The beginning of a new year provides the opportunity to look back and resolve to improve. Improvement means kicking bad habits for some, losing weight or some other positive life change. Here in Kansas, the New Year of renewal is punctuated by a new legislative session, which gaveled open last week. What New Year’s resolutions have Kansas political figures chosen? I have some ideas:
• The Kansas Legislature: Stop procrastinating. The House should have learned from last year’s exercise in hubris that it must address issues early. Waiting until late in the session to produce a budget and panicking into overtime gave the Legislature a black eye from which it has not recovered. In an election year, legislators simply cannot afford more bad publicity. The Legislature should vow not to waste daylight in 2016.
• The Kansas Department of the Budget Consensus Revenue Estimating Group: Adopting a new forecasting model. The “Glide Path to Zero” tax plan has been brutal on the Kansas budget, but the optics of revenues are worthy of attention as well. The Consensus Revenue Estimating Group has over-estimated state revenues for almost every month of the last two years. News reports of below-expected revenues have dogged the Brownback Administration and have called the CREG’s ability to forecast into doubt. It’s hard enough to budget under declining revenues, but when income fails to make expectation, it’s even harder.
• The Kansas Democratic Party: Decisiveness. The Democrats in Kansas have a decision to make. Go all-in on trying to pick off state legislators in 2016 or continue working on their organization in preparation for an all-out assault on the governor’s mansion for 2018. But the time to decide is now. After snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in 2014, Democrats in the state have had some time to lick wounds and reflect on their missed opportunities. Making a wise decision to focus their attention on not making the same mistakes of 2014 would make a Democratic candidate for governor much more viable in 2018, when Gov. Sam Brownback is barred from seeking office again.
• Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer: Get to know me. Lieutenant governors often are as visible as Wonder Woman’s plane, and Colyer has only been an exception when his contributions to the Brownback re-election effort came under scrutiny. But Colyer recently has raised his profile, largely testing the waters for a 2018 gubernatorial run. Colyer’s tenure has been undistinguished, but in a multi-way Republican primary his connections to the state GOP machinery could be a significant advantage. Colyer’s biggest issue, besides the campaign contributions, is low name recognition versus other viable Republican possibilities such as Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Secretary of State Kris Kobach. So if Colyer is serious about a run in 2018, he needs to start sharing his story with Kansas.
• Moderate Kansas Republicans: Aggression. Since being decimated in 2012, moderate Republicans have kept a low profile, which some interpreted as their demise. However, five moderate Republicans already have filed against incumbents for the August primaries, suggesting the center-right might be in play for a return to the Legislature in 2016. To do so, though, they will need a strong candidate base, and even stronger campaign infrastructure. Without an aggressive campaign, moderates will not have the success they are striving for in 2016.
Kansas is facing great challenges, and looking back on the travails of the last five years give political figures a good opportunity to figure out how to make 2016 a better year. For all our sakes, best of luck to them all.
Chapman Rackaway is a professor of political science at Fort Hays State University.