Bench Memos

The Battle for Kansas

The Wall Street Journal has a story on an interesting and very important battle over the direction of the Kansas state legislature. You might wonder how a handful of state legislative races got to be national news. Basically, the Republican party of Kansas is divided into two camps, with conservatives on one side and liberal Republicans on the other. The liberal Republicans — who conveniently but inaccurately prefer to call themselves “moderates,” or centrists — have joined forces with state Democrats to fight Governor Brownback and conservatives on a number of priorities, from taxes and spending to Obamacare and Missouri Plan reform. In short, Governor Brownback’s bold agenda can be taken hostage by a small number of liberal legislators who would like to dictate statewide policy in a very conservative state.  

As the story’s author put it: “A defeat of the centrist Republicans could open the door for further tax cuts, reduced state funding for schools and other government services, and new power by the governor over judicial selections.” That assessment was confirmed by Senator Tim Owens, one of the leaders of that liberal-Republican bloc, who argued that, if he is defeated, “legislation likely would pass giving the governor more power over the selection of judges to the state court of appeals, leading to the appointment of more conservatives and a rightward shift in the judicial branch.” (I guess Owens believes that Kansans would rather have their judges selected by a committee of unaccountable lawyers than the elected governor.)

JCN has been following Owens for quite some time. In 2010 our colleague Gary Marx had this to say about him and his successful effort to block two conservative measures:

Unfortunately, I am reliably informed that the liberal Republican chair of the state senate Judiciary Committee, Tim Owens, is obstructing [Missouri Plan] reform legislation, refusing to even hold a hearing. I hadn’t heard of Owens until now, and I doubt very many people have, but apparently this is not the first time he has used his power to thwart the goals of his colleagues.

Owens also played a key role in blocking the state’s Health Care Freedom Amendment, one of many state efforts to push back on Obamacare. The Kansas version had been endorsed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity, Concerned Women of America, the Kansas Policy Institute, the Kansas Family Policy Council, NFIB, ALEC, and a number of high-profile public officials who have also supported judicial-selection reform, including Governor Brownback and Rep. Tim Huelskamp.

I am happy to report that Owens’s chickens are coming home to roost. A number of prominent center-right organizations, including Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, are engaging in an effort to educate Kansans about the kind of representation they have been getting from Owens and his liberal colleagues. JCN is proud to join them in the fight for limited, constitutional government in Kansas.      

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