Thursday, September 25, 2014

What's the Matter With Sam Brownback?

How the Kansas governor's red-state experiment could turn Kansas purple

By Patrick Caldwell, Mother Jones
Thu Sep. 25, 2014 6:15 AM EDT

One Wednesday afternoon in mid-August, Govs. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Chris Christie of New Jersey stopped for a photo op—and $54 worth of pork ribs and sausages—at Oklahoma Joe's, a gas station barbecue joint on the outer fringe of Kansas City. Along with hickory smoke and diesel fumes, there was a mild aroma of desperation in the air. Brownback's approval ratings hovered in the mid-30s, and one recent poll had his Democratic opponent, state House Minority Leader Paul Davis, beating him by 10 points. Now Christie, the chair of the Republican Governors Association, had parachuted in to lend some star power as Brownback made a fundraising swing through the wealthy suburbs outside of Kansas City. A day earlier, the RGA had announced a $600,000 ad buy in support of Brownback. "We believe in Sam," Christie assured the scrum of reporters who'd accompanied the governors to Oklahoma Joe's.

That the RGA had been forced to mobilize reinforcements in Kansas spoke to just how imperiled Brownback had become. After representing Kansas for nearly two decades in Congress, he had won the governorship in 2010 by a 30-point margin. Once in office, Brownback wasted no time implementing a radical agenda that blended his trademark social conservatism with the libertarian-tinged economic agenda favored by one of his most famous constituents, Charles Koch, whose family company is headquartered in Wichita and employs more than 3,500 people in the state. Other GOP governors elected in the tea party wave, such as Wisconsin's Scott Walker, garnered more ink for their brash policy maneuvers, but in many ways Brownback had presided over the most sweeping transformation.

Early in his tenure, he said he wanted to turn Kansas into a "real, live experiment" for right-wing policies. In some cases relying on proposals promoted by the Kansas Policy Institute—a conservative think tank that belongs to the Koch-backed State Policy Network and is chaired by a former top aide to Charles Koch—Brownback led the charge to privatize Medicaid, curb the power of teachers' unions, and cull thousands from the welfare rolls.

(More here.)

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