What’s With The Star’s Brownback Fetish?

Even after the November election, with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback secure for another four years, The Kansas City Star continues to hammer on him like a way- ward child. What’s up at 18th & Grand?


By Jack Cashill


In late January, as I commence writing this column, I enter “Sam Brownback” in the search function on The Kansas City Star’s Web site and review the articles or editorials on Kansas budget issues. Incredibly, 10 have been posted within the last day.

That is not a misprint: 10 separate entries, “one day” old or less. I can tell at a glance that at least nine of the 10 are slams on the recently re-elected governor. Here, we learn, is what Yosemite Sam has been up to since yesterday:

He “shifts blame.” His boast “rings hollow.” He “embarks on unpromising tour.” He “proposes to backpedal on school funding, too.” He presides over a “muddled budget crisis.” These quotes all come from separate headlines. The body copy, if you can believe it, suggests Brownback is up to even less good.

True, none of The Star headlines is quite as deranged as this one from PoliticsUSA, “Kansas Governor Sam Brownback Is Stealing More From Children and Retirees to Fund Tax Cuts,” but for PoliticsUSA, Brownback is one target out of many. For the Star’s editors, Brownback is the reason they get out of bed in the morning. So relentless is their badgering of the governor that it seems less a grudge than a mental illness.

My favorite among recent Star headlines dates back to the days before Barack Obama visited Lawrence. I should add here that the summer budget balancers and sunshine deficit hawks at The Star had no problem with the sundry new and ingenious ways the president recently promised to spend money we do not have.

Brownback got no such pass. Among the more telling Star headlines on the eve of Obama’s visit was this one, “On grim Tuesday, Sam Brownback’s new budget harms schools, roads, pensions.” Telling perhaps, but not exceptional. For The Star, this homely hint of apocalypse was boilerplate.

On that same day, The Star’s political savant, Steve Kraske, took a creative new whack at the gubernatorial pinata: “Kathleen Sebelius criticizes Gov. Sam Brownback’s vision for Kansas.”

Newcomers to the area may not understand that headline. It is unlikely that the word “Kansas” comes to mind when they hear the name “Sebelius.” Just as well. For all of her undoubted virtues, private job growth in Kansas tanked during her tenure as Kansas governor. While surrounding states were cutting taxes and making business climates sunnier, Kansas was doing its unwitting best to punish productivity and to reward cronyism.

As a result, there were fewer private-sector jobs in the state in 2011, after her cronies had been driven out of Topeka, than there were in 2003, when she and they set up tent. About the only sector that prospered under her watch was the late-term abortion industry. In the way of dubious glory, she helped make Kansas the world capital of the same.

Newcomers who read The Star may not know this. They are more likely to think of her as the Secretary of Health and Human Services under Obama, the same Kathleen Sebelius who so mismanaged the roll out of Obamacare that her party imploded during the 2014 midterms. Indeed, Democrats had their worst showing at the polls in nearly a century. So conspicuously awful was Sebelius’s reign at HHS that even Nancy Pelosi dissed her, and Obama quietly drop-kicked her out the back door.

So who on God’s green earth could possibly care what Kathleen Sebelius thought about anyone’s vision? The folks in the OCD ward at 18th and Grand, that’s who.

“I really worry about what the result of this great experiment will be,” Sebelius told Kraske, “and how long it will take the state to recover from what seems to be a failed and flawed vision of cutting taxes and job growth.”

To his credit, Kraske did solicit comments from Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley, who reminded him that Obamacare penalized businesses for offering full-time work and that, oh yes, “The governor’s policies have resulted in a record number of working Kansans.”

Brownback’s “great experiment” is not all that “great” or all that “experimental.” Any number of states have taken comparable steps to encourage growth. The strategy is entirely straightforward: reduce income taxes, eliminate small business pass-through taxes, cut unnecessary spending, expand sales taxes to compensate, and share the growth strategy with all comers, not just the cluster back-patters of Johnson County.

Unchastened by The Star and its tag-along media, Brownback has promised to continue his efforts to reduce the income tax burden, reward productivity, and give families more freedom to control family budgets through consumption taxes. This is not a revolutionary argument.

In Florida, a state without an income tax, job growth registered a 46 percent increase from 1990 to 2014. In Texas, another state with no income tax, jobs have increased 67 percent. The national average is 28 percent during that period. Even in otherwise attractive high tax states, like California and New York, jobs have increased at less than the national average—alarmingly so in New York state.

In Illinois, Missouri’s neighbor to the east, the state government has, over the years, devised a strategy that is more Star than Brownback: relatively high income taxes, generous state spending, and industrial-strength cronyism.

The results have been entirely predictable. In article after article, The Chicago Tribune laments the state’s “stubbornly high jobless rate,” its “slower job growth,” its worrisome “population trends,” a financial picture “bleaker” that anyone thought, falling revenues, a deficit predicted to double, and sputtering state agencies soon to run out of money.

This is where Kansas was heading. This, it would seem, is where The Star wants it to head. The Tribune predicted it would take “at least a couple of years of pain and sacrifice” to turn things around in Illinois. At the first tiniest hint of pain and sacrifice in Kansas, The Star’s editors start shouting Armageddon. And let’s be honest: they won’t be happy unless they get it.

About the author

Jack Cashill is Ingram's Senior Editor and has been affiliated with the magazine for more than 30 years. He can be reached at jackcashill@yahoo.com. The views expressed in this column are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Ingram's Magazine.