What’s the Matter With Kansas? NYT Says Failed, ‘Beleaguered’ Republicans Like Sam Brownback

July 28th, 2017 2:44 PM

The New York Times, never overly interested in what goes on in Middle America, has nonetheless long had its knives out for Kansas’ Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, striving to make him a national example of the perils of foolish tax cutting, and delighting in his “failed” right-wing experiment in Kansas. Reporters Mitch Smith and Jacey Fortin used Brownback's new ambassadorship to unload its stored-up Brownback hostility, in Thursday's “Kansas Governor to Be Nominated as Ambassador.

The reporters took precisely four words before employing a piece of vocabulary that the paper (and more recently President Trump) uses to indicate disapproval:

Sam Brownback, the beleaguered governor of Kansas whose aggressively conservative fiscal polices turned some fellow Republicans against him, will be nominated to serve as ambassador at large for international religious freedom, the White House said in a statement on Wednesday.

Mr. Brownback, 60, represented his home state in Congress before being elected to two terms as governor beginning in 2011.

On Twitter, Mr. Brownback wrote on Wednesday: “Religious Freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul. I am honored to serve such an important cause.”


Mr. Brownback’s popularity has plummeted in recent years as the state slashed services and struggled to meet its revenue projections, problems that many attributed to Mr. Brownback’s signature tax-cutting doctrine. Despite Republicans’ dominance in Kansas, the party suffered losses in last year’s legislative elections.


Mr. Brownback’s policies were seen as a test of the Republican doctrine that lowering the tax burden on businesses would attract employers to the state and help the economy grow. It was being closely watched by conservatives across the country to see how it might affect Kansas. But the growth never came.

The Times failed to provide a fond or even civil sendoff.

“He leaves behind a legacy of failed leadership,” said State Representative Melissa Rooker, a moderate Republican who has frequently opposed Mr. Brownback’s policies. She said she did not know what to expect from Mr. Colyer, a Republican and an ally of Mr. Brownback’s, because he was not involved in the day-to-day dealings of the Legislature.

Representative Jim Ward, the Democratic leader in the Kansas House, said he was “not surprised” to hear of the appointment, which has been rumored in Topeka for months.

“I’m not going to miss him,” Mr. Ward said. “He has left a state in carnage and destruction.”

A Friday follow-up from reporters John Eligon and Julie Bosman was headlined “Kansas Governor’s Tenure May Serve as a Warning for Conservatives.” The text box foreshadowed the labeling bias of the text: “Showing that even in a red state, there could be dangers in governing too far to the right.”

Meanwhile, there’s no such thing as a politician going too far to the left for the Times’ tastes.

For more than six years, Gov. Sam Brownback has steered Kansas on a hard right turn on one issue after another: taxes, guns, abortion rights, Medicaid and welfare benefits.

He will leave as an unpopular leader of a state in uncertain fiscal health, with more robust conservative policies and governed by a Legislature in which many in his own Republican Party have defied him. Polished, persistent and self-assured, Mr. Brownback has been seen as a model for the opportunities and perils of governing without compromise from the right on both social and fiscal issues.

But after the Trump administration said on Wednesday that Mr. Brownback, 60, would be nominated to serve as an ambassador at large for international religious freedom, his legacy in Kansas may be a cautionary note that even in a Republican state, there are dangers in governing too far to the right.


Yet he remained defiant to the criticism that his tax policies had left the state with huge budget deficits. Asked if he should have approached his tax policies differently, he largely blamed a weak national economy for the state’s fiscal woes.


Still, in his remarks, he spoke fervidly of his new role. At one point, explaining how taking communion could get people killed in some countries, Mr. Brownback, who is Catholic, became red in the face, paused and had to take a sip from a Styrofoam cup before continuing to speak.

In some respects, the position may be a return to an earlier version of Mr. Brownback’s political persona: During his time in the United States Senate, he was known chiefly as an articulate and well-mannered advocate for conservative social issues, like opposing abortion and human cloning, and for speaking out on issues of international human rights.

After that relatively respectful sortie, the NYT returned to the funeral for both Brownback’s political career and tax cuts in general.

To critics and allies alike, Mr. Brownback’s fatal flaw might have been his unyielding devotion to his conservative tax doctrine.

Eligion and Bosman damned Brownback with faint praise.

The governor’s stubbornness in sticking with conservative orthodoxy on taxes was in some ways counter to his more pragmatic approach in other areas.

He recently toured the state’s western reaches to promote conservation measures for the Ogallala Aquifer, the nation’s largest freshwater aquifer, whose depletion could be detrimental to Kansas’ vital agricultural economy.

And he has been generally supportive of providing financial incentives to renewable energy providers as a way of boosting Kansas’ wind energy industry.


To Steve Brunk, a former Republican state representative, Mr. Brownback’s reputation was hurt by what he felt were distortions about the impact of his tax policy and state spending.


Others, including many Republicans, saw less to praise. State Representative Stephanie Clayton, a moderate Republican, said she was “excited” about Mr. Brownback’s likely departure and called it “an opportunity for Kansas to have a fresh start, for us to return to dignity in governing.”

Ms. Clayton said the governor’s tenure had been marked by division within the Republican caucus and political hostility toward moderates like her.