Tag Archives: Kansas

Lessons from Kansas

Remember the book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” If we ask that question today,  the obvious answer is Sam Brownback (and in all fairness, the Kansans who elected–and inexplicably re-elected– him.)

Brownback took office in January of 2011. Like Indiana’s Mike Pence, Brownback had Republican majorities in both legislative houses, and together they were able to implement what Rolling Stone has called “the Republicans’ wet dream agenda.”

They passed huge tax cuts for the wealthy along with tax cuts on business profits, significantly reduced business regulations, and at the same time cut spending on welfare, rejected federal Medicaid money, and put the delivery of Medicaid services into private hands.

One of Brownback’s advisors was Arthur Laffer—best known for the “Laffer curve”–the theory that reducing tax rates leads to higher tax revenues. Laffer’s theory was the impetus for Reagan’s tax cuts; he has called what Kansas Republicans did “a revolution in a cornfield.” Other advisors included Steve Anderson, from the Koch brother’s Americans for Prosperity.

Whatever Kansas is these days, however, it sure isn’t prosperous.

As New York magazine recently reported in an article characterizing Kansas as a “parallel political universe,” the “revolution in the cornfield” has left the state in a world of hurt.

Marginal gains at the municipal level were dwarfed by the $688 million loss that Brownback’s budget wrought in its first year of operation. Meanwhile, Kansas’s job growth actually trailed that of its neighboring states. With that nearly $700 million deficit, the state had bought itself a 1.1 percent increase in jobs, just below Missouri’s 1.5 percent and Colorado’s 3.3.

Those numbers have hardly improved in the intervening years. In 2015, job growth in Kansas was a mere 0.1 percent, even as the nation’s economy grew 1.9 percent. Brownback pledged to bring 100,000* new jobs to the state in his second term; as of January, he has brought 700. What’s more, personal income growth slowed dramatically since the tax cuts went into effect. Between 2010 and 2012, Kansas saw income growth of 6.1 percent, good for 12th in the nation; from 2013 to 2015, that rate was 3.6 percent, good for 41st.

Meanwhile, revenue shortfalls have devastated the state’s public sector along with its most vulnerable citizens. Since Brownback’s inauguration, 1,414 Kansans with disabilities have been thrown off  Medicaid. In 2015, six school districts in the state were forced to end their years early for lack of funding. Cuts to health and human services are expected to cause 65 preventable deaths this year in Sedgwick County alone. In February, tax receipts came in $53 million below estimates; Brownback immediately cut $17 million from the state’s university system. This data is not lost on the people of Kansas — as of November, Brownback’s approval rating was 26 percent, the lowest of any governor in the United States.

This is what happens when people elect stubborn ideologues unwilling to learn from reality or experience. (Here in Indiana, we’re about to see whether Hoosier voters have learned anything about returning ideologues to office.)

If Brownback had been Governor of Kansas when that storm blew her away, Dorothy probably would have stayed in Oz.

Think “It Can’t Happen Here”? It Does.

According to recent media reports, a former Kansas state employee has filed a federal wrongful termination lawsuit, alleging that the employee’s dismissal was founded on her refusal to attend bible and prayer services in Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office.

The defendants have admitted that regular evangelical church services were held in Secretary of State Kobach’s office–led by a “voluntary minister” with something called the “Capitol Commission,” a ministry focused solely on evangelizing Kansas’ government leaders.

I guess they missed that whole “no religious test for public office” part of the U.S. Constitution.

Coming on the heels of Kentucky’s Kim Davis (“I won’t do my job unless I can impose my religious views on others”) controversy, the news from Kansas has prompted a number of Hoosiers to shake their heads and make sympathetic noises–tsk-tsking not just about Kentucky and Kansas but also about presumed behaviors in other “backward” Bible Belt states.

As if it weren’t happening right here in Indiana.

I have former students working in the Pence Administration, and their stories are consistent and every bit as disturbing as those coming out of Kansas. These students report (nervously, after extracting sworn promises not to identify them or their agencies) receiving persistent email “invitations” to attend prayer meetings in the Governor’s office, being required to hire otherwise unqualified personnel who “go to the right church,” being criticized for the absence of bibles on their desks…and dealing with superiors who have no experience with or interest in governance and even less tolerance for public servants unwilling to approach their positions as “ministries.”

Several of those former students have left government, and they aren’t alone. (Although our crack media has failed to note or report on the matter, I’m told the turnover of agency executives during the Pence Administration has far exceeded the usual rate.)

If we still had reporters, an investigation of this Administration’s preoccupation with religion and its imposition of constitutionally forbidden religious tests would make interesting reading.

 

Would You Like a Side of Humiliation with That?

Do you suppose the Wicked Witch was green because she envied Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s heartlessness? I mean, she was from Kansas.

Since his election, Brownback has doggedly followed the True Conservative Playbook, not allowing his state’s resulting fiscal crisis to deter him from his ideological certitude. He’s cut taxes for the rich and services for everyone else; he’s signed increasingly draconian anti-abortion bills and bills eliminating even modest restrictions on gun ownership; and he’s been especially enthusiastic about shaming and punishing the people his policies have hurt the most: the poor.

Brownback has steadfastly refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would have paid for that expansion, but evidently just denying poor folks access to health insurance wasn’t mean-spirited enough for Brownback and Kansas lawmakers.

As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank recently wrote

Last week, the Kansas legislature passed House Bill 2258, punishing the poor by limiting their cash withdrawals of welfare benefits to $25 per day and forbidding them to use their benefits “in any retail liquor store, casino, gaming establishment, jewelry store, tattoo parlor, massage parlor, body piercing parlor, spa, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store, vapor cigarette store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility, pari-mutuel facility, or sexually oriented business . . . or in any business or retail establishment where minors under age 18 are not permitted.”

Because, you know, freedom.

Of course, poor people in Kansas can still use their benefits to buy guns and ammunition…And really, aren’t you tired of running into all those welfare moms on cruise ships?

Jon Stewart summed it up best in a biting Daily Show opening bit (I will SO miss him!)

Remind me–where in that bible they keep thumping does Jesus tell “good Christians” like Brownback to “shame and demean the poor, for they are wretched in the sight of God”??

 

 

Brace for Blowback…

Or was that Brownback? As in retrograde Governor of Kansas?

According to AP,

Brownback rescinded an executive order issued in August 2007 by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The order applied to hiring and employment decisions by agencies under the governor’s direct control and required them to create anti-harassment policies as well.

 Brownback has defended his state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage,  which was recently invalidated by the federal courts. Apparently, this was his “I’ll show you” revenge.

At the same time he rescinded the order, which he criticized as “unilateral” (I think Executive Orders are “unilateral” by definition…) Brownback issued a new order reaffirming the state’s commitment to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, gender or religion. In other words, Kansans shouldn’t pick on people unless they’re gay.

“This executive order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did,” Brownback said in a brief statement. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the Legislature and not through unilateral action.”…

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay-rights group, said the jobs of hundreds of gay, lesbian and transgendered workers are now at risk, after they’ve spent nearly a decade believing they were safe on the job after disclosing their orientation or gender identity.

Two steps forward (aka same-sex marriage), one step back.

Kansas should be ashamed.

 

Chutzpah, Modern Edition

Chutzpah is a yiddish word meaning gall or nerve–but to the nth degree. Remember this oldie? “Question: what’s an example of chutzpah? Answer: a man kills his mother and father, then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.”

The Kansas legislature has updated the concept.

After Kansas courts ordered the state legislature to provide more funding for K-12 education, the legislature passed and sent to the governor a bill (HB 2338) that provides as follows:

1)      It allocates $2 million additional funding for the Kansas judiciary for the upcoming fiscal year;

2)     It increases various court fees;

3)      It strips the Kansas Supreme Court of the power to control local court budgets, personnel systems, and manage other administrative costs;

4)      It strips the Kansas Supreme Court of its existing power to designate local Chief Judges;

5)      And–ta da!– the icing on the chutzpah cake: it provides that if the Court strikes down any of these provisions as unconstitutional, the entire bill fails (including and most especially the extra funding).

File under “we’ll show you!”

The Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court has pointed out that this bill is a direct assault on judicial independence–a major element of our constitutional system.

How much would you like to bet that the lawmakers who passed this measure carry small copies of the Constitution in their pockets, wear flag pins, and piously proclaim their devotion to “original intent”?

Assaulting separation of powers, the very basis of our constitutional architecture, while proclaiming your devotion to the nation’s charter–that’s chutzpah!