Other than the Wizard of Oz, tornadoes, and the world's largest ball of twine, most people seldom think much about Kansas -- unless they are on the boring 425-mile trek on I-70 to get somewhere else. Politically, this state is no different. We're a flyover state -- solid red Republican territory that votes too late in the cycle to usually matter.
But since the last mid-term election in 2014, Kansas has been nothing but news politically, from an independent U.S. Senate candidate almost beating the sitting incumbent to allegations of systemic voter machine fraud.
Between these issues and a secretary of state that just won't quit on his schemes to purge the voter lists, a governor intent on bankrupting the state, and a state supreme court that is about to take over the school funding, the state is a complete mess from a political perspective.
1. Judge Trivializes Voting Machine Fraud Case
Dr Beth Clarkson has made some pretty incredible accusations in the 2014 Kansas U.S. Senate race -- that the math just doesn't add up and points to a systemic tampering of machines.
The state and local voting agencies have dragged their feet, stalled, and tried to derail her efforts for an audit of the paper tapes. So she sued in district court.
The defendants asked for summary dismissal in mid-February, which the judge did not grant, but instead trivialized the case to the point of utter uselessness.
In his ruling, the judge determined that the only outcomes would be a recount or nothing, removing an audit of the paper tapes off the table.
This is completely pointless since a recount is just going to give Clarkson (and the rest of us following this) the same questionable result. It's the paper tapes that hold the answer, and without an actual audit the state has succeeded in wasting everyone's time, which only increases the skepticism of the whole process.
2. You Can Fight For Your Country, But You Still Might Be Purged From Kansas' Voter Rolls
Ralph Ortiz, a Kansas resident and 13-year Air Force veteran is among six others suing the state for violations of the federal "Motor Voter" laws, by requiring more documentation than the law permits to be allowed to vote.
Ortiz lived in Kansas for several years during his Air Force deployment and decided to return to Kansas afterwards to live. When he changed his driver's license, he was asked if he wanted to register to vote, which he did. But then, he got a letter from the state telling him his registration was purged because he didn't provide proof of citizenship (according to Kansas standards) when registering.
So far, over 35,000 citizens have been purged or placed into the lower tier of voting, half of whom are young voters with no party affiliation. The two-tiered system invented by Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), which was struck down in January, divided people into those who could vote in federal elections (complying with the "motor voter" laws) and those who could vote in state and federal elections.
Kobach's 'holy war' on voter fraud has yielded nothing but bad press for Kansas and a small handful of indictments. When vying for prosecutorial power in voting fraud cases, Kobach claimed as many as 200 grand-slam cases he had ready to prosecute.
Seven months later, he's officially prosecuted 6, half of which could be credited to dumb mistakes and ignorance of the law.
3. With the 6th Worst Bridges in the U.S., Governor Brownback Robs $1 Million a Day from the Highway Fund
Trying to prop up his failed economic policies, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has been redirecting highway funds to the tune of $1 million a day in 2016 to cover budget shortfalls.
Now in its second year, Brownback's economic experiment has been a conservative crucible of trying to coax the economy into activity through supply-side economics.
With a tax plan that eliminated taxes on 300,000 of the wealthiest Kansans, the state has had to bolster revenue shortfalls with sales tax increases and diverting funds from other accounts.
While seen as a 'gold standard' of economic growth, Kansas is still in the bottom 10 of the 50 states in job creation. The experiment has failed.
But where it has 'succeeded' is in the ability of lawmakers to panic over the shortfalls and start cutting programs and budgeted amounts. This includes plans to tighten TANF (temporary welfare) to a lifetime eligibility of 24 months (down from 36 months). Also on the chopping block, causing more political chaos, is the cuts to school funding--raising the ire of the State Supreme Court.
4. State Supreme Court May Write School Budgets... Again
This isn't the first time that the state courts have blocked the legislature's funding of school--declaring them unconstitutional by state standards.
The courts have given the legislature until May to fix the problems, yet the legislature has yet to even consider taking up the measures.The teacher's unions have urged teachers to opt for a smaller one-time payment of their summer wages at the end of the school year because of the uncertainty in funding.
In 2015, the budget crisis forced school districts to close early for the year, cut programs, close schools permanently, and cut teaching jobs.
While the court's ruling protects the integrity of the 2016 school year, all bets are off if this becomes a court-directed budget.
The real problem with all of this is that the state legislature 'knew' the courts weren't going to accept their law when it was written, but it has become a part of the political power struggle between the Kansas legislative and judicial branches.
5. Don't Like The Way The Courts Rule? Defund Them, Then Make Impeachment Easier
In the constant struggle between the courts and the legislature, the legislature has tried to reign in the court's power by threatening to defund the judicial branch if they didn't comply to legislative demands.
While this amounted to political extortion, it didn't convince the whole legislature, and they finally backed down from defunding the courts. But then came the next scheme: just make it easier to remove the judges.
While reasons for impeachment are vague in both the U.S. and state constitutions, a very specific addition has made it through the Senate committee to include:
[A]ttempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government.
While this 'sounds' like a reasonable addition, all branches of government are far from innocent on usurping each other's authority and power -- at the federal and state levels.
The biggest problem with this ploy is limiting the courts while the executive and legislative branches retain their own 'encroachment powers.' This is once again only a political manipulation of the courts--something far from intended in our government's design.
Big Government Running Amok in the Reddest of Red States
What ever happened to the simple conservative principle of smaller government that worked better?
At each step of the economic and political disasters in Kansas, the government has had to get more involved, not less, to try to put out the unintended fires created by the previous actions.
While Brownback wanted to make Kansas an exemplar of a shining, vibrant, conservative state, all he's succeeded in doing is angering the moderate Republicans in both the legislature and the general population.
The great economic and political experiment may have truly backfired, and if Kansas now has even the slightest tinge of pink to it, a new battleground state might be in the makings.
This is far from mere speculation. No one thought that independent Greg Orman would have a good shot at taking on the well-funded U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R). Yet Orman ran an amazing campaign, requiring the national Republicans to swoop into the state, spending millions of dollars to pull out a thin win.
If this could happen in 2014, anything is possible in 2016 with the most recent political developments in the state.