On Tuesday, moderates swept the Republican primary races in Kansas, ousting 14 conservative state legislator incumbents, and ushering another 7 moderates into open seats, a sign that many Kansans are not happy with Governor Sam Brownback’s slashes to government services. Grassroots groups, including Women for Kansas, are being credited with rallying voters to turn out for moderate candidates.
At the forefront of this election season are debates over education and transportation funding in Kansas. The state’s budget is in crisis after sweeping income tax cuts and the Governor’s decision to exempt some 330,000 small business owners from paying state income tax.
This plan did not lead to economic growth, but instead resulted in a $600 million deficit in 2015, demolishing revenue for schools, roads and public work projects, a necessity for transportation in large rural areas. There have been major cuts to funding for higher education, and the state has been appropriating money from the highway repair budget to fill holes in other government services. Kansas has had its state bonds downgraded by credit rating agencies three times in just two years.
The Governor won re-election in 2014, but is becoming increasingly unpopular, with a current approval rating of just 15%.
The state’s Senate majority leader and one of Brownback’s closest allies, Terry Bruce, lost his primary to former community college president, Ed Berger, by 14 percentage points. Berger ran on a platform of reinstituting funding into the state’s school system.
More than $300,000 was spent by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce in support of conservative candidates, which was matched by more than $235,000 by the Kansas National Education Association, who lobbied for more moderate candidates.
While the Governor’s office attempted to attribute the conservatives’ losses to widespread disapproval of incumbents at all levels of government, the anti-Governor message of many moderates’ campaigns tells a different story of a voter block fed up with Brownback’s unsuccessful fiscal strategy. Mark Peterson, professor of political science at Washburn University, says voters no longer wanted Kansas to be the negative example on the national stage.
Some have suggested that no matter who wins in November, moderate Republicans and Democrats will be able to band together to block the Governor’s agenda.