By Gene Meyer | Kansas Reporter
OVERLAND PARK – Paint Kansas red.
“This is bigger than 2010,” proclaimed beaming Kansas House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, R- Olathe.
Siegfreid spoke as projection screens at a Johnson County GOP victory party tallied Republican primary victories across the state.
Conservative Republicans in 2010 won the Kansas governor’s race and a solid majority in the Kansas House of Representatives. Barring an unexpected surge by Kansas Democrats – who didn’t even have candidates in some primary races Tuesday – conservative GOP members will complete the hat trick, winning control of the Kansas Senate after elections Nov. 6.
A higher than predicted 23 percent of Kansas voters Tuesday turned away six of eight moderate Republican incumbents, who Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and business interests — led by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce — say were blocking conservative efforts to pass legislation focusing on lower taxes and smaller government.
Kansas Senate President Steve Morris, R- Hugoton, was among them.
“That is an earthquake,” Siegfreid said.
Voters on Tuesday “cast the future of Kansas,” said Mark Peterson, a political science professor at Washburn University in Topeka.
Long story short, Kansas Republican conservatives have been working since 1994 to increase their power in state government, Peterson said. They reached their greatest success, before now, winning the governor’s race and control of the House in 2010.
“Team Brownback is on a roll,” Peterson said. “The governor is going to be able to run the table.”
Many previously stalled conservative efforts to cut the size of government and reduce taxes for economic growth will resurface with more support, Peterson predicts.
“Higher education will take some more cuts,” Peterson says. “K-through-12 funding certainly won’t get any more money. Look for some new Medicaid restrictions somehow.”
A hiring freeze and possible cuts in the state work force seem likely, too, along with a continued push to convert the state’s Kansas Public Employee Retirement System hybrid pension fund into something more like 401(k) plans.
Kansas can afford to make tax cuts needed to spur economic growth, said Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, a Wichita think tank that advocates for lower taxes, smaller government and free-market solutions for public policy questions.
“This isn’t a choice between lower taxes or better, efficient government service,” Trabert said.
“We believe you have to do both for economic growth.”
Reducing spending from the state revenue fund by 8.5 percent, or about $500 million, would allow Kansas to cut enough taxes to spur the creation of 33,000 new jobs, while still balancing the state budget and providing a statutorily required 7.5 percent year-end cash reserve, says a recent study commissioned by the institute.
“That wouldn’t be easy, but it would work,” Trabert said.
Or, the expected debate coming over tax and spending cuts could hit a different and almost entirely unexpected snag, said Joe Aistrup, a political science professor at Kansas State University in Manhattan.
Nobody knows exactly how the newly elected conservative legislatures will vote on specific legislation, Aistrup said.
“We’re going to have 40 to 50 new faces in the Kansas House, out of 125 members,” Aistrup said. “But they have no record. It’s impossible to tell what flavor of Republican they’ll be.”
However, some practical reasons as well as philosophical leanings will keep many from straying too far from their conservative principles, he said.
“The lesson of this election is that if you aren’t conservative enough, you probably are going to face a more conservative opponent in your next primary,” Aistrup said.
“I’d guess that boosts Brownback’s 85 percent success rate in getting legislation passed in the last session up to between 90 and 95 percent,” he said.
Kansans want to grow the economy, not the government, Brownback said Wednesday in a formal statement about the election results.
Contact Gene Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org
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