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SPOTLIGHT
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On the search for Sam Brownback

Published on -12/2/2012, 10:07 AM

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Ya' gotta love Google. When you look for something, Google can find it. That is, if it exists.

So what happens when you search for "Brownback President 2016"? One total mention in any newspaper story that handicaps all the potential candidates. A single, solitary mention, buried deep in the story.

Do the same for governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and you get hundreds of hits. Same for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

To be sure, speculation about presidential candidates in 2016 are mostly meaningless. We don't know what economic conditions will be or if a new face, such as Barack Obama in 2007, might burst upon the scene.

But we do know, almost certainly, that in 2010 Sam Brownback left the U.S. Senate and ran for governor to further his presidential ambitions. Brownback's decision made sense -- only three sitting senators, including Obama, have won the presidency, while many governors have succeeded.

Thus, for two years, Brownback has acted in concert with the Kansas Legislature to build a conservative set of policies and -- equally important -- a tea party-friendly narrative that will support his run for the White House.

Here's the problem: No one cares. Like the proverbial tree falling unnoticed deep in the forest, Kansas can become the socially, fiscally conservative mecca (so to speak) of Brownbackistan, and nobody will take note.

Beyond receiving virtually no mentions for 2016, Brownback didn't even warrant a cursory glance for the Vice-Presidential slot in 2012. In short, Sam Brownback is a non-person in Republican presidential politics.

But that hasn't stopped him from pushing Kansas steadily, even frenetically, to the right, where national tea party supporters presumably will find his policies alluring and anoint him the one "true" conservative for 2016.

Unfortunately, ordinary Kansans must bear the brunt of his policies. For example, his clunky, poorly developed set of tax breaks, which favor a few wealthy winners while raising taxes on the poorest Kansans by eliminating the sales tax rebate on food. Symbolically, he gutted the "wasteful" Kansas Arts Commission, only to restore it with less money and in a different form.

He's rejected the idea of a state health exchange, which would specifically serve the state's citizens, returning a $31 million federal start-up subsidy. Strangely, he will cede control of the exchange to the federal government to enhance his conservative credibility.

Now we're waiting to see if the governor will reject Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, which would (a) provide care for up to 250,000 poor Kansans, at little cost to the state; and (b) inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the Kansas economy.

That's right, rejecting the expansion of Medicaid would both deny needed care and diminish the funds spent on that care, thus blocking an economic boon for many communities.

All this to create a conservative wonderland that would propel Sam Brownback's name into the presidential conversation. And we haven't even gotten to abortion restrictions, voter ID, and now, perhaps, the tightening of immigration statutes, proposed by the equally ambitious Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

It's no wonder that when one enters "Kansas is ..." into the Google search engine, the two most common suggested phrases are: (1) "Kansas is going bye bye" and (2) "Kansas is the worst state in the nation."

In the end, we're not going bye-bye, nor are we the worst state in the nation. But that's how we're trending. It's bad news for Sam Brownback, and even worse news for almost all Kansans from Atwood to Dodge City to Pittsburg to Johnson County, who must suffer the unintended consequences of the governor's quixotic bid for the presidency.

Burdett Loomis is a political science professor at the University of Kansas.

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