Living in Society

Kansas Connections

Kansas Grass Fire. Photo Credit: Travis Morisse/The Hutchinson News via AP

I’d go back to Kansas for a visit.

More specifically, I’d like to see the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene.

Not that I like Ike or have many memories of his administration. He was president at a time when our family was unsettled. After we moved to a permanent home in 1959, my neighborhood friends were consumed with talk about World War II, including Eisenhower, because so many we knew had been in the war. Eisenhower was of that era which was eclipsed by John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. I don’t recall Nixon speaking much to Eisenhower as the aging soldier faded into history in 1969.

In 2007 I traveled to Kansas on business. It was a hopeless sales call that mustered some of our logistics company’s best talent for a whim. During nights in Parsons and Wichita I posted about Kansas and the demise of coal-fired electricity there. Political uncertainty about greenhouse gas emissions was killing capital investment in new coal plants in Wyoming and Kansas.

I’d return to Wichita to see where the Kochs came up. I doubt I could walk up to Charles Koch’s front door and find him home, but I’d make a special side trip enroute to Abilene to see Wichita through that frame.

Today, “Kansas” and “the Koch Brothers” have become talismans for too many Democrats.

I don’t see positive value in comparisons of legislation Iowa Republicans are considering to what happened in Kansas. Iowa is not Kansas and that is exactly how Republicans will use this comparison against our Democratic candidates.

The people of Kansas elected and re-elected Governor Sam Brownback knowing his history better than we do. His tenure is described on Wikipedia:

Brownback was elected governor of Kansas in 2010 and took office in January 2011. As governor, Brownback initiated what he called a “red-state experiment”—dramatic cuts in income tax rates, intended to bring economic growth. He signed into law one of the largest income tax cuts in Kansas history. The tax cuts caused state revenues to fall by hundreds of millions of dollars and created large budget shortfalls. A major budget deficit led to budget cuts in areas including education and transportation. While Kansas’s economy has performed reasonably well since the cuts were passed, the economies of neighboring states have done as well if not better. In the run-up to the 2014 gubernatorial election, over 100 former and current Kansas Republican officials criticized Brownback’s leadership and endorsed his Democratic opponent, Paul Davis. Brownback was reelected in a close race with a plurality, a margin of 3.7 percent. In June 2017, the Kansas legislature rolled back Brownback’s tax cuts and enacted tax increases.

In a repudiation of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Brownback in 2013 turned down a $31.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to set up a public health insurance exchange for Kansas. Also in 2013, he signed a bill that blocked tax breaks for abortion providers, banned sex-selection abortions, and declared that life begins at fertilization.

Are there comparisons to be made with Kansas? Of course.

However, Iowa Democrats should be ever cognizant the budget problems in this state were created by the largess of Governor Branstad, Republicans and Democrats in handing out tax credits that contributed to the last two years’ revenue shortfalls. In addition, Branstad enacted a sales tax exemption for many businesses. In retrospect, he must not have had a clue how large a decrease in tax revenue it would create. My point here is Iowa made its own problems before Republicans controlled the governor’s office and both chambers of the legislature. In that respect, we are not like Kansas. As gubernatorial candidate Ross Wilburn keeps telling us, “Let’s be Iowa.”

Regarding the Koch Brothers, Iowa Democrats need to give it up. Every Iowa Republican who has been attacked for taking Koch Brothers’ money has credibly denied it, even members of the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity, two Koch-backed entities. That’s not to say the influence is absent, just that Democrats are losing this messaging struggle. Jane Meyer’s recent book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right tells the story of dark money in politics, including the role Charles and David Koch play. It is way more complicated than a single family advancing its agenda. To create a totemic relationship with the Koch Brothers or Kansas is the wrong framework to win voters and elections in Iowa politics.

The people I know who live in Kansas, including family members, don’t have issues with the state. Like all of us, they are working to sustain their culture in a turbulent world.

I get the fact raising “the Koch Brothers” and “Kansas” is a form of confirmation bias among Democratic activists. However, as Senate District 37 candidate Zach Wahls posted on twitter last night, “It’s a reference that, in my experience, tends to work among Dem activists – but it’s a head scratcher among non-activists.”

I’m with Wilburn on this. Let’s be Iowa.