The American Left and strategic thinking Reagan Republicans agree: The re-election campaign of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is now the most important race in America.
Kansas? Governor? We were all told that the fight to control the United States Senate was the end all and be all of 2014.
Yes, the fight for the Senate is important. It is well understood by all concerned. Republicans chose stronger than expected candidates. Democrats often missed opportunities.
But the direction of the country will be set by the Kansas race. Why? Kansas is a relatively small state with only four congressmen. Why would anyone notice one state???s governor?
The reason is because Sam Brownback has successfully led two strategic campaigns that can be repeated in the 23 other states that have a Republican Governor and a Republican legislature. Together those states have more than half the nation???s population and their combined electoral votes could elect a president. His model, if followed in other states, can change the nation.
What did Sam do?
First he led the successful effort to turn the Kansas Legislature from nominal Republican control to become a Reagan Republican legislature committed to lower spending, lower taxes, tort reform, and school choice by primarying 13 ???Republicans??? senators who voted with the teachers unions, trial lawyers, and big spending special interests.
It is easy for a Republican Governor to campaign against liberal Democrat legislators who oppose their agenda. That is expected. But Republican governors usually take the opposition of ???moderate??? Republicans as a given.
In Virginia, former governor Bob McDonnell wanted to sell off the government-owned liquor stores and use the money to build roads. Republican legislators serving special interests refused. Eventually the governor caved and agreed to a tax increase to pay for roads (he had campaigned on his promise to never raise taxes) that hurt his standing, his party and cost Republicans the Virginia governorship in 2013. In Pennsylvania, Republican governor Tom Corbett also wanted to sell off the government liquor stores to pay for roads. A handful of Republican Senators, bowing to union pressure, stopped this and a number of other important reforms crippling Corbett???s ability to govern as a Reagan Republican and leading him???as with McDonnell and despite his public promise to never raise taxes???to raise taxes to pave roads. The Republican legislature???s decision to undermine Corbett???s reforms may cost Governor Corbett his re-election bid.
Virginia Republicans and Pennsylvania???s Corbett would have been much better off learning from Brownback???s gutsy move: Brownback worked with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce to run primary campaigns against the 13 anti-reform Republicans in his state senate including State Senate president Stephen Morris. Two decided not to run for re-election. Nine of the remaining eleven were defeated in the GOP primary and the conservative challenger went on to win in the general. Two ???moderates??? survived. One has returned to the fold and the other walks around in a daze. The so-called ???moderates??? were not moved by principle but by day to day special interest lobbying. Their party affiliation was a matter of inertia, a regional loyalty dating back to the American civil war when Kansas was with the North. With Lincoln. Hence Republican.
Once he won a Reagan Republican majority in the Senate in 2012 Brownback introduced a bold proposal to phase out the state's personal and corporate income taxes. This would not have been possible if he was hobbled by the timidity of the special interest controlled ???moderates.??? Yes, first he talked to them. But then he worked with the good people of Kansas to replace them.
The genius of Brownback???s 2013 legislation to abolish the income tax over time is that the law now states that each year that state revenue comes in above a two percent increase???and this happens in a normal period of modest growth???all the additional revenue is used to permanently reduce the state personal income tax. Beginning in 2019, after the first round of tax rate reductions are enacted, every year the personal income tax rates will fall until they hit zero. Then the corporate income tax rate will be brought down year by year to zero. Lastly, Kansas has a banking tax that will then be reduced to zero. The tax rates will ratchet down every year there is modest growth in state revenues. Kansas can???and now by law will???fund necessary government expenses out of the revenues from growth over time and use those to replace the personal and business income taxes.
In the past opponents of tax cuts have argued that "we wont' be able to pay for all the wonderful 'services' people want." The Brownback reform reduces tax rates as more revenue comes in from natural growth in the economy. It stops the state from capturing the higher revenues created by the hard work and productivity of Kansans. That additional revenue flows back to taxpayers in lower tax rates. Government is paid for-but not paid to grow without reason.
Efforts in other states in the past to reduce or eliminate state income taxes have relied on replacing income tax revenue with higher or broader sales taxes. This understandably generates strong opposition from the new targets of higher taxes. Cutting spending today to cut income tax rates is a good idea, but also stimulates political opposition. Trading rate reductions next year in return for not spending ???surplus??? revenue above two percent growth greatly reduces the political strength of the tax and spenders.
This politically palatable way to phase out state income taxes could pass in many of the 24 states with full Republican control. This virtuous competition will force even Democrat states to reduce their income taxes or lose businesses and people to red states.
Governor Brownback is not coasting to re-election. Some polls show him down. Many of those ???moderate??? Republicans he primaried are bitter about losing their jobs and their sense that they were doing the best they could in Kansas. Younger voters like Brownback, older voters more in the Bob Dole mold do not understand that years of drift were loading Kansas with unfunded pension liabilities and debt. Why did Brown back have to ???shake things up???? The Senate primary that pitted incumbent Pat Roberts and TK Wolf divided the GOP. The Left saw the opening of Republican divisions and has piled on claiming that years of overspending and higher taxes that many states in the area impose and the damge this has done to Kansas is the fault of Brownback???s reforms. It is a little???not a lot==like blaming Reagan for the accumulated economic policies of Nixon, Ford and Carter.
If Sam Brownback wins in November watch for more governors who have his courage to challenge anti-reform Republicans in primaries and to phase out their state income taxes.
This is what the Left wisely fears.
Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.