Panel of experts takes critical look at Kansas politics

opinions

December 1, 2012 - 12:00 AM

Kansas governors are held accountable by the voters, Burdett Loomis told a crowd at Washburn University Thursday night, a fact that could lead to a change of leadership in Kansas in 2014, he said.
Dr. Loomis is a widely quoted political scientist at the University of Kansas and was one of six prominent academics who analyzed the impact of the 2012 election on Kansas politics in a roundtable discussion at the Washburn School of Law.
He went on to say that the people of Kansas may decide in 2014 that the drastic cuts in the state budget required by this year’s across-the-board income tax cuts were not a good idea. Loomis noted that students of the budget forecast large spending cuts, which could only come from education, health care, highways and prisons — all state responsibilities with broad popular support. Slashing spending on those essential state activities might cause the public to vote against tax and spending cuts, he surmised.
Dr. Joe Aistrup of Kansas State University said he thought the budget cuts would create pressure for consolidation, “which is the longest four-letter word in the political lexicon,” and draw an angry response from voters.
Joining Loomis and Aistrup in this discussion were Dr. Bob Beatty of Washburn, Dr. Michael Smith of Emporia State University, Dr. Mark Peterson of Washburn and Dr. Gwyn Mellinger of Baker University. The forum was broadcast over public television.
While agreeing that Kansas had had a national reputation for progressive policies in the recent past, all of the speakers also agreed that Gov. Sam Brownback and the current Republican majorities in the Legislature have carried the state far to the right side of the political spectrum.
Dr. H. Edward Flentje, a professor of public administration at Wichita State University and co-author with Dr. Aistrup of “Kansas Politics and Government,” told an attentive audience that Kansas was not alone in electing a state government controlled by a single party. “The blue states got bluer and the red states got redder in the 2012 election,” he said
Many states — including Kansas — now have super-majorities of the dominant party, he said, “so I think we are going to see some creative stuff coming out of state governments” as those power blocs seek to put their ideologies into law.
Aistrup agreed. He said Kansas government has been financed in the past with roughly equal revenue from property taxes, income taxes and sales taxes. “Gov. Brownback has said it’s not going to be that way any more,” that the burden will be borne primarily by the sales tax and the property tax as he and the Legislature continue to slash income taxes on individuals and businesses.
Aistrup also noted that Kansas was once noted for moderate Republican leaders but that the moderate Republican has been “retired, defeated or converted and is now an extinct species.”
He and others on the panel observed that November’s election strengthened the national trend toward “political sectionalism,” with the coasts and New England voting solidly Democratic and the South and Midwest voting Republican.
Dr. Smith of Emporia pointed out what he considers an anomaly: Rep. Tim Huelscamp of the First District represents western Kansas, which is the congressional district most heavily dependent upon federal farm programs of any in Kansas. Yet Huels-camp is the most vehemently small-government conservative of the six Kansas members of Congress.
The contrast between the congressman’s philosophy and the needs of his constituents is stark, Smith said.
Dr. Beatty observed that the 2012 election demonstrated the importance of presidential debates and noted that Kansas doesn’t have a gubernatorial debate commission.
“We should create one, but it probably won’t happen unless the people demand it,” he said.
Mellinger of Baker University was the only member of the panel who was not a political scientist. “That’s why I wanted to be last,” she said. She teaches communications and spent the election year observing how political candidates interacted with the media.
“By and large, I think Kansas newspapers, radio and television stations did a good job of covering the state campaign and letting the public know where the candidates stood, but there were two concerns that grew in my mind during the year. One was that the recession and the changes in the industry have combined to reduce the number of reporters in the field so that sometimes political events went uncovered and unreported. The other, that some candidates have decided that they don’t need to contact the media and give them interviews.
“Sometimes this is because the candidates don’t want to answer tough questions. Another, which is even more disturbing, is that they and their advisers have decided they would rather contact voters with direct mail pieces and advertisements, which only give the voters a one-sided view.”

— Emerson Lynn, jr.

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