Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Liberals' Map Reveals Their Fears

In the ongoing dust-up over maps in the Kansas Legislature that is now headed to the courts, one of the most controversial points has been the attempts by liberal Republicans to carve out their opponents -- most particularly in three key races:

In Senate District 8, incumbent Senator Tim Owens has an opponent -- Rep. Greg Smith.

In Senate District 25, incumbent Senator Jean Schodorf has an opponent -- Rep. Brenda Landwehr

In Senate District 31, incumbent Senator Carolyn McGinn has an opponent -- Gary Mason.

In all three cases, the "Buffalo 30" map -- favored by liberals -- draws out their opponents.

It's been fairly easy for liberals to attempt to draw out their conservative challengers simply because their opponents have been campaigning for months. 

The other side of the story, uncovered by the media, is the possibility that the Buffalo 30 map -- which radically draws many districts to the point that half or more of some districts are new territory -- might attempt to draw "in" some candidates in an attempt to perhaps steal a seat or two.  

However, unlike their courageous conservative counterparts, these folks have yet to declare their intentions -- perhaps because waiting for a magical map to appear so they can run in a friendlier district.

Also, a key element to keep in mind is this:

Even if no changes were made to any Senators in the CURRENT Senate, there is no guarantee that the liberal power coalition would remain in power.  After all, in the Republican Caucus, 18 of the 32 Republicans have consistently been voting conservative on maps, taxes, life, and other issues that often define whether one is conservative or moderate -- so one wonders if perhaps conservatives are on the cusp of power, even with zero changes.

The moderate/liberal coalition needs to win 2-3 seats and prevent any conservative takeovers in order to be assured of having their leadership retained.

This gives a possible clue as to why they, on the same Buffalo 30 map, rather than trying to avoid controversy, they are drawing two conservatives -- Steve Abrams (current District 32) and Ty Masterson (current District 16) -- into the bizarrely drawn vertical district (District 16):

An odd, vertically drawn district -- stretching the entire north-south length of one county and halfway through another -- can only be drawn so as to perhaps reduce the # of conservatives.   So where did District 32 go?

Way up into Johnson County, where it encompasses the largely moderate Lenexa:

See, for years, Lenexa has been split up largely into two Senate Districts -- Senate District 10, occupied by Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook, has northern Lenexa -- and Senate District 9, occupied by Senator Julia Lynn, has the remainder.

In this map, though technically four Senate districts would include parts of Lenexa (one precinct in 10, Four in 8, and a couple in 9), the bulk of it --is drawn into Senate District 32. 

See, in the 2008 general election, both Julia Lynn (District 9) and Mary Pilcher-Cook (District 10) won by a 55% - 45% against their opponents.  Now with four years under their belt, they are unlikely to be defeated in what is largely viewed as a much friendlier year for Republicans, and especially conservative Republicans, particularly in Johnson County.

So, what to do?

Draw a new district wedged in between Lynn and Pilcher-Cook (who as you can tell by the map live just outside the new district), despite the fact both have represented significant portions of that district for the last four years, and for a new Senator on folks where one is not needed.

The thinking by moderates and liberals is that by including the bulk of Lenexa (which is viewed as more moderate than Shawnee or Olathe) into this district, they can perhaps make it possible that a moderate (like Rep. Worley) might win.

Now, one might say "well, but doesn't Johnson County  need a new Senate district?".  Yes, it does.  But one can be drawn without the ridiculous and dramatic changes seen in Buffalo 30:

1. In the case of District 9, represented by Senator Lynn, they remove nearly all of Lenexa, which has been represented by District 9 for two decades.  Now, District 9 needed to lose population so some of this was expected -- but they did so in a way that actually gives western Shawnee -- stretching up to Bonner Springs -- to District 9. (More on that in a minute) That portion of Shawnee is currently and has been with Senate District 10 for decades. 

2. In the case of Senate District 10, which needed barely any changes population wise and thus should have largely remained intact as is -- it not only lost western Shawnee, it nearly lost all of Shawnee south of SM Pkwy -- and picks up northern Overland Park, much of Merriam, and even a precinct in Mission...all areas with more Democrats.

But unnecessarily dramatically changing lines doesn't happen unless there is some mischief at work.   Let's take a look further at the Buffalo 30 map:

In District 9, in a district that needed to LOSE population, not only were areas well known to Senator Lynn taken away (Lenexa), it was also noteworthy that some were ADDED:

- In Olathe, areas between 135th and 143rd Street between K-7 and I-35 were added to District 9.  Precincts with 28-30% Democratic representation -- significantly higher than the 15-22% in some of the northern Olathe precincts she loses.

- Several precincts were also added in western Shawnee.  The key thing to know about these precincts is that they are in the De Soto school district.

Now, let's put those two clues together -- De Soto school district and more Democrats.

What Democrat ran against Julia Lynn, fell 5% short, and was the Superintendent of both the Olathe and the De Soto school districts (from 2009 to 2010)?

If you guessed Ron Wimmer, you are correct -- the same Ron Wimmer who is intervening in the current lawsuit over maps that currently resides in federal court!

Ron Wimmer is thinking -- if I can add areas of western Shawnee where they know me from being Superintendent and don't know Julia, and if I an add a few Democrats to my numbers in Olathe in precincts that also don't know Julia, perhaps I can close that gap between 45 and 50%.

Here is a map illustrating this (again, the top and bottom circles are areas Lynn does not currently represent):

To be clear, we think Wimmer would still fail -- Julia is a tremendous campaigner with a ton of cash -- but one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the mods/Dems' thinking here -- they want to try to beat Julia Lynn.

In District 10, the situation is even more blatant.  District 10 has represented all of Shawnee for decades.  Also, remember, per the census District 10 only needed to lose a slight amount of population -- meaning it shouldn't need hardly any tweaking, and one could certainly keep all of Shawnee (nearly the size of a Senate district itself) in the boundaries.  In Buffalo 30, however, it would be split up into three areas.

1) Senate District 9 (to accommodate Wimmer) would take up western Shawnee.
2) Senate Distirct 32 (a new district for moderates) would take up parts of southern Shawnee
3) Senate District 10 (where Mary Pilcher Cook lives).

In addition, it would lose several precincts to District 32 in northern Lenexa.

Because of the losses to 9 and 32, District 10 would go grab several precincts in northern Overland Park, several precincts in Merriam, and a precinct in Mission.  Now, a fair minded person might ask:

"Why wouldn't the new Senate 32, in an effort to be more moderate, go grab those northern OP precincts and allow District 10 to at least keep southern Shawnee, which has been with District 10, again, for decades?"

The key to this answer is simple:

1. The areas that District 10 acquires don't know Senator Pilcher-Cook.

2. The areas that District 10 acquires, when combined with the areas it loses, make it much more Democratic.

3. Lisa Benlon, a former State Representative, a Democrat, who was previously a Republican, who ran in District 10 in 2004 (when she lived in Shawnee) and got 42%; now lives in the area of northern Overland Park that Buffalo 30 would give to District 10.

Here's a map that illustrates this:

So, in this case, while gutlessly drawing out Greg Smith out of District 8 and challenging Tim Owens, they are simultaneously quite likely trying to draw in Lisa Benlon along with a whole bunch of new Democrats.  They want to try to beat Mary Pilcher-Cook.

Much like in District 9, we do not believe they would be successful -- Mary Pilcher-Cook is perhaps the best grassroots campaigner this county has ever seen since Kay O'Connor.

However, the attempts to defeat both Lynn and Pilcher-Cook, and replace either Masterson or Abrams with a new Johnson County moderate like Ron Worley -- provide clues that not only is the left wing coalition trying to play defense by drawing out conservative challengers -- they are also trying to radically and creatively redraw districts into nothing like they were before -- all in an attempt to oust three conservatives who currently make the difference between a moderate GOP caucus and a conservative GOP caucus.

As we pointed out in our last column, what shouldn't be lost on folks is the fact that the current maps -- which are most closely reflected in the conservatives "For the people" map as drafted by Senator Abrams -- elected 40 Senators who put the moderates into power.

However, in Kansas, things have changed the last 10 years and they are afraid that similar districts - would turn out a different result in 2012.  So out the door goes the ideals of similar representation, fairness, and respect to the voters -- those don't matter anymore.  

What matters now is Steve Morris, Anthony Hensley, Tim Owens, John Vratil and company attempting to gerrymander a liberal Senate on a state that doesn't want one.

These maps are the signs of a desperate group of politicians attempting to cling on to power. 
They violate every basic principle of redistricting and are an affront to common sense and fairness.  As such, to use a term coined by Senator Owens, they should be tossed in the garbage and rejected by the Federal District Court.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why is the Kansas Senate Leadership so Gutless?

Last week, we wrote about the historical actions and display of courage by the Kansas House and Governor Sam Brownback in our piece, “A Governor with Guts.”

In assessing the Kansas Senate, we can only arrive at the opposite conclusion – its leadership, backed up by a 21-member coalition of liberal Democrats and Republicans-in-name-only, is also achieving history of its own - but not for courage and shrewdness, but for arrogance and gutlessness.

Sound harsh?  Perhaps.  But, their arrogance and gutlessness was on full display today and discussed in this article “Let there be blood” in the Kansas City Star.  Two key excerpts from the article:


Accused of playing politics with the maps, Sen. Tim Owens angrily said he was tired talking about that "garbage" and stormed out of the committee room.


Meanwhile, conservatives were agitated because Senate President Steve Morris and Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler did not attend the meeting to discuss to the maps.

Sadly, as the article goes on to discuss, this debate over maps has spoiled over to the budget, taxes, and school funding.  Basically, the children are in charge, and Kansas is being held hostage in the process.

Now, before we go forward, let’s be clear – there are many in the Kansas Senate working diligently to actually improve Kansas.  Senators like Mary Pilcher-Cook, Julia Lynn, Ray Merrick, Rob Olson, Ty Masterson, Steve Abrams, Garrett Love, Rob Olson and others are using every tool in their toolbox to attempt to overcome what is a narrow, shrill, desperate liberal majority forged together by 14 RINOs and 7 of the 8 Democrats.

Politicians with courage would pass a respectable map as close to the current districts as possible in a timely fashion, close out the session quickly, and move onto the campaign trail and actually try to defeat their opponents by defending their votes and beliefs.

Not this bunch.  Instead, they have opted to stand in defiance and blatantly and shamelessly draw a map which protects their power by radically redrawing some districts while at the same time gerrymandering out their own political opponents!

Come to think of it, this coalition of cowards may want to consider forming their own party with a chicken as its symbol.

In all seriousness, their actions do beg the question-- what exactly are they afraid of?

At its surface, this debate over maps seems nonsensical.  Remember, it is Senate conservatives who have attempted to pass a map that is quite close to the current map – a configuration which has brought us two decades of moderate-to-liberal leaning leadership.

Therefore, if Kansas really was the moderate state that Morris, Emler, Vratil, Owens and their allies claim it is, and its citizens really embraced their views – wouldn’t their reelection be virtually assured?  Particularly given the fundraising advantages that come with being in power, conventional wisdom, history and a basic political analysis all say that Morris and friends should be able to crush most any challenger.

Or, could it be that after two decades of failure, on everything from school finance to job growth to our excessive rate of taxation, and after the 2010 election which ushered in four conservative congressmen, a conservative House and five conservative statewide officials, that Senate leadership is afraid they might be turned out of office?

Could it also be that after 20 years of using the “fund education” strawman as their chief political weapon, the people of Kansas have caught on to the notion that doing the same thing repeatedly doesn’t produce different results?
Could it also be that the Kansans want their government to actually be smaller?

Could it be that Kansas is truly a pro-life state?

“YES”, of course, is the answer to each of these questions – which is exactly what Steve Morris, Jay Emler, John Vratil, Tim Owens and their friends are afraid of – they fear they will actually lose, and lose big, and the only way to stop the oncoming conservative train is to succeed at gerrymandering their way to victory.

But, there’s more to it – because if conservatives were as extreme as the Senate leadership claims, wouldn’t Kansans just turn around and usher us out of power in four years, thereby setting back conservatism in Kansas for a generation?

Or, perhaps not.
  Perhaps Kansans might like what they see, and our place as a truly red state will be cemented for a generation.

See, conservatism, on a grand scale, has never really been tried in Kansas.
    Prior to Sam Brownback, we had 8 years of a liberal Republican governor followed by 8 years of a liberal Democratic Governor.  While the House for points in that history was modestly conservative, the Senate has always been quite moderate, even when it had a large GOP majority. 

The consequence of this has been liberal policies.
  We’ve been the abortion capital of the world.  We’ve been taxed to death.  There is no choice in our school system due to a death grip by the NEA.  Our government, until recently, grew each and every year.  Our bizarre judicial system, handpicked by trial lawyers,  is the most liberal of any state in the union.   We couldn’t even pass the Health Care Freedom Amendment out of the Kansas Senate, for heaven’s sake.

Now, those things are starting to unravel, and Kansans are getting a taste of the opposite and they like what they see.
  They imagine Kansas as a place of economic prosperity, where sales and income taxes are low, where jobs are created, where regulations are few, where government is limited, where competition thrives among schools, where liberty is protected, and where the sanctity life is cherished.

That, of course, is what Morris and company are afraid of:  Kansans, as a whole, will like that “new” Kansas, and once they get a full taste of it, there will be no going back.

So, rather than defending their votes and beliefs on a battlefield of ideas -- the coalition of 21 Senators is essentially conceding defeat in the hearts and minds of the electorate, and instead clinging onto their power
through some clever displays of geography on a map that Kathleen Sebelius would love.

In the process, they’re embarrassing the state and exposing themselves as what they are – arrogant leaders who lack the courage – the guts -- to take their case to the people they claim to serve. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Governor with Guts

Today, the Kansas House, in coordination with Governor Sam Brownback, showed great political courage in moving to concur on a previously passed measure to reduce taxes, a motion which passed 64-59.

This high-stakes dramatic political maneuver, which we will explain in a minute, will certainly draw criticism and will frustrate those on the left to death -- but it is was a move that was nonetheless necessary, if you believe elections have consequences and if you believe people in power, elected to take decisive action, must seize opportunities before them, even if politically risky.

It also signified a clear victory for conservatives in what had been a parliamentary and political game, with liberals and conservatives trying to out-smart the other, while also trying to score political points in the upcoming elections, which will be the most critical in the recent history of the state.

Most of all, though, it showed what true legislative success, the outcome of political success, can be achieved when you have a Governor with guts -- and a House with a backbone.  Truly, today's action was one of the shrewdest moves in Kansas history.

To recap, here is the story:

Step 1. Governor Brownback originally proposed a plan to lower the state income tax, with the eventual goal of reducing it to 0.  That plan included the removal of certain deductions, such as the home mortgage deduction.

Step 2. The Kansas Senate Tax Committee, in a "gut and go" style amendment to a different House bill (previously passed, which is critical here), added the Governor's proposal, with some changes.

Step 3. The full Kansas Senate, in March, added a "Christmas tree" of amendments, keeping the tax cuts, but restoring the deductions, as well as the sunset of the sales tax passed two sessions ago.   This made the bill much more expensive -- and at current levels of spending, unsustainable -- than the original.   However, conservatives, in order to keep the bill alive, voted for it.   However, the Senate originally killed it, though, on a vote of 20-20 --  but then on a motion to reconsider, passed it 29-11.  Among the 29 votes in favor were several left wing Republicans, including President Steve Morris, Majority Leader Jay Emler, Terrie Huntington, and others -- all voting for it so, come August, they could say they were in favor of tax cuts -- thinking that this version would eventually never pass.

Step 4. Because that version of the legislation was too expensive, House and Senate negotiators have recently been engaged in a conference committee which put the bill (same bill #) more in line with the Governor's original plan (some changes, however).  That plan -- much less costly than the original passed by the Senate -- was then forwarded to the Senate today for debate. 

This is where things get interesting.

See, liberal Senate Republicans, along with Democrats, don't like Governor Brownback, and they don't like tax cuts.  They like tax increases, big government, and political damage to Governor.  So,  despite the conference committee having forwarded the compromise plan to the floor, it was highly unlikely that the full Senate would adopt the plan -- thus potentially, given this late date in the session, pushing off tax reform -- a critical thing needed in Kansas -- to at least next year.  Throw in the redistricting mess and the general uncertainty of elections anyway, there is no guarantee tax cuts would ever be seen.

Oh, but wait.

Remember the tax cut bill that the Senate passed in March?  It, since it was technically was passed by the House and was amended by the Senate, could still be passed by the House and sent directly to the Governor.   How?

On a motion to concur.  If such a motion passed, the bill would go directly to the Governor, and the debate in the Senate over the revised version would die.

BUT, if the Senate killed the revised version first - then the action in the House would be void -- because it would nullify the previous vote which passed it.  

The simple question was -- who would act first?  That brings us to Steps 5 and 6.

The answer was the House, which passed the motion to concur on the more expensive version of the bill on a vote of 64-59 before the Senate could act.  But that was really "Step 6".  Step 5 was Senate conservatives who kept the debate alive on the revised version (which again, the Senate was going to kill) long enough to pass.

The vote sends the bill directly to the Governor, who, when it's officially presented to him, will have 10 days to sign it, veto it, or let it become law without his signature. 

Governor Brownback said today he would sign the bill, but urged legislators continue to work on his ideas.

In essence, that 10 day window -- really, 12-14 days by the time he receives the bill -- gives House and Senate negotiators time to pass a different version of the legislation that is closer to the version that the House and Brownback want.

If negotiators can get 63 (majority of the House) and 21 (majority of the Senate) to pass a new bill in that window, the Governor will sign that bill and veto the version passed today.

If they don't, then the Governor will sign the version passed today -- and work to fix the unsustainable parts of it in a future session.

The result of this gusty move by the Governor and House is two-fold:

In the short term, it puts the pressure on a few squishy Senate Republicans to either pass the tax reform package desired by the Governor and House -- and thus settle the issue, without having to worry about fixing the budget gap later through fixes to the plan passed today.

In the long term -- and this is the most important part -- today's action guarantees that there will be significant tax cuts signed into law, ensuring we will be on our way to fundamental tax reform and economic prosperity in Kansas.

What's ironic in all this is that several of the politicians who were trying to harm the Governor -- Morris, Emler, Huntington, etc. -- voted FOR the version of the tax reform that they are now complaining passed the House today.   So, while trying to protect their own hides by originally voting for tax cuts that they didn't really favor on a version they didn't think would ever really be signed into law, they kept the bill alive -- setting up the possibility for what happened today, which is that tax cuts will be signed into law, but only because they voted for it to begin with.

So, what happens now?

Do the left wing Republicans in the Senate cave and vote for a version more in line with Brownback's original package, in which case conservatives -- and the state of Kansas -- win?

Or, do left wing Republicans refuse to act and not pass anything, which means that the version passed today is signed into law, in which case conservatives -- and the state of Kansas -- win?

Of course, in the latter case, some will say "oh, but the budget deficit!"  No worries here, folks.  Brownback and the conservatives in the legislature know that whether it be next session or in a special session, that the issues in the bill passed today -- will be fixed, and the nightmare scenarios outlined will be avoided.

Now, are there risks in this?  Yes.   There always are in politics, but those who don't take risks don't get rewards.

But, in our view, the risks are not particularly high:

Given the Democrats were universally opposed to the bills, they could perhaps make hay of it and try to say that Republicans are being irresponsible -- but, the fact is Democrats are very weak in Kansas and that risk is minimal -- and Republicans could always justifiably charge in return the Democrats have zero interest in tax reform in Kansas.

As for the August primaries, which will largely take place in the Senate, the risk is also minimal - given that many of those moderates being challenged voted for the original version -- so they really can't complain about it passing.  Plus, if challenged, the conservatives who voted for it can simply say that they will fix it --  but that it was necessary to pass in order to achieve tax reform -- and in doing so, point out the games played by the moderates who voted for the expensive version but were going to block the budget-sound planned favored by the Governor.

So, in one political maneuver, conservatives called the bluff of the Senate liberals who voted for the plan and passed significant tax cuts on behalf of the people of Kansas.

In the end, a weaker Governor wouldn't have achieved this -- he would simply watched his bill die or be so severely weakened it would be categorized as a loss, both politically and legislatively.

However, because Kansas has a Governor with guts and legislative conservatives willing to back him up, today Kansas achieved a great victory -- and we believe that history will look back on today's actions as one of the most bold and courageous in Kansas history.