Brownback Leads in Kansas as Democrat Davis ConcedesEsmé E. Deprez
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback won a second term, surviving a backlash to an anti-tax crusade that pitted him against fellow Republicans and tested voters’ patience for the Tea Party agenda.
Brownback claimed 49.9 percent to 46.1 percent for Democratic state Representative Paul Davis, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, according to preliminary results from the Associated Press. Brownback’s victory margin fell short of that of 2010, when he won with 63 percent of the vote.
The win for the 58-year-old former U.S. senator, elected amid the Tea Party advances of 2010, keeps alive his plan to make Kansas a laboratory for the theory that economic development will more than make up for revenue lost to lower taxes. Brownback had promised to “hit the accelerator” on more cuts.
“We’ve made bold moves in the state of Kansas and, in some cases, tough moves to get our state growing again,” Brownback told supporters gathered at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka, the capital. “It has not been easy, but doing the right thing rarely is. Tomorrow we get back at it making the Kansas come-back a reality.”
Brownback’s agenda came under fire as the growth in economic activity, jobs and population that he promised would follow failed to materialize. Revenue dropped about $335 million more than state budget analysts forecast, ratings companies downgraded state credit and the legislature’s nonpartisan research staff projected a shortfall in 2016.
The cuts and their aftermath emerged as a central theme in the race. Brownback had pledged to cut taxes to zero if re-elected.
Just before midnight local time, Brownback addressed supporters in the Sunflower Ballroom who wore blue stickers saying “I’m a Brownbacker” affixed to their lapels and ate hot dogs and popped corn as smooth jazz played.
Talking to reporters afterward, Brownback called his victory a “positive affirmation.”
“Now we can do the stuff we want to work on, like poverty and water and getting further growth taking place in the state,” he said. “It’s been a tough four years. Now we’re positioned to grow.”
The legislature in 2012 reduced levies on those who earn most and eliminated income taxes on most small businesses. It came at a vulnerable time for states still struggling after the 18-month recession that ended in 2009 and hit the state’s public-education system particularly hard, leaving school superintendents to brace for more austerity even after closing schools, firing teachers and raising local property levies to balance their books.
Hundreds of Republican officials, including former state chairwoman Rochelle Chronister, called the cuts reckless. The blowback spread to other Republican incumbents, including U.S. Senator Pat Roberts and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who also faced tough re-election fights in the historically conservative state of 2.9 million people. Both went on to win.
Davis, 44, a lawyer and son of two teachers, joined the legislature in 2003 and became House minority leader in 2008. He sought to woo moderate Republicans and won the backing of many Republicans who said Brownback went too far.
Brownback took office after eight years of Democrats in the state’s top office and moved swiftly to leave his mark. He signed bills to restrict abortion and require voters to show photo identification, and called for overhauls of pension, health-care and public-school financing systems.
He was elected to Congress in 1994 and briefly ran for president in 2007. Democrats have criticized him for his close ties to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, the conservative majority owners of Wichita-based Koch Industries, who have been active supporters of Republicans nationwide and have long contributed to Brownback’s campaigns.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, the Washington-based group that pressures members of Congress to sign a no-tax-increase pledge, has lauded Brownback’s actions in Kansas, calling the state “the starter gun” for a host of neighboring governors to champion cuts of their own.
Brownback’s vision for a second term includes plans to continue to fight against the “intrusive reach” of the U.S. government under President Barack Obama and investing in education, according to his campaign website.