Moderates Rise Up in Kansas a Tea Party Experiment Appears to Be Backfiring

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 31, 2014 | Go to article overview

Moderates Rise Up in Kansas a Tea Party Experiment Appears to Be Backfiring


IOLA, Kansas

The several dozen citizens gathered at a street corner just off the main square of this southeastern Kansas town of 5,600 were polite and friendly in the Midwestern way. They did not look in the least like a band of counterrevolutionaries intent on reversing the direction of the government in Topeka.

Yet the results of the Tea Party rebellion four years ago have led these civic-minded, middle-of-the-road Kansans to a quiet but fierce determination to take their state back from those who once talked incessantly about taking their country back.

What brought them together earlier this week was a visit from Paul Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor. Mr. Davis has generally been running ahead of Republican incumbent Sam Brownback in what is one of the country's most consequential showdowns on next Tuesday's ballot.

Mr. Brownback set things up this way by launching what he called, proudly and unapologetically, a "real, live experiment" that he hoped would provide a model of red-state governance. He pushed steep income and business tax cuts through the legislature, insisting that his program would spur unprecedented economic growth. The results so far have been less than inspiring: large budget deficits, credit downgrades and substantial cuts in education spending, some of which were reversed only because of a court order. Only rarely does an election pose such a clear philosophical and policy choice.

Mr. Brownback often cited low-tax Texas as his model, prompting a ready reply from Mr. Davis. "They don't want to be like Texas," he said in an interview at his storefront headquarters here. "They just want to be Kansas."

What it means to be Kansas is precisely what's at stake, and it's why Mr. Davis' campaign uses #RestoreKansas - a traditionalist's slogan when you think about it - as its Twitter battle cry. The choice Mr. Davis is offering is not between liberalism and conservatism but between two kinds of conservatism - the deeply anti- government Tea Party kind and an older variety that values prudence and fiscal restraint but also expects government to provide, as Mr. Davis put it, "the basic services that are essential to the state's vitality."

In his stump speech, Mr. Davis emphasizes public education, transportation, Mr. Brownback's rejection of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and a widely unpopular privatization of Kansas' Medicaid program.

What's striking is how many Republicans have joined Mr. …

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