In 2004, liberal writer and native Kansan Thomas Frank published “What’s the matter with Kansas?”, his smugly title indictment of the intelligence of Kansans because the state had become such a reliable conservative Republican state. Yes, Kansas has inflicted the phony Kathleen Sebelius; and that is no minor infraction. But generally, Kansas has refused to bow at the altar of liberalism; and that has driven defectively wired liberals like Frank up the wall.
Now Kansas has another nasty surprise for liberals. The Sun Flower State’s Republican governor, Sam Brownback, and its legislatures (which are both lopsidedly controlled by Republicans) want to do away with the state’s income tax. The Republicans in Kansas weren’t intimidated by Barack Obama’s victory last November. They held the reins of power and fully intend to drive the state in a manner they hope will make it a model for other states to follow.
The changes in how Kansas will be governed have already started. The Republicans provided the largest tax cut in the state’s history and handed off most of its Medicaid system to private insurers.
Brownback has cut welfare rolls, pared down the state’s own workforce, and reorganized government agencies to streamline them for maximum efficiency. Next up is the ubiquitous pension reform that is the centerpiece of Republican-controlled state reorganization. Just for good measure, he wants to change the process of picking judges and financing state education goals.
Of course, the numbingly predictable whining from Democrats has already begun. They are crying that, “It [tax cuts] kind of eliminates a large group of Kansans out of that pursuit of happiness.”
In response, Brownback says, “I think the unique thing is that we’re applying the principles on how you get your cost down and still provide a high-quality product. That’s been in the private sector, but it hasn’t been in the public sector for 50 years.”
Brownback’s struggle for control of state spending looks a lot like Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker’s struggle to change his state’s government. And the chances are we will hear the same tired liberal complaints.
Given the extent to which conservatives control the state, the question would be “What’s the matter with Kansas?” if Brownback didn’t make these changes.