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Jayhawk Voters Rejecting the Right?


September 11, 2014

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Gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis, walking alongside running mate Jill Docking, is a friend of Kansas workers, says AFL-CIO Executive Secretary-Treasurer Andy Sanchez, a member of Topeka Local 226.

Kansas is situated dead-center of the continental U.S. But, under the leadership of incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback, a former U.S. senator, the state has veered politically to the far right.


Since his election in 2010, Brownback helped defeat a number of moderate Republican state legislators replacing them with tea party conservatives who have supported his agenda to lower all taxes and “get government out of the way.” Brownback promised those policies would create jobs and prosperity for working families.

Brownback’s experiment has been a dismal failure for all workers, especially in the construction sector, says Andy Sanchez, executive secretary-treasurer of the state’s AFL-CIO and a former Topeka Local 226 apprenticeship training director.

Job creation in Kansas lags behind neighboring states, the result of the governor and his allies starving the state budget of essential funds like those for transportation projects, says Sanchez. The state’s bond rating has been downgraded by Moody’s and two other investor services even as corporate tax rates have been reduced.  Some local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce have decried Brownback’s budget and tax cuts as hurting small businesses.

Republicans constitute an overwhelming majority in Kansas. But some polls now show Brownback trailing his opponent, the state House minority leader Paul Davis, who has a strong record of supporting workers and unions.

“We have a chance to take the governor’s seat back,” says Sanchez. “Even though Kansas is a red state, we’ve elected Democratic governors before when Republicans have veered too far to the right.”

Sanchez says he is hopeful that, if elected, Davis’s strong pro-labor record will herald “protecting working families from a lot of damage coming from the legislature.”

If the Kansas governor’s race is surprisingly close, alarming developments in the state’s contest for U.S. Senate have drawn even more national attention.

On Sept. 3 Chad Taylor, the Democratic candidate running against incumbent Republican Pat Roberts, a 34-year congressional veteran, dropped out of the race.

Political observers expect most of Taylor’s Democratic support to shift to Greg Orman, an independent and former Democrat who says he will caucus with whatever party wins control of the U.S. Senate in November.

“Pat Roberts started out as a moderate, but has veered off the road into the ditch, opposing reasonable pro-working family policies,” says Jeff Read, IBEW’s Kansas political coordinator and member of Wichita Local 271.

Over the course of his congressional career, Roberts has voted for the labor-endorsed position 13 percent of the time, according to the AFL-CIO scorecard.

Read and Sanchez say union locals don’t have any close working relationships with Orman. But they say they are hopeful that, should he be elected in November, Orman will be more open to bipartisan progress in job creation and support for working families than was Roberts.