One challenge is lack of leadership. In the Senate, you have a Senate President who has largely abdicated almost all responsibility to a Senate Majority Leader. In the House, you have leadership on the wrong end of important votes, and leadership of both chambers quietly begged the Governor to allow that last tax abomination to become law.
Meanwhile, you have a bunch of newbies who actually believe they're reflecting their districts by advocating and voting for massive tax increases and new spending at every turn. Some of those newbies are correct, but a whole lot of them are falling for a common misconception: The idea that simply being anti-Brownback is the key to winning future elections.
Allow me to dispel that myth once and for all. Here is a tale of two Senate candidates in Johnson County.
You'll recall Johnson County was ground zero for candidates who were for the Governor's tax plan in 2012 before they were against it. So--let's compare two very similar districts and two Republican candidates who won campaigning on very different platforms.
In one corner, we have Sen. Jim Denning. In the other, Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook. Denning lives in Overland Park. Pilcher-Cook lives in Shawnee. Their districts are very similar.
In Denning's district, 47 percent of voters are registered Republicans and 23 percent are registered Democrats. In Pilcher-Cook's, 43 percent of voters are Republicans, and 25 percent are registered Dems. Though their districts are very similar, Denning enjoyed a slight numbers advantage on paper.
Denning also enjoyed an advantage in terms of his opponent. He faced Democrat Don McGuire. Pilcher-Cook faced Democrat Vicki Hiatt. McGuire raised $20,000 during his campaign to Denning's $160,000. Hiatt raised $60,000 to Pilcher-Cook's $100,000. Advantage: Denning.
Denning and Pilcher-Cook narrowly won re-election. Denning beat McGuire 52.7 percent to 47.2 percent. Pilcher-Cook defeated Hiatt 51.5 percent to 48.6 percent.
The major difference between Denning and Pilcher-Cook's races was in how they campaigned. Both boasted similar voting records. They voted against the 2015 sales tax increase, supported block grant funding, and oppose Medicaid expansion.
They campaigned differently on a few things, however. Mary Pilcher-Cook voted against that education funding bill that came out of the special session last summer. Denning voted for it.
Though Denning voted to implement the LLC-tax incentive in 2012, he is now its most vocal opponent. He campaigned heavily in favor of revoking the tax incentive. He campaigned as an anti-Brownback Republican. Pilcher-Cook campaigned in favor of maintaining the tax incentive and as a Brownback Republican.
Denning won by 1.2 percent more than Pilcher-Cook, and that was despite the fact Pilcher-Cook faced a better-funded opponent and much more engaged opposition.
Though this tome is written about two Senate races, I primarily write this as a warning to supposedly Republican House members. Working to increase taxes isn't likely to be a winner come the 2018 election. In fact, it wasn't as much of a winner as many newbie House members probably believe it was.
I say this based on Presidential Voting Indexes (PVI) in House districts in 2016. PVI is a score based on how red or blue a district is.
In districts where an incumbent Republican who supported the LLC-exemption lost, the PVI was 5.96. In districts where the Republican incumbent who campaigned for revoking the exemption lost, the PVI was 8.95.
All this is to say that more conservative districts didn't save incumbents who flipped on the LLC tax.
The 2016 election marked an anti-incumbent wave. The LLC-exemption was but a side show. The results of the 2016 Republican primaries and in many cases, general elections marked an over-correction.
There are an awful lot of Republican newbies who probably shouldn't get too comfortable in their Statehouse offices. Republican primary and general election voters are going to see videos like the one below--of people cheering for a tax increase--and feel disgusted. No one campaigned on raising taxes on low and middle income families.
Those who are most vulnerable include Sean Tarwater, Shelee Brim, Anita Judd-Jenkins and Roger Elliott. Their districts are far more conservative than their collective voting records.