SHAWNEE, Kan. (AP) — If you thought Kansas emerged from its long budget crisis to reject deep-red politics and move back toward the center, think again.
A year ago, many voters concluded that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s experiment in cutting income taxes had ended in failure, opening the door to a more moderate agenda. But now an even more aggressively conservative figure could win next year’s race for governor.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Harvard-, Yale- and Oxford-educated lawyer, leads a large field of likely candidates after building a national reputation as hardline provocateur on immigration and voter ID laws. His visibility rose sharply after President Donald Trump appointed him to help lead a commission on election fraud.
“People know who I am,” he declared during a recent interview. “I don’t have to spend a lot of time and money explaining what my position is or what my brand is.”
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Although the election is still a year away, Kobach’s many critics wonder whether he can be stopped, citing his political skills, his name recognition and his loyal base of supporters.
It’s a remarkable scenario for a state supposedly weary of ideological drama. Until recently, many observers were betting that Kansas would seek moderation — not the most explosive conservative option available.
The state’s recent financial woes offered a warning about how not to practice trickle-down economics. After Brownback persuaded the Republican-controlled Legislature to slash income taxes in 2012, Kansas struggled to balance its budget.
At the same time, the Legislature has been embroiled in a test of wills with a state Supreme Court that says school spending is unconstitutionally inadequate.
Voters last year ousted two dozen conservative lawmakers. Most of Brownback’s tax cuts were rolled back this year with a $600 million-a-year tax hike.