By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World
TOPEKA, KAN. — Alarmed by the sharp change of direction in state government under Gov. Sam Brownback, a group of former Republican legislators has vowed to try to change his policies, with some members of the group working against his re-election.
The group of 70 people calls itself Traditional Republicans for Common Sense.
"The governor's poll numbers show that Kansans are not happy with what he is doing," said Rochelle Chronister, a spokeswoman for the group who has served as a legislator, state welfare agency secretary and chair of the Kansas Republican Party. "I think he has to be held accountable," Chronister said.
The group includes a number of well-known names in Kansas politics, such as former Senate President Steve Morris of Hugoton and former state senator Jean Schodorf, who has switched to the Democratic Party and is running against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. In fact, there are a number of Republican state senators in the group who were defeated in last year's GOP primary by allies of Brownback.
Other group members include former state and U.S. Senator Sheila Frahm and former senators Dick Bond, Fred Kerr and Wint Winter Jr. and former House speakers R.H. Miller, Wendell Lady and Jim Braden.
The current state GOP leadership has little use for the group.
"They are a sour grapes caucus," said Clay Barker, executive director of the state Republican Party.
Always the top party in Kansas, the GOP is increasing its dominance over Democrats in voter registration and success in federal, statewide, legislative and county elections, Barker said.
Barker said many Democrats in Kansas are switching to the Republican Party because of what described as the failings of President Barack Obama.
But Chronister keeps her focus on Brownback and the conservative state Legislature.
She said the Traditional Republicans group opposes the tax cuts pushed through by Brownback, including those that exempt certain businesses from income taxes while repealing tax credits aimed at helping low-income Kansans.
"We are very concerned about the trickle-down economics theory of the governor," she said.
Brownback has said his tax changes will stimulate the economy, but critics say the changes benefit wealthy Kansans while bankrupting schools and social services.
Chronister said the tax cuts will also make it impossible to provide the necessary funds to schools, especially if the Kansas Supreme Court orders an increase in a pending case.
And the group opposes efforts by Brownback to hand-pick appellate court judges without input from a nominating commission.
"Why would you trade a merit system for a political system? But of course if you are making a power grab that is something that you would do," she said.
And one policy that has personally irked Chronister is the recent proposal by Brownback to take $12 million from a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and use that for a program to boost grade-school reading scores.
"When you have that much money leftover in TANF to finance a reading program, you are not doing your job. That money should be used to help people earn a living," said Chronister, who used to be in charge of the agency that administers TANF.
The Brownback administration says that improving reading scores will help reduce poverty.
Chronister said the group probably won't endorse a candidate for governor in 2014 but that individual members will and some of those will support the Democratic candidate, who will likely be House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence.