Is it too early to start talking about the next presidential election in 2016?
My esteemed colleague and fellow Insight Kansas columnist, Burdett Loomis, ventured into this distant election future to pour cold water from the Kansas River on Gov. Sam Brownback’s potential presidential candidacy. Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas, noted that Brownback’s name is almost never mentioned in newspapers as a likely Republican presidential challenger and that the airwaves instead are currently filled with the faces of Brownback’s likely competitors (Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan). Yes, Sam has zero national presence right now. But does this doom his presidential candidacy in 2016? I don’t think so.
Let’s discuss why Sam is out of the national limelight. Very early in the GOP primary process, Sam supported Texas Gov. Rick Perry. When Perry’s campaign fell off the tracks, Sam was the odd man out. At the 2012 GOP convention, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney featured his early supporters: Christie, Rubio, and especially Ryan.
In the wake of Romney’s defeat, the GOP has been wondering how they could have lost? Sam is not attached to this failure, so there is no reason for Sam to participate in the diatribe occurring nightly on all the cable news networks.
Moreover, after considering various fixes for the Republican’s apparent deficiencies in 2012 (immigrants, single mothers, etc), the GOP will pivot back to the right, and will decide that Romney lost because he was a moderate versus a real conservative. To beat the Democrats, Republicans have to nominate an unapologetic, real conservative for President in 2016.
Within this context, Sam can become a viable candidate. Several factors work in his favor. He’s not associated with Romney, the loser. He has put his nose to the conservative grindstone, implementing real conservative policies in Kansas; including cutting personal income taxes, privatizing the delivery of government services and cutting government waste. Finally, there are a couple of deep-pocketed multibillionaires, perhaps from Wichita, who — thanks to the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling — can single-handedly finance a presidential candidacy.
The fly in the ointment for Sam is the tax cut plan he signed into law last legislative session. Even with a projected economic growth rate of a generous 4 percent, these tax cuts along with the planned roll back of the state sales tax rate will cause a shortfall in state general revenue fund (SGF) of about $750 million annually. Cuts in SGF spending of this magnitude, on top of those already enacted over the past four years, will have many unintended consequences, almost all negative for local property tax rates.
Governors who have won the presidency have done so running on strong records of success in their home states. With 23 other states where Republicans also control the levers of state government, building a record of conservative success to standout among this crowd will be critical for Sam’s presidential aspirations. Last year’s tax cut law, which was more reckless than conservative, was not a good first step toward building this record of success.
If Sam does not act, not only will it sink his presidential campaign before it even starts, it also will embolden the Kansas Democrats to recruit and fund a viable gubernatorial challenger. Since 1962, Bill Graves is the only Republican incumbent governor who has won re-election. Ouch.
Given the latest headlines from Cedar Crest, it appears Sam understands there still is time to turn things around. For the sake of Kansas and Sam’s presidential chances, let’s hope the new state legislature will work with him to correct this taxing situation.
Joseph A. Aistrup is a political science professor at Kansas State University and a member of the Insight Kansas writing group.