spending, fewer government initiatives.
He has said that economic development will be his primary goal as governor and, without being specific, indicated that he will advocate business-friendly tax breaks to stimulate the state economy.
For 16 years moderate governors have pushed conservative legislators to spend more on schools, highways, parks, health care and higher education and have enjoyed a measure of success. That pressure to push state programs forward will end when Gov. Brownback takes the oath of office. Come January 2011, a huge majority of the state’s decision-makers will be sitting on the same side of the teeter-totter.
Four very interesting years will begin on that inauguration day for our dear, old state.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.