Swept into office during the GOP-dominated 2010 midterms, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback pursued one of the most conservative political agendas ever hatched. Now, in the closing days of the 2014 campaign, the results of the agenda that Brownback championed have put the governor in serious danger of being defeated by a Democratic challenger.
The latest SurveyUSA poll shows Democrat Paul Davis, the state Kansas House Minority Leader, leading Brownback by a three-point margin, 46 percent to 43 percent. Brownback in recent weeks has narrowed the once comfortable lead Davis had built during the last few months of the campaign.
“There’s just a lot of negative momentum behind Brownback, and Davis has been hammering that home,” Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University, told the New York Times.
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The blowback that Brownback is facing is in large part due to the far right policies he has pushed, which include an expansion of gun rights, draconian cuts to the social safety net, and far-reaching restrictions on abortion access.
The Brownback administration in 2011 announced radical reforms to the state’s Medicaid program. The administration has come under fire for reports of possible corruption within the privatization program championed by the governor. The FBI is reportedly investigating the administration’s approval of $3 billion in contracts with companies to operate the state’s privatized KanCare program.
Brownback has come under the most criticism for conservative economic reforms that he supported and pushed through in the early years of his governorship. In 2012 the governor signed into law one of the largest tax cuts in the state’s history, which critics said would cost the state more than $2 billion over five years.
The nonpartisan legislature’s research staff analyzed the tax cuts and projected that the state would face a budget shortfall in 2014 that would grow to $2.5 billion by July 2018.
Brownback defended the tax cut in what would become one of his most iconic statements.
“On taxes, you need to get your overall rates down, and you need to get your social manipulation out of it, in my estimation, to create growth. We’ll see how it works. We’ll have a real live experiment,” Brownback said during an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
The results of the experiment appear to spell trouble for the arch-conservative Brownback, who has said Kansas had $876 in its treasury when he took over as governor in 2011. The state in fact had more than $250 million thanks in large part to a one-cent sales tax hike that helped the government fund basic public services during the aftermath of the 2008 recession.
Brownback’s tax cuts have resulted in an 8 percent revenue loss that has had a negative effect on the state’s ability to fund public education and has busted the state’s economy, according to an analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The analysis also concluded that the tax cuts disproportionately benefited wealthy households.
In August, the state’s credit rating was downgraded by Standard & Poor’s, and the credit bureau specifically cited the effect of the tax cuts pushed by Brownback and his conservative allies in Kansas.
Brownback has claimed that it’s too soon to judge his policies, because he says they have not had time to work.
He has blamed Democrats and the media for creating a false narrative that the experiment has failed. “I think they so desperately want what’s happening in this state to fail that they’re shopping for a factual setting to back that up because it’s working,” Brownback said during the CBN News’ The Brody File.
It’s not just Democrats that have criticized the Brownback experiment.
A collection of 100 Kansas Republicans in July announced their support for Davis. “We are deeply concerned by the direction Sam Brownback is taking Kansas,” Wint Winter, a former state senator, said during the press conference. “We are all Republicans. But we will always be Kansans first.”
The Republicans who are opposing Brownback credit not just his policies for their opposition, but also his cut-throat style of politics.
Moderate Republicans in the state legislature who voiced opposition to the administration’s policies faced primary challenges from candidates they say were backed by Brownback. “The nature of politics in Kansas has been poisoned for the next generation,” former state senator Dick Kelsey told Business Insider.