Use power with care, governor

8/10/2012

Dear Gov. Brownback,

Dear Gov. Brownback,

Congratulations. Tuesday's election validated your agenda for Kansas as you and the state Chamber successfully defeated most of the voices of moderation in the Republican Senate primary.

You have achieved something many of us thought was impossible. As a result of the election, your wing of the party will become The Party. The infamous two-camp Republican Legislature will transform itself into the Conservative Legislature.

The pesky moderates have been swept out. Those evil-doers will no longer be able to team with the even more awful Democrats to stymie your policy goals.

It's now the Brownback way, or no way.

With those words of encouragement out of the way, though, I would like to offer some unsolicited advice. I have no doubt you will ignore it, just as you have ignored all of my advice over the years. However, as a loyal Kansan, I feel compelled to make a few observations.

First, don't forget the adage about power. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The Democrats in Washington forgot that lesson after they swept into power following the 2008 elections. They paid for their neglect in the 2010 elections and could well again this fall. They crammed through an ill-conceived reform of health care and have suffered at the polls ever since.

So, use you power wisely.

Sure, you will have the votes to remove the tax caps on local school funding, but having the votes and making good public policy are not necessarily the same things.

Kansans, generally, support a strong public school system and they recognize that giving Johnson County unfettered taxing authority for schools means the rest of the state will suffer. And it will. With unlimited resources for their schools, the Johnson County delegation will no longer support equity in school spending in the rest of the state. The Gold Coast will get more of the gold and the rest of us will get coal.

Second, compromise is not a dirty word. Over the last few years, extremists in both parties have redefined compromise as the moral equivalent of appeasement. It's not.

I know, the right-wing of the Republican Party is now the mainstream, and I'm one of the few RINOs — Republican in Name Only — left. Despite the ascendancy of the conservatives, there are still lots of varied interests in the state. The conservatives don't own all the good ideas. Sometimes, the public good should trump party politics.

Third, create just a little distance between you and the state Chamber. The Chamber has an awesome amount of power and money right now, but it also suffers a bit of arrogance. More than a dozen local Chambers have dropped out. There's a reason. If I were on the state Chamber's board, I would want to know why these groups, which should be natural allies, no longer want to affiliate with the state organization.

A little distance will give you important perspective.

Fourth, think legacy.

You inherited a state with plenty of problems, but it's also a state full of good schools, good roads, compassion for those less fortunate, a system of taxation that was balanced and fair and a judicial system largely insulated from the shifts of the political winds.

Those are all good things.

The state you are creating feels like a different place. Kansas has long had the reputation of being one of the most conservative states in the Union, but I don't think reality has ever matched perception.

It really has been a place where almost anyone could find a niche, where people of all kinds could find a place to feel comfortable.

It doesn't feel much like that these days. That's sad.

And so, as you bask in the glory of an election overhaul, I hope you give some thought to your place in the state's history.

Make it a good one.

Sincerely,

Bruce Buchanan

Bruce Buchanan is president of Hutchinson-based Harris Enterprises.

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