As Kansas Republicans decide who to vote for in next week’s primary election, moderate senate incumbents and many newspapers urge voting for those Republicans who promote a “reasonable,” “balanced,” and “responsible” approach to Kansas government. When we examine the record of the coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats that governed Kansas for the first decade of this century, we see legislative accomplishment that not many Kansans may be aware of. Almost all have been harmful to our state.
Most of the moderate Republicans run campaigns promoting themselves as fiscal conservatives. But their voting records often tell a different story. That’s why in 2010 I produced the Kansas Economic Freedom Index to shine light on the actual votes cast by legislators. This year I joined with Kansas Policy Institute and Americans for Prosperity–Kansas to produce a larger and more structured index. Kansans might be surprised to learn that the senator who ranks lowest in voting for economic freedom is a Republican.
Perhaps the most important issue for most Kansans is jobs. In this regard, Kansas — under leadership of moderates — has performed poorly. A chart of the number of private sector jobs in Kansas as compared to a few surrounding states over the past eleven years shows Kansas at or near the bottom. (Kansas is the thick black line. Data is indexed so that all states start at the same relative position.)
Incredibly, not long ago Kansas was the only state to have a loss in private sector jobs over a year-long period. This is the culmination of governance by the coalition of moderate, traditional Kansas Republicans and Democrats.
Analysis in the current edition of Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index confirms that the Kansas economy has not performed well. The “Economic Outlook Ranking” is a forecast looking forward, based on factors that are under control of the states. The “Economic Performance Ranking” is a backward-looking rating that measures state performance, again using variables under control of each state.
For Economic Performance Ranking, Kansas is ranked 39 among the states, near the bottom in terms of positive performance. In the 2010 edition, Kansas was ranked 40th, and in 2010, 34th. Kansas is not making progress in this ranking of state performance. In the forward-looking Economic Outlook Ranking, Kansas ranks 26th. Again, Kansas is not making progress, compared to other states. In annual rankings since 2008 Kansas has been ranked 29, 24, 25, 27, and now 26.
Further evidence of the harm of moderate Republican/Democratic governance was revealed earlier this year when the Tax Foundation released a report examining tax costs on business in the states and in selected cities in each state. The news for Kansas is worse than merely bad, as our state couldn’t have performed much worse: Kansas ranks 47th among the states for tax costs for mature business firms, and 48th for new firms. See Kansas reasonable: We’re number 47 (and 48).
On government reform, moderate Republicans have blocked efforts to improve the operations and reduce the cost of Kansas state government. In 2011 the Kansas Legislature lost three opportunities to do just this. Three bills, each with this goal, were passed by the House of Representatives, but each failed to pass through the moderate-controlled Senate, or had its contents stripped and replaced with different legislation. See Kansas reasonable: Government reform.
Moderates are proud of keeping politics out of judicial selection. In reality, Kansas judicial selection is highly politicized and undemocratic, with out-sized power concentrated in a special interest group: lawyers. Among the fifty states, Kansas is at the undemocratic extreme in the way we select judges, and moderates defend this system. See Kansas reasonable: Judicial selection.
Moderates usually claim that they are the “education” candidate, and are proud of their support for spending on Kansas schools. They “march in lockstep” with those who constantly call for more school spending, even to the point of suing the state’s taxpayers for more money. They join with the special interests who fight against accountability measures. They also fight against an honest assessment of the condition of public schools in Kansas, and when you look under the covers, it’s not the pretty picture that education bureaucrats paint.
As an example, compare Kansas with Texas, a state that Kansas school spending boosters and moderate Republicans like to deride as a state with low-performing schools. In Kansas 69 percent of students are white, while in Texas that number is 33 percent. So it’s not surprising that overall, Kansas outperforms Texas (with one tie) when considering all students in four important areas: fourth and eighth grade reading, and fourth and eighth grade math. But looking at Hispanic students only, Texas beats or ties Kansas in these four areas. For black students, Texas bests Kansas in all four. Texas does this with much less spending per pupil than Kansas. See Kansas reasonable: The education candidates.
A recent column described traditional, moderate Kansas Republicans as those who “believe government has a more affirmative role in assuring a high quality of life for Kansans.” The record, however, is one that has placed Kansas at disadvantage to other states, and it will be difficult to recover. Kansas traditional: the platform.