Monday, June 15, 2009

Win in '10: Deck cleared for Sam Brownback

This is the first installment of a new series of posts entitled "Win in '10", dedicated to electing principled conservatives to public office, with a focus on Kansas and Missouri.

Today, in what had been expected and suggested for weeks by many, Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh announced today he was dropping his bid for Governor.

What this means is that the deck has now been cleared for U.S. Senator Sam Brownback to become Governor. No credible Republican from either the moderate or conservative wings is going to challenge Sam, and it is highly unlikely that the Democrats, who have a very thin bench, will be able to find anyone who could mount any kind of substantial challenge to Senator Brownback.

So, basically, unless something dramatic happens, and while nothing is guaranteed, Sam Brownback will be the next Governor of Kansas in January, 2011.

What does this mean for the state, for the 2010 elections, and for Kansas electoral politics in general? This is what we're going to cover today in our first installment of "Win in '10", a series of posts dedicated to conservatives winning the 2010 elections. Given that in Kansas, it all starts with the top of the ticket, it seems prudent to start with the Kansas Governor's race.

First of all, in terms of the state, it means that for the first time in history, Kansas will have a real conservative governor. In terms of policy, this means:

- Kansas will now have a Governor dedicated to budget reform and fiscal responsibility, bringing into focus a possible solution the the state budget crisis. Senator Brownback will likely embrace zero-based budgeting, which means every program funded by the state will be under review for performance and need.

- Kansas will now have a Governor dedicated to conservative economic principles such as lower taxes, less regulation, and a free market economy. While Obama might be taking us down the road to socialized medicine on a national level, it will no longer have an ally in the Governor of Kansas. Tax reductions meant to make Kansas more business friendly will no longer be opposed or rolled back. This means the real possiblity for private-sector economic growth in Kansas.

- Kansas will now have a pro-life Governor who is a member of a party that is also pro-life in principle. This means that those who seek to have abortion-on-demand will no longer have a left-wing ally in the Governor's office. It means that our state's abortion laws might actually be enforced.

- State executive departments will now be filled by Brownback appointees, meaning that if he delivers on his principles, we'll have a government led by people who believe in government efficiency and small government -- not the "build stuff no matter the cost" mentality that has existed for a long time.

- The court system might actually have a chance at some reform, if a Governor Brownback opts to push for court reform so he can actually have some degree of influence on the makeup of the courts, as the electorate would expect in electing a conservative as Governor. At least we might see reform at the Court of Appeals and District Court levels, which only take statutory, rather than Constitutional, changes.

The list goes on and on. Of course, that's the long-term future for once Brownback gets elected. In the short term, there could be a huge effect on the 2010 elections and also the state of politics in Kansas in general.

By having Sam Brownback running for Governor, conservative Republicans -- and, Republicans in general -- are yielding their biggest electoral stick they've ever had. The moderates had theirs in Bill Graves, who enjoyed 60-70% approval ratings for much of his term. The Dems had theirs in Kathleen Sebelius, who enjoyed approval ratings in the 50's and with it, strengthened the Democratic Party and gave liberals a presence in Kansas, enough so they now control the courts. Now, in Sam Brownback, conservatives now have theirs.

First of all, credit and thanks need to be sent to Sam Brownback for deciding to run. He could have chosen to remain in the U.S. Senate, and would have likely had the job as long as he wanted. By choosing to run for Governor, he is taking direct responsibility for his own state -- which has unfortunately has not been the deep red state that many think it is. Despite what Steve Rose claims, the legislature has not been conservative -- and aside from four years of Phill Kline, conservatives have not held a statewide position in recent memory. Sam Brownback's involvement changes all that.

Second of all, for conservatives running elsewhere on the ticket, he encourages conservatives to file and will likely to turn up at the polls. While it was over a decade ago, the last time Sam Brownback ran for something new -- the U.S. Senate in 1996 -- he carried Vince Snowbarger over the line in both the primary and the general elections -- the last time any Republican held the 3rd District -- and the only time a conservative did. This could repeat itself again in 2010 if conservatives -- and Republicans in general -- get their ducks in a row in time. The effect will be similar to one the Democrats had in 2006 -- conservatives will be more motivated to show up, and if other conservatives are running on the ballot, it will be much easier to continuing punching conservative -- and Republican -- names as they go down the ballot, if they have the appropriate information. So, whether it be the open U.S. Senate race, the four Congressional races, the other statewide offices, or State Representatives (State Senators are not up til 2012), Sam Brownback's leadership on the ballot could create a conservative wave that we have not seen in over a decade. With Brownback not currently having major opposition of any kind, he will also be free to help out fellow Republicans on the ballot.

Third of all, with Brownback as Governor, the long term political status of the state could also be impacted. While the near term effect in 2010 could be large in itself, the greater effect will be longer term. Brownback will likely be a powerful fundraising tool for state reps and senators running for office -- something conservatives have not had, which has put them at a disadvantage the past several election cycles. Also, he will have a key hand in redistricting, which would have a decades long impact on the political makeup of the state. In terms of legislative leadership -- particularly the State Senate, where conservatives have not had control -- there could be an impact after the 2012 elections. Fence sitters who sided with moderates this time will be less likely to do so if the Governor is twisting their arms. Simply put, the influence of people like Steve Morris and John Vratil could be coming to an end -- in fact, it would not be surprising to see either of these people -- nor their allies -- to run for reelection in 2012. Such is the effect when your power is taken away. If conservatives can do a good job of candidate recruitment, support, and training -- the small (but bigger than previous) Democrat and liberal Republican bench could be largely eliminated.

Finally, and this is quite important -- having the Governorship means the media has to cover you -- and while it may not always be positive, Sam Brownback has the resources and political skills necessary to impact the public's reaction to policy decisions in a positive way. The fact is, while the left doesn't like him and some conservatives have a beef with him on a couple policy issues -- the man is largely quite popular in the same way Bill Graves was. This will have an impact on the public's perception of conservatism.

Of course, this all presents a challenge to Brownback. Conservatives will have high expectations if and when Brownback becomes Governor. The media will be looking for ways to expose any rifts and also look for anything negative it can pin on Sam. Liberals -- and moderate Republicans -- will too.

The reason for that is that they see the same picture as we are painting here -- the potential impact of Brownback as Governor is huge, both policy wise and poltically. He changes everything, and they know it. Right now, they know there is little they can do to stop the train that is coming down the tracks, but once elected, they will look for any reason possible to derail the Sam Train.

This of course, means that conservatives must be resolute, and this is the point we will close with.

Conservatives have, justifiably in some cases, had differences with Senator Brownback on a few issues. The most notable one is immigration, where Sam has taken a heart felt position that is in opposition to what most conservatives believe. Many also have taken issue with his vote on the confirmation of Kathleen Sebelius.

Our advice: Fine -- but get over it. This is our one chance at a real conservative change in Kansas. Sam Brownback may not be perfect, but no politician is. He has the skills to win, and agrees with us on 90% of stuff, and has the personal demeanor that can communicate conservative ideals to the public in a way that they welcome.

Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the great. Respect the fact Sam has a couple differences, and embrace the 90% of the cases where you agree, focus on those, and focus on helping out other conservatives down the ballot. Take the emergence of a possible Governor Brownback as the huge opportunity that it is -- and the likely only one conservatives will ever get in the forseeable future.

Instead, we need to focus our collective energy on ensuring Sam wins and helping out other conservatives down the ballot. If you are a conservative in a seat currently held by a liberal, consider running. If there is running in a place where you live, help them. Donate to them.

In short, let's not simply make the possibility of a Governor Brownback just one nice political victory. Let's turn it into a real movement, capturing the concern over Obama and the course the Democrats are taking us and combining it with the rare chance at a unified, strong on message, strong on resources conservative ticket we've not had in recent years in Kansas.