Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe): April 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

GOP Senators prep to stick knife in Kansans

Rep. Brett Hildabrand poses in front of the world's largest ball of twine in Cawker City, Kan. Why? I have no idea.

As the Kansas Legislature visits big balls of twine over spring recess, this much is clear: The Senate is preparing to stab hard working Kansans in the back.

The Legislature left Topeka without hammering out details of next year's budget. They'll do those in the waning days of the session.

As our Kansas All-Stars have traveled around the state making nice with constituents, it's becoming increasingly clear that the Senate, assisted (ordered?) by Gov. Sam Brownback, is hellbent on a budget that does not allow a portion of the 1-cent sales tax, set to expire this year, to sunset.

Avid politicos will recall a budget deal the so-called moderate Republicans made with Democrats (ahem. the devil) in 2010. Under terms of the budget deal, the Legislature approved a 1-cent sales tax, increasing the state's 5.3-cent sales tax to 6.3-cents per dollar. A portion of that tax, .6 percent, is set to expire in this July. (The remaining .4 was to continue on in perpetuity to fund transportation, because while Kansas is pleased as punch to remain in the middle of the pack for the majority of things, we have to have the best roads in the country. We're number one. Whatever.) 

Fast forward to 2012, in which the Legislature lowered state income tax rates. Unfortunately, they lowered the rates without quite knowing how they would make up for projected budget shortfalls. I'm completely OK with that. 

What I'm NOT OK with is that now members of the Senate and the Governor intend to make up the gap by breaking a promise.

It's wrong.

I recognize that many of the lawmakers who struck the Great Sales Tax Increase Compromise of 2010 have since been replaced. (There's probably a lesson there, but I'll let you all figure it out for yourselves.) That shouldn't matter. Morally, I believe current lawmakers are bound to that very specific promise made to Kansans in 2010. And here in Kansas, we care about morals, right? I know I do.

Members of the House are offering a different budget plan -- one that keeps the promise legislators made in 2010. It includes various cuts that the Senate seems unwilling to make.

No matter which plan lawmakers choose, there will be political consequences. I think the political consequences will be more severe for breaking a promise. (The political consequences don't matter all that much to me. Doing what's right does, but...)

In addition to Democrats (and RINOs and naysayers or whoever) being able to say that Kansas Republicans broke a promise to Kansans, they'll also be able to say that the Governor and Senate's plans for the state budget places the burden for making up the shortfall on the lowest earners in the state.

This is simple math. The Governor's plan calls for lowering the highest income tax bracket. It's a tax break that lowest income Kansans will not see. Meanwhile, the lowest earners are hit hardest by sales tax increases, which the sales tax extension would be. 

In general, consumption taxes, or sales taxes,  make so much more sense than taxes on earnings. I get it. I really do. But I place a much higher value on keeping your word. It's really that simple.

Any member of the Kansas Legislature who votes to extend the sales tax should be fired in 2014.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Local elections... le sigh.

Parsing local elections is no easy task. They're non-partisan affairs in Johnson County so unless you know the players it's difficult to determine sometime exactly who is conservative. And despite the conservative dream of eventual partisan local elections, I'm not sure it always matters.

For example, if the most pressing issue in your backyard is whether to build a mammoth-size swimming pool or whether to build two, smaller neighborhood pools, I'm not sure you could label proponents or opponents of either as liberals or conservatives.

Local politics are just a different beast. As a conservative, of course I want pro-life, pro Second Amendment people on the school board and on the city council. But neither are topics that rear their heads often at those levels. Instead, you get discussions about whether to implement a sales tax, offer a tax abatement or increase prices for school bus service. The line between the conservative and liberal politicians on those issues is often fuzzy.

That said, I'm trying to get a quick read about what exactly happened last week. And I'll share some of my quick thoughts. Obviously, I don't live in every city in Johnson County, so please take everything I'm about to write with a very healthy dose of salt:

There were some surprises last night. I am parsing the results in the order they appear here.

1. In Gardner, Chris Morrow beat Republican Dave Drovetta. It was a highly contested race, with a narrow margin of victory.

Benjamin Hodge, a conservative activist, wrote about the race on his Facebook page. A bit of it follows:
In Gardner on Tuesday, conservatives beat the tar out of the Republican establishment...  The entire Republican establishment lined up to support the incumbent.

This win is huge, because it sends shock-waves through city governments all around the metro. The incumbent Gardner mayor was the chair of the Wyandotte and Johnson County "council of mayors." He had also raised property taxes by large amounts, which is something that most cities want to do. Voters rejected liberalism, and city councils will reluctantly pay attention to that.

The incumbent, big-government mayor lost, even though the incumbent was supported by US Senator Jerry Moran, Kansas Senator Pat Apple, former Kansas Senator Dennis Wilson, Kansas Representative Bill Sutton, former Gardner Mayor Carol Lehman, and the Republican-in-name-only "Gardner Republican Party" that is led by a guy who admitted he was endorsing the incumbent in order to be popular.

Issues + meeting voters = far more than out-of-town endorsements. The challenger met voters, and talked about limited government.

The incumbent mayor was a registered "Republican," as were 65% of the voters. But my polling before the election showed a majority of Republican voters favoring the politically independent, more fiscally conservative challenger. Polling showed the incumbent to be polarizing, and his tax policies deeply unpopular. The mayor had raised taxes by 25% after appointing half of the council and getting their votes.
2. Conservative activist Steve Shute also won in Gardner. 

3. Ron Ryckman, a Kansas representative and incumbent Olathe City Council person, won handily. It wasn't even close. 

4. Conservative activist Carol Losey suffered a dramatic loss in a Roeland Park council race.

5. John Segale lost in a Shawnee City Council race. In the past, Segale has served on the Shawnee council and the Johnson County Board of Commissioners. I know nothing about the person Segale ran against incumbent Daniel Pflumm. I think Pflumm is the more fiscally conservative of the two, though Segale campaigned heavily on his desire to cut back on government giveaways to developers and special interests. Pflumm has a history of voting against tax and fee increases, but Shawnee's council has been mired in a bit of controversy of late -- secret meetings, questions about how a mayor's relative was appointed to the council, council infighting. Given that, I am surprised Segale did not have a better showing. But maybe I shouldn't be: Segale lost his last bid for the county commission. He lost another recent bid for mayor of Shawnee and now he's lost a council race. 

6. Alan Willoughby lost his re-election bid for Shawnee council. He seemed to be in on a lot of the shenanigans at city hall. So this one doesn't surprise me much, but I know very little about the victor -- Mike Kemmling -- but it appears he is fiscally conservative.

7. Gordon Herron, a conservative activist, was soundly defeated. I mean, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to who was successful in Shawnee. Herron's opponent, Jeff Vaught, always seemed to be in on the shenanigans, but voters did not hold him accountable.

8. Calvin Hayden got rocked, again. I don't understand it. I like the guy. He's nice. He's approachable. He was accessible when he served on the Johnson County Board of Commissioners. But he was walloped by John Toplikar in his bid to retain his commission seat last year. And now, for a second time in six months, he's been taken behind the wood shed again. This time, he was running for a spot on the De Soto School Board. He came in third behind two people I have never heard of. What in the world...?
School board elections are a weird bird to begin with. Teachers unions jump in. Uninformed parents who believe anyone that says a vote for or against this guy is a vote for the future of the children often add their uninformed voices to the mix.
But I thought Hayden was well-liked and well-known. I guess not.

9. In Gardner's school board election, it appears that three conservatives won seats on the board. I say "appears" because all I know about the candidates is that the local Republican group endorsed the candidates who won, but I've never heard of any of them. So I am simply assuming they are conservatives. Time will tell. If so, how novel to have conservatives elected to a school board. This rarely happens, and when it does, it's one member -- not three, though I note the trio will not comprise a majority of the seven-member board.

10. Speaking of conservatives and school board elections, Carl Walston lost his bid for the Olathe School Board. Walston is a Republican activist.

11. Stephanie Sharp, RINO, retained her seat on the Johnson County Board of Trustees. 

Of course, there were more races than mentioned here. I'm simply telling you what I know, which isn't much.

I'm pretty sure the saying "politics make strange bedfellows" originated in a local election. I'm not sure what the "takeaway" from this election is. Conservatives lost some and won some and so did everyone else.

 As is often the case, turnout in these local spring races was absolutely pathetic. Countywide, only 7.8 percent of registered voters could be bothered to vote. I don't even know what to say about that.

I'm certain the dismal turnout will prompt additional calls to move these spring elections to November and to make them partisan. I have very mixed feelings on the topic. Would I like to see more conservatives elected? Of course. Would I like more people to vote? Absolutely. But, I am not sure local issues themselves will get a proper vetting if the elections are thrown in with more philosophical state elections. 

Final note: The people of Wyandotte County are a self-loathing bunch, no? You'll note they elected a bunch of liberals... again.