Four former Kansas governors — two Republicans and two Democrats — on Friday revealed formation of a new political group established to raise voters’ objections about policies of Gov. Sam Brownback and his allies in the House and Senate.
Republicans Bill Graves and Mike Hayden, along with Democrats Kathleen Sebelius and John Carlin, sent letters to potential donors on behalf of the Save Kansas Coalition.
A bipartisan alliance among four past Kansas governors in an operation targeting a sitting Republican chief executive is unprecedented in the state.
“Our state of affairs is on a continuous decline. It’s time to acknowledge the experiment has failed,” said Hayden, who led Kansas from 1987 to 1991. “Being a Kansas conservative used to mean paying off debt, balancing the budget and not running up bills our grandchildren would be expected to pay.”
In the statement released with the Legislature in special session to address an unconstitutional school finance law, Hayden said time had come to give voice to core principles weakened under Brownback. He said the “upcoming election is our first opportunity.”
Brownback isn’t on the 2016 ballot, but all House and Senate seats are up for grabs. Republicans hold deep majorities in both chambers, but about 20 percent of the incumbents chose not to seek re-election.
Carlin, a Democrat who was governor from 1979 to 1987, said the state’s inadequate investment in infrastructure and education during the Brownback era inhibited economic growth.
“As we continue to slight these important measures, we endanger our ability to ever recover economically, reducing the quality of life for all Kansans,” Carlin said. “I’m not pleased with the direction we’re going and believe we must change the faces in the Legislature.”
Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said the maneuvering ought to have been expected by four governors who presided over “massive and needless growth in the size of government.” He said it was revealing the coalition would rely on unlimited dark money contributions.
Former House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Republican who serves as president of a Kansas Chamber apparatus that generally supports Republican candidates, said the coalition appeared to represent the view of senators and representatives dislodged from the Legislature in 2012.
“Who cares? I was sort of nonplussed,” said O’Neal, who represented a Hutchinson district in the House from 1985 to 2013.
Eileen Hawley, spokeswoman for Brownback, offered no direct reaction to formation of the coalition. She said Brownback was concentrating on the special session and resolving the dispute over state aid to K-12 public education in a way that kept schools open.
In recent months, Sebelius, Carlin and Hayden publicly questioned the direction taken by state government since election of Brownback in 2010.
The group’s leadership includes all living former governors who were elected to that office. Democratic Gov. Joan Finney is deceased, while Gov. Mark Parkinson assumed the job upon resignation of Sebelius in 2009 and didn’t stand for election.
The participating former governors endorsed a set of “shared values” that include a balanced tax policy, quality educational opportunities, reasonable access to health care, safe highways and improved public safety, job growth, fiscal responsibility and judicial impartiality.
In the letter to Kansans, the organization urged people to join the “political revolution that’s going to restore Kansas back to fiscal health and stop the calculated destruction of our revenue stream and our educational, health care and transportation systems.”
The message said the effort was designed to unify Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters by focusing on “work that must happen in Topeka to get Kansas back on solid ground.”
Political entities enlisted in the coalition include Republicans for Kansas Values, Mainstream Coalition, Reroute the Roadmap, Kansans Advancing Women, Traditional Republicans for Common Sense, Women for Kansas, Game on for Kansas Schools, Moderate Party of Kansas, Stand Up Blue Valley and Jo Votes.