What Happened to Kansas?

WASHINGTON - MAY 18: Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), listens to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar testify during a Senate Energy and
WASHINGTON - MAY 18: Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), listens to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar testify during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on May 18, 2010 in Washington, DC. The committee is hearing testimony about the accident involving the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded and is now leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

"Sam Brownbeck tried to create a conservative utopia. He created a conservative hell instead." -- The New Republic

In his terrific book What's The Matter With Kansas?, Thomas Frank explores how a state with radical left-wing origins in the late 19th century became a hotbed of reactionary conservatism today.

Kansas has been something of a laboratory for conservative trickle-down economic policies and ideology since Governor Brownback took office in 2010 and to say the climate is reactionary would be being polite!

Until recently, according to Steve Benen writing in The MaddowBlog:: "Kansas has long been a red state, but it had a tradition of pragmatic, mainstream Republicans who were committed to responsible governance. Those Republicans were targeted, eliminated, and replaced with the radical GOP officials running the show now."

Taking office in 2010 Brownback promised policies that would deliver a "shot of adrenaline" for Kansas. He delivered and his medicine has left the patient comatose.

Brownback, like many Republican governors, fell into a sort of fiscal death spiral of cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations and then, upon finding tax coffers inevitably drained, draconian cuts to services with education and programs for the poor and middle class usually being the first on the chopping bloc.

In fact, Brownback cut school funding to such an extent the state supreme court ruled the cuts unconstitutional in 2014.

Brownback established an Office of the Repealer to take a scythe to regulations on business, he slashed spending on the poor by tightening welfare requirements, he rejected federal Medicaid subsidies and privatized the delivery of Medicaid, and he dissolved four state agencies and eliminated 2,000 state jobs. The heart of his program consisted of drastic tax cuts for the wealthy and eliminating taxes on income from profits for more than 100,000 Kansas businesses. No other state had gone this far. He was advised by the godfather of supply-side economics himself, the Reagan-era economist Arthur Laffer, who described the reforms as "a revolution in a cornfield."

When he ran for governor in 2010, he promised to boost the state's economy and ensure that "education funding goes to the classroom, not to the administration or the courtrooms." He even warned that Kansans couldn't "cut ... our way to growth." As soon as he was in office, however, the radical reemerged.


By June of 2014, the results of Brownback's economic reforms began to come in, and they weren't pretty. During the first fiscal year that his plan was in operation, which ended in June, the tax cuts had produced a staggering loss in revenue--$687.9 million, or 10.84 percent. According to the nonpartisan Kansas Legislative Research Department, the state risks running deficits through fiscal year 2019. Moody's downgraded the state's credit rating from AA1 to AA2; Standard & Poor's followed suit, which will increase the state's borrowing costs and further enlarge its deficit."

Brownback's policies have failed so much so that more than 100 current and former Republican elected officials endorsed his Democratic opponent in 2014.

After narrowly winning the election, Brownback slightly changed course. The state legislature passed bills to raise the sales tax and taxes on cigarettes to make up for some of the loss of tax revenues. Although this move bought state lawmakers some time, a $600 million deficit is still projected for the 2016 fiscal year.

Democrats, whose numbers have dwindled so precipitously as to be effectively impotent, objected to raising the sales tax which would hurt poor and middle class families disproportionately. Their objections were particularly pointed after "income taxes had been ended on 281,000 business owners and 53,000 farmers," according to wibw.com.

Brownback's experiment in creating a conservative utopia isn't limited to economic policy. Lawmakers approved legislation allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit and he signed what is arguably the nation's most restrictive abortion law.

Unsurprisingly, Koch Industries is based in Wichita, Kansas. The Koch brothers' contributions bankrolled the election of Brownback and resulted in the defeat of many of the moderate Republicans in the Kansas state legislature to Tea Party acolytes who helped pave the way for the implementation of the governor's radical agenda.

The Koch's libertarian philosophy is really more of a homage to greed and profit at the expense of the public good than any ostensible loyalty to liberty and personal freedoms!

Although Brownback showed some flexibility in his otherwise slavish devotion to his conservative philosophy after his re-election in 2014, conservative ideologues such as he rarely change course when their policies leave as destructive a path as any Category Five Hurricane.

As the saying goes: "Conservatism doesn't fail. It can only be failed." In this case, it appears Kansans failed Sam Brownback's dose of radical conservatism.