In today’s installment of NPR Hates Conservatives, we offer a story from Saturday’s All Things Considered. Conservatism is killing Kansas under Gov. Sam Brownback, apparently. Anchor Jacki Lyden reported: “One political writer says it's time to write the state's obituary, and he did.”
Jason Probst read the first line of his screed out loud on national radio: “The great state of Kansas passed away on March 31, 2013 after a long and difficult battle with extremism.” Lyden added: “And that's our cover story today: Red or Dead? The new Kansas experiment.” With the exception of a few thoughts from Gov. Brownback, Lyden focused in on the leftists and their complaints that progressivism is being cast aside:
JASON PROBST: This legislative session has just been one thing after another that seemed like it was undoing a lot of things that had been done in the state over the last hundred years, a lot of progressive things.
JACKI LYDEN: A state once dotted with one-room schoolhouses gave rise to a series of inventors and creators. Then the whirlwind: outside political spending. In 2012, PACs spent almost a million dollars in the last 10 days of primaries for the Republican state legislature, and there was more from third parties. Probst says it accelerated change, and that's not what he knows as conservative Kansas.
JASON PROBST: We like to move ahead with what we have and try to do the best work we can without shaking things up or moving too quickly or getting too radical about things.
JACKI LYDEN: Governor Sam Brownback, a former senator and a conservative Republican with presidential ambitions, took over as governor in 2010. Because of all that political spending, moderate Republicans lost and Brownback now has the most conservative legislature in the state's history. The wind is at his back. But some Kansans, like Probst, see a pretty bleak future ahead. Let's go on with his litany.
JASON PROBST: Kansas is survived by widespread poverty, low-wage jobs, poorly educated children, out-migration, lobbyist-funded legislators, a maniacal hatred of government, and children who dream of living anywhere else.
JACKI LYDEN: For a small-town newspaper, Probst's obituary for Kansas went viral. Tens of thousands of people read it, and many are fellow Kansans who wrote to Probst to say they, too, are disturbed by their state's dramatic swing to the right.
BOB BEATTY: A lot of emails that I received from people were people who said: I left the state to take care of an aging relative or to work. And I always planned to come back, but I'm not going to now.
JACKI LYDEN: Bob Beatty is a political scientist at Washburn University in Topeka. He remembers the moment when he noticed the money beginning to flow into Kansas politics. He was home watching TV. It was late October 2008. Barack Obama was running for president. And in Kansas' 2nd District, a Democrat named Nancy Boyda was defending her seat in the House of Representatives.
UNIDENTIFIED TV AD ANNOUNCER: ...just like Obama. The Obama-Boyda team. Higher taxes, more spending, wrong for Kansas.
JACKI LYDEN: Nancy Boyda's face was superimposed over the familiar, circular Obama logo. You almost would've thought she was Obama's running mate, Beatty says.
BOB BEATTY: Nancy Boyda spent two years trying to do what she thought people wanted her to do: Not vote party-line Democrat, but do what was best for her constituents for Kansas. She thought that that's how you get re-elected.
JACKI LYDEN: But Boyda was defeated, and that race became a focal point for the influence of outside money. More than a million dollars was spent on her race. And her opponent, a Republican, won by four percent and rode off to Washington that January.
BOB BEATTY: In a sense, it became the sort of wild idea that it doesn't matter what she did. She was going to lose because she had a D next to her name.
JACKI LYDEN: D as in Democrat. And remember, we're talking pragmatic Kansas. Three of the last five governors have been Democrats. Kathleen Sebelius was elected governor twice before Obama called her up to the Cabinet in 2009. In the years since, though, there's been even more outside money, and the conservative Republicans reign ascendant.
BOB BEATTY: In many cases, they make the argument that a vote for a Democrat in Kansas and even - and this is really interesting - even a vote for a moderate Republican in Kansas is essentially a vote for Barack Obama.
This narrative is a little incomplete. In 2006, Boyda beat conservative Rep. Jim Ryun, who'd been in Congress since he was elected to replace Brownback in 1996. In her two years, Boyda's American Conservative Union ratings were 28 percent and 16 percent -- which might seem conservative for California, but not so much for Kansas. Then she lost to Rep. Lynn Jenkins, who has been re-elected twice. Boyda was an anomaly, not a standard.
Then Lyden briefly fought with Gov. Brownback: “The thinking by even pro-business conservatives is that something is going to have to offset the loss in income tax, and sales tax might also be a turnoff to business.” She demanded he explain how he was going to fix the budget shortfall.
The story wrapped up with liberal economist Brad DeLong criticizing the Brownback tax cuts as creating an environment that “produces a relatively low-wage form of economic development that's attractive to those who own companies, but not so attractive to people who don't own companies.”
None of the liberals and leftists in the story – Probst, Beatty, DeLong, Boyda – are described by any ideological label as Lyden sees conservatism killing Kansas.
The last sad voice in the story is Bill Graves, singing the usual liberal-pleasing song that yesterday’s moderate Republicans could never get elected today: “moderate Republicans like Governor Graves feel they've been left without a place.” Graves lamented, "People that think a little bit more like I do have started to sort of shrink to the sidelines and just don't have the stomach or the willingness to really, you know, roll up their sleeves and fight back."
NPR would like the Republican Party to go back to the agreeable Bob Dole model of compromising our way into socialism in all 50 states. Here's one obvious reason they dislike Brownback: "Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed cutting state aid to public television and radio by 42 percent in the next two fiscal years."