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Kansas values -8/3/2014, 11:43 AM

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SPOTLIGHT
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The defining issue of economic recovery

Published on -7/27/2014, 4:53 PM

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The defining issue in upcoming state elections is each candidate's position regarding "the path of our economic recovery." So wrote Republican state representative Steven Becker of Hutchinson in a recent letter to the Hutchinson News, as he asked: "Does the candidate support a reassessment of our tax policy or is everything working just fine?"

In other words, does the candidate believe Gov. Sam Brownback's tax experiment has brought on unprecedented deficit spending, soaring debt and downgraded credit, higher sales taxes and property taxes, lagging economic growth, and inadequate funding of the state's primary obligation, public education and should be reassessed?

Or does the candidate believe the governor's experiment is working just fine?

Republican voters have an early chance to address Becker's question in primary elections, now just two weeks away.

Registered voters unaffiliated with any political party may also weigh in, should they choose, by showing up at the polls on election day, registering as a Republican and voting.

Incumbent Brownback is running for re-election in a contested Republican primary, and Republican voters might show their support for his path to recovery by backing him in the primary. Or they might express their opposition by voting for his primary opponent, Jennifer Winn of Haysville.

Winn largely has been ignored by the media, but in a recent independent survey, she attracted 37 percent of likely Republican voters statewide in a head-to-head contest with Brownback. Winn bested Brownback by over two-to-one among voters who believe education funding is the most important issue in the election; most shockingly, she led the incumbent governor among Wichita-area Republicans.

Support for Winn likely represents a protest against Brownback and his risky course on state finance, rather than an immediate threat. But history shows protest votes by Kansas Republicans do not bode well for incumbent governors. Primary challengers, even those with little or no name recognition, helped derail the re-election of former Republican governors Avery, Bennett and Hayden. Those primaries suggest if Winn polls 25 percent or more, Brownback is headed for trouble in the general election, and his tax experiment will undergo reassessment.

In other races across the state, one in every four seats in the Kansas House is being contested by Republican candidates in the Aug. 5 primary, offering Republican voters another key opportunity to weigh in on the divergent paths to economic recovery. Assessing these candidates will require more diligence, as voters are bombarded with robocalls and a flurry of artfully crafted, fact-deficient campaign flyers.

Voters who support the governor might look to the Kansas Chamber Political Action Committee that endorsed candidates in 26 of the 30 contested races. The Chamber aided Brownback in crafting and enacting his experiment.

Or voters might view the Kansas Chamber as selling "modern-day, economic snake oil," as noted by former Republican Party State Chair Rochelle Chronister. She adds the Chamber is backing "incumbents who helped create the largest deficit in the history of our state" and other candidates who "push an out-of-step, economic agenda that will force sales and property taxes to skyrocket."

Republican primary voters have the first opportunity to shape the future direction of state politics. So, check out the candidates. Get out and vote Aug. 5.

Flentje is professor emeritus at Wichita State University.

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