‘Tis the season. Let’s hoist an eggnog and peruse Kansas politics during the past year — and into the next. Drumroll, please.
The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Traditionally, there are three ghosts, but this year just two have appeared. Gov. Sam Brownback is obviously the ghost of Christmas past, as echoes of his seven years in office resound around the capitol, even in his absence. In fact, the echoes reverberate through all state office buildings, given the hollowing out of government since 2011.
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer stands as the ethereal ghost of Christmas future. His upcoming administration is difficult to foresee, given the political turbulence in the Legislature and among Republican gubernatorial aspirants. Who knows exactly what shape his governing might take, assuming, of course, he actually takes office.
This leads us to the ambivalent ghost of Christmas present — the neither fish-nor-fowl combo of the exiting Brownback and the entering Colyer. One day Sam seems to inhabit this ghost, the next day Jeff. No wonder there’s a faint red glow over the capitol.
The past year demonstrated that wise men (and women) still exist. Most notably, Sen. Jim Denning, Speaker Ron Ryckman and House Majority Leader Don Hineman, along with many Democrats and moderate Republicans, wisely reversed the destructive tax policies implemented since 2013. Their reward in 2018: engineer a solution to the perennial school finance issue without engendering a constitutional crisis. The wisdom business is tough.
The race for governor. Twelve politicians a-piping. Six GOP'ers exhorting. Five Demos a-dancing. And one solitary independent. The ghostly executive vacuum, along with a two-term limit, means the 2018 governorship will be the most widely and hotly contested race in the past 50 years. The Republican herd probably will thin out in the next few months, while state Sen. Laura Kelly’s entrance into the race has produced a new Democratic lead reindeer.
Lurking about the governor’s race are the Grinch (Independent Greg Orman) and Scrooge McKobach. Ignoring various moderates from both parties, Orman seemingly cannot resist the opportunity to act as spoiler. Perhaps Kelly’s entrance will produce second thoughts about an independent run, which would increase the electoral chances of Kobach, with his sugar-plum fantasies of illegal immigrants, voting suppression and low-tax prosperity.
The Kansas congressional delegation, usually a placid band of elves, remains in turmoil, with two new members in the past 15 month, and more change to come. For Democrats, Santa has brought two special presents. “Ho, Ho, Ho” in the highly competitive Second District, where Paul Davis is at least an even bet to win. And “Yo, Yo, Yo” in KS-3, a textbook example of a GOP seat that could turn Democratic in an upcoming wave election. The Democratic scrum to oppose Rep. Kevin Yoder in that district is almost as intense and weird as the Republican battle for the gubernatorial nomination. You need to watch those elves every moment.
The Legislature already has given us the early gift of solid tax policy. But the spirit of giving might come a cropper with the school finance. We’ll see if the Christmas spirit of generosity extends to the Supreme Court, as it rules on whatever plan the Legislature develops. And those postcards in moderates’ GOP House districts? They’re not Christmas cards; the far right is already campaigning to defeat them. Happily, early polling indicates constituents support those who moved the state back to fiscal sanity.
So, Kansans, pour yourself another eggnog, sit back, and enjoy the unfolding political spectacle. Not a bad present for citizens and junkies alike. Merry Christmas!
Burdett Loomis is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Kansas.