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Gov. Sam Brownback Wins Re-Election In Kansas

Frank Morris

Gov. Sam Brownback was re-elected as Kansas governor by a narrow margin Tuesday night after a tough campaign against Democratic challenger Paul Davis.

Brownback took a majority in crucial Johnson and Sedgwick counties, giving the Republican the edge over Davis, who ended up with 47 percent of the vote. Brownback landed 49 percent of the vote, and 4 percent went to Libertarian candidate Keen Umbehr.

"What a night!" Brownback exclaimed as he thanked supporters for the win. "Paul Davis ran a great race ... that State Fair debate is not one I will soon forget."

The campaigns

Davis worked to make the election a referendum on Brownback’s sweeping income tax cuts, which have sliced state tax revenue. It plunged by 20 percent last year, prompting budget cuts and credit downgrades.   Tax collections continue to slide this year, with more cuts likely.

Davis pledged to restore classroom spending and highway funding. He promised to halt future income tax cuts, but never said where he’d find new tax money to stop the slide in state tax revenue. 

Brownback has defended his tax cuts throughout the campaign. He says they are working to stimulate job growth, and that given time, they will rev up the economy enough to make up for lost tax revenue.

While Brownback’s tax cuts have been his big achievement in governance, his political work as governor cost him friends in the GOP. Brownback led a primary attack on moderate state senators in 2012. The group, Americans for Prosperity, helped fund a purge that ousted seven state senators and created new enemies for Brownback in the Republican Party.

Some of them joined “Republicans for Kansas Values" and “Republicans for Davis" groups, including many former office GOP holders. Both groups have bolstered Davis' claims that he represents the pragmatic, bi-partisan center in Kansas politics. 

Brownback pushed hard against the moderate image Davis cultivated. Brownback frequently linked Davis to President Obama and regularly referred to him as a "liberal" Democrat, out to raise taxes and impose new burdens on business.

Other organizations backing Brownback reminded voters that Davis had visited a strip club that was busted in a meth raid in 1998. Brownback also sought to tie Davis to a horrendous multiple murder in Wichita.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the death sentences of brothers Reginald and Jonathan Carr be vacated, siting technical problems at sentencing. Brownback maintained that liberal justices were to blame for that judgment, including one whose husband held a Davis fundraiser, and that Davis would appoint more liberals to the bench.

Brownback has worked to give more control over Supreme Court appointments to the governor. During the campaign he pledged to appoint conservative justices at every opportunity.

Campaign funding

The Davis campaign raised more money this year, but Brownback’s supporters, especially the Republican Governors Association, more than made up the difference in spending.  The RGA spent around $4 million in the Kansas governor’s race, slightly less than Wichita-based Koch Industries donated to the RGA this year.

Pitty the winner

Next year will be tough for Brownback with tax collections continuing to slide. Four months into the fiscal year, tax receipts are already more than $46 million below projections. Legislators are already talking about big budget cuts early next year. 

I’ve been at KCUR almost 30 years, working partly for NPR and splitting my time between local and national reporting. I work to bring extra attention to people in the Midwest, my home state of Kansas and of course Kansas City. What I love about this job is having a license to talk to interesting people and then crafting radio stories around their voices. It’s a big responsibility to uphold the truth of those stories while condensing them for lots of other people listening to the radio, and I take it seriously. Email me at frank@kcur.org or find me on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
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