Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Could November Prove To Be A Wipeout For Kansas Republican Extremists?


Kansas has been nearly a one party state for a very long time. Ravaged by the Republican Party's Great Depression, Kansans voted for Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 (against Hoover) and in 1936 (against Alf Landon, their former governor). After that they went back to their innate conservatism, backing Wendell Willkie against Roosevelt in 1940 and Thomas Dewey against Roosevelt in 1944. There have been 17 presidential elections since then and the only time Kansas voted for a Democrats was in 1964 when they backed LBJ over Goldwater 54.09- 45.06. In 2012 Kansas was one of the only states that failed to give President Obama even 40% of the vote, the rest being primarily bastions of vicious and sick racism. Since 1900 Kansas has elected exactly two Democrats, William Thompson in 1913 (one term) and George McGill in a 1930 special election to replace a Republican. who died in office. Chances are, the only Kansas senators you've ever known of were Republican James Pearson (1962-1978), Republican Bob Dole (1969-1996), Republican Nancy Kassebaum (1978-1997), Republican Sam Brownback (1996-2011), Republican Pat Roberts (current) and Republican Jerry Moran (current). No one imagined that in what's shaping up to be a very Republican year, Kansas might throw out the current Republican, a very senile 78 year old Pat Roberts. And not just Roberts. Kansans may not be ready to embrace Obama but the Koch-owned state has come to realize that the GOP has been absolutely toxic for them.

The state has a lopsided Republican legislature-- 31 Republicans and 9 Democrats in the state Senate and 90 Republicans and 35 Democrats in the House. And it's not all gerrymandering. 790,345 (44.6%) of the voters are registered Republicans and only 446,237 (25.2%) are Democrats-- significantly less than Independents. But then along came Governor Brownback to turn the state into a laboratory for crackpot, extreme right-wing theories.
Brownback's tax cut proposal came as Kansas's revenues were on an upswing. Spending cuts and a one-cent sales tax passed by Brownback's Democratic predecessor had combined with economic growth to give Kansas a surplus. Now, Brownback argued, his tax cuts would lead to even more success. "I firmly believe these reforms will set the stage for strong economic growth in Kansas," he said. The governor proposed to cut income taxes on the state's highest earners from 6.45 percent to 4.9 percent, to simplify tax brackets, and to eliminate state income taxes on most small business income entirely. In a nod to fiscal responsibility, though, he proposed to end several tax deductions and exemptions, including the well-liked home mortgage interest deduction. This would help pay for the cuts. Yet as the bill went through the state Senate, these deductions proved too popular, and legislators voted to keep them all. The bill's estimated price tag rose from about $105 million to $800 million, but Brownback kept supporting it anyway. "I'm gonna sign this bill, I'm excited about the prospects for it, and I'm very thankful for how God has blessed our state," he said.

Democrats, and some Republicans, weren't buying it. "It bankrupts the state within two years," said Rochelle Chronister, a former state GOP chair who helped organize moderate Republicans against Brownback's agenda. And the House Democratic leader, Paul Davis, laid down a marker. "There is no feasible way that private-sector growth can accommodate the price tag of this tax cut," he said. "Our $600 million surplus will become a $2.5 billion deficit within just five years." In return, Brownback's administration claimed the bill would create 23,000 jobs by 2020, and would lead 35,000 more people to move to Kansas.

After the cuts became law, it was undisputed that Kansas's revenue collections would fall. But some supply-side analysts, like economist Arthur Laffer, argued that increased economic growth would deliver more revenue that would help cushion this impact.

Yet it's now clear that the revenue shortfalls are much worse than expected. "State general fund revenue is down over $700 million from last year," Duane Goossen, a former state budget director, told me. "That's a bigger drop than the state had in the whole three years of the recession," he said-- and it's a huge chunk of the state's $6 billion budget. Goossen added that the Kansas's surplus, which had been replenished since the recession, "is now being spent at an alarming, amazing rate."

Kansas has to balance its budget every year, so when that surplus runs out, further spending cuts will be necessary. The declining revenues have necessitated extensive cuts in state education funding, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Moody's cut of the state's bond rating this May was another embarrassment. And the economic benefits Brownback promised haven't materialized either. Chris Ingraham wrote at Wonkblog that Kansas's job growth has lagged behind the rest of the country, "especially in the years following the first round of Brownback tax cuts."

…Brownback's approval rating has plummeted-- in a recent poll by PPP, his 33 percent was actually lower than Barack Obama's 34 percent approval. This is good news for state House Democratic leader Paul Davis, who announced his run for governor last September. "I'm profoundly troubled by the direction our state has been heading over the past three years," he said in his first campaign email. "The wealthiest and well connected have gotten all the breaks, and the Kansas economy feels broken." In the most recent poll of the race, Davis leads Brownback by 6 points.
Yesterday, the first public poll in Kansas was reported since Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out of the race, leaving Roberts to face Independent Greg Orman. The top 3 Republicans on the ballot, Pat Roberts, Sam Brownback and the neo-fascist Secretary of State Chris Kobach are all losing.
As of today, 09/08/14, about 7 in 10 Kansas likely voters are aware that Democrat Chad Taylor has withdrawn from the race, with a formal request that his name be taken off the ballot. About 6 in 10 Kansas likely voters are aware that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican in his own tight-fight for re-election (more on that in a moment), has inserted himself into the fray and refuses to remove Democrat Taylor from the ballot. That creates a nightmare for state and national party officials, for Kansas voters, and for public opinion pollsters. At this hour, subject to possible lawsuits and back-room bargains which could further upend the race, Independent Greg Orman and Roberts are effectively tied, 37% for Orman, 36% for Roberts, 10% for Taylor, 6% for Libertarian Randall Batson. The exact wording of the question that SurveyUSA asked respondents is: "If there were an election for US Senate today, and Democrat Chad Taylor's name still appeared on the ballot even though he no longer wants to run, and the other names on the ballot were Republican Pat Roberts, Independent Greg Orman, and Libertarian Randall Batson, who would you vote for?" Orman gets 52% of the Democratic vote, 42% of the independent vote, and 26% of the Republican vote. Roberts holds 59% of the Republican base, and is backed by 11% of Democrats, and 16% of independents. Orman leads among the most educated voters and among the most affluent voters. The contest is effectively tied in Greater Wichita, and effectively tied in greater Kansas City KS. Orman has a slight lead in greater Topeka. Voters focused on the economy back Orman over Roberts 3:2. Voters focused on Obamacare back Roberts over Orman 2:1.

…Kobach's insertion into the Senate contest did nothing, at first blush, to help his own campaign for re-election. 2 weeks ago, KSN-TV and SurveyUSA had Kobach tied with Democratic challenger Jean Schodorf. Today, the contest is still within the theoretical margin of sampling error, but Schodorf now has a nominal 3-point advantage, 46% to 43%. Men don't take kindly to Kobach's interference. 2 weeks ago, Kobach had led by 10 among male likely voters, now by 3. And residents of greater Kansas City KS don't take kindly to Kobach either. In that part of the state, Kobach had been tied with Schodorf, but today the Democrat Schodorf leads by 7.

…Sitting on the sidelines, ostensibly minding his own business, is incumbent Republican Governor Sam Brownback. Brownback could fairly be accused of being, in a "wave-election" year when Republicans are expected to win statehouse and congressional contests coast-to-coast, the falling tide that is sinking all Kansas Republican boats. Brownback was already in trouble long before anyone was worried about Roberts and long before anyone outside of Kansas knew Kobach's name. Now, Brownback is staring at basically the same "upside-down" numbers that he howled about when SurveyUSA released them 2 weeks ago. Today, Brownback is down 7 points to Democratic challenger Paul Davis. The Democratic ticket of Davis and Jill Docking gets 47% today, the Republican ticket of Brownback and Lt. Gov Jeff Colyer gets 40%… Brownback holds 66% of the Republican base and 74% of the conservative vote. Brownback is down 22 points among independents and down 47 points among moderates.

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