Friday, November 30, 2012

Conservatives are in the driver's seat in the Kansas Legislature; professors ask where they will take the state

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

A group of political science professors on Thursday said conservative Republicans led by Gov. Sam Brownback are in the driver's seat in Kansas and now the question is where will they take the state.

"The governor is going to be able to push through his legislative agenda in a very meaningful way," said Joe Aistrup of Kansas State University. "We are going to see a very strong pendulum swing to the right," Aistrup told about 75 people who gathered for a post-election discussion at Washburn University.

Conservative Republicans knocked off eight moderate Republican incumbents in the state Senate in August and will be in charge of that chamber when the legislative session starts in January.

In the 125-member House, Republicans, most of them conservatives, hold a 92-33 edge over Democrats. More than 50 members of the House will be new legislators.

Aistrup said conservatives have made moderate Republicans in Kansas "almost extinct." Moderates, he said, are retired, beaten or converted, and he said that the Democratic Party probably won't be viable in Kansas for decades.

Michael Smith, of Emporia State University, said now that conservatives have taken over state government and hold all six congressional positions, they must show what their small government philosophy will look like.

Smith said to make significant budget cuts on the federal and state level will require cuts to health care and education and it will be interesting to see how the public reacts to that.

Ed Flentje, of Wichita State University, said the number of state governments in control of the Republican party has grown from nine in 2008 to 24 in 2012. In fact, he said only 11 states have divided party control.

"At the state level, red states got redder and blue states got bluer," Flentje said.

Burdett Loomis, of Kansas University, said Kansas has become a more conservative state while the United States "is trending blue."

He said Republican governors face a dilemma.

"They've got to deal with the federal government. They can choose to cooperate, work with it, or not cooperate and play it on a pure political basis," which could hurt the states, he said.

Loomis said one of the bills that he expects will pass next year in the Kansas Legislature and be signed into law by Brownback would allow a religious defense to discriminate against gays.

"That kind of legislation will slide through the Legislature," he said. Last session, the House approved the bill, but Senate leaders, who have since been defeated in the GOP primary, wouldn't consider the bill. Several Lawrence officials fought against the measure, saying it would have nullified a city of Lawrence anti-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation.

Bob Beatty and Mark Peterson, both of Washburn University, and Gwen Mellinger of Baker University also spoke at the event.