Kansas voters might be ready to throw the bums out in upcoming elections. Why? Because many Kansans see their state government as one big mess.
Nearly three of every four Kansans recently surveyed gave poor marks to the performance of Kansas government. Kansans also rated state performance low on managing taxpayer money, assuring quality education, providing a safety net for vulnerable residents and maintaining the state’s infrastructure.
These low ratings suggest voters are fed up with the far-right Republican lawmakers who have been running state government for the last four years and are ready to change direction in upcoming elections. All 165 legislative seats are on the ballot in the Aug. 2 primary and Nov. 8 general elections.
Many incumbent lawmakers, mostly Republicans, are waving goodbye on their own, leaving seats more open to competition. Since their prior election, eight state senators and 32 state representatives are not seeking re-election or vacated their offices earlier for personal reasons. Those departing are not backbenchers but include key leaders: In the Senate, the vice president, majority whip and seven committee chairs; and in the House, the speaker, speaker pro tem and six committee chairs.
Most immediate action begins in Republican primary contests. Fifteen state Senate seats are being contested in August. Ten of the 22 incumbent Republican senators seeking re-election will face primary opponents, and five of the 10 seats vacated by incumbent Republicans have contested primaries.
Thirty-seven Republican House seats have contested primaries with 21 of 71 GOP incumbents facing primary challenges. Fifteen of the 16 seats vacated by incumbents have primary races.
In contrast, Democrats have 13 contested primaries statewide, six in the Senate and seven in the House. No Senate incumbent seeking re-election faces a primary challenger; three House incumbents do have primary contests.
Newcomers will fill no fewer than 10 of 40 seats in the Senate, and 32 of 125 seats in the House. If all incumbents lose in contested primaries, an unlikely possibility, half the Senate and nearly half the House could turnover.
Republican primary voters should do some homework before voting. They should remember that in primary contests of 2012 and 2014, they opted for candidates aligned with Gov. Sam Brownback and his tax experiment. That experiment has produced a series of unbalanced budgets and unfair tax increases, a mountain of new state debt and lagging economic growth, as well as fiddle-faddling delays on school finance.
If Republican primary voters now are ready to change course, two shortcuts are suggested: First, scrutinize every one of the 31 Republican incumbents who are seeking re-election in contested primaries. Except for a handful, these incumbents consistently supported Brownback, his reckless tax experiment, and other measures that have given him the highest disapproval ratings in the nation.
Second, ask a simple question of incumbents and newcomers in contested primaries: Do you support Brownback and the direction he is taking state government? If you get a weaseling response, look for another candidate.
So, Kansas voters, the next step in changing course depends on you. Legislative candidates have stepped forward. Sixty-five contested primaries are on the ballot. Advance voting begins July 13, less than three weeks away. Do your civic duty. Engage with candidates and vote.
H. Edward Flentje is professor emeritus at Wichita State University.