By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World
TOPEKA — In picking former state Rep. William A. Kassebaum as his campaign treasurer, potential gubernatorial candidate state Rep. Paul Davis, a Democrat, selected someone with a well-known name in Kansas politics who has been at the center of the Republican infighting that Davis must tap into if he has a chance of defeating Gov. Sam Brownback.
Davis, the Kansas House minority leader, announced last week that he has formed a campaign committee to start a possible run against Brownback, a conservative Republican who is running for re-election in 2014. Davis also launched a website for a potential bid.
Much of Davis' brief announcement was devoted to Kassebaum, who is the son of former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, and grandson of former Gov. Alf Landon, both high-profile Republican names in Kansas politics.
"I am excited to appoint former Republican state Rep. William A. Kassebaum as my treasurer," Davis said. "Bill and his family have a long record of moderate, bipartisan leadership in Kansas. This is exactly what Kansans want in Topeka," he said.
William Kassebaum, a rancher and lawyer in Burdick, served one term in the Kansas House.
In a phone interview Monday, Kassebaum said in school funding and tax policy, Brownback has not been good for Kansas. "I think we need a change of course from what we are on," he said.
Kassebaum had short tenure in House
Kassebaum's brief tenure in the Legislature shows the chasm between so-called moderate and so-called conservative Republicans.
In 2002, Kassebaum defeated House Republican Leader Shari Weber in the Republican Party primary and later won the general election. Weber, of Herington, was seen as vulnerable because of her reluctance to support tax increases to shore up the state budget during the 2002 legislative session. Weber eventually voted to raise $252 million in new revenue.
In 2004, Kassebaum helped lead a group of moderate Republicans and Democrats to pass a bill in the House raising sales and income taxes to fund a $155 million package for public schools. Later that year, Weber came back and defeated Kassebaum.
During that campaign, Weber benefited from the anti-tax organization called The Club for Growth, which mailed thousands of postcards and purchased radio ads denouncing Kassebaum.
The local chapter of Club for Growth was guided by David Kensinger, a longtime Brownback staff member who is now president of Brownback's political action committee. The national head of the Washington D.C.-based Club for Growth at the time was Stephen Moore, who said he wanted to make sure that within five years there were no pro-tax Republicans in Kansas.
Davis needs moderate Republicans
If Davis runs against Brownback, Davis must woo moderate Republicans. Of the state's 1.73 million registered voters, approximately 45 percent are registered Republicans, 30 percent are unaffiliated and 25 percent are Democrats.
"He will need Republican support to win," Kassebaum said of Davis.
Kassebaum said he agrees with Davis that Brownback's tax cuts have destabilized the budget, which will hurt school funding and other government services.
And, Kassebaum said, the cuts are unfair. Brownback pushed for and signed into law a provision that exempts from income taxes non-wage business income reported by LLCs, Subchapter-S corporations, and sole proprietorships. Brownback has said the provision will boost businesses in Kansas.
But Kassebaum said it will allow businesses to avoid taxes while continuing to use government services. He said he could form an LLC and not pay any income tax on his ranching operation. "I'm still using the services. I want good schools and roads and they still need to be paid for," he said.
Kassebaum said his grandfather, Alf Landon, helped establish a progressive state income tax in Kansas during the Great Depression. "They put into practice a lot of sound economic policies that the current administration wants to get rid of. I think Paul is concerned about that," he said.
Kassebaum said he enjoyed working with Davis in the House, that they have kept in touch through the years and was glad to help Davis' potential bid for governor.