Kansas Leaders Downplay Expectations When It Comes to Social Legislation

Robin Marty

Party moderates seem to be trying to lower the expectations of those hoping 2011 will be a year of conservative social reform in the state.

We’ve already begun pondering the idea that Governor-elect Sam Brownback actually might end up disappointing his new legislative colleagues when it comes to championing social issues in Kansas. Now it seems that even leaders in the Republican party are working to lower expectations of the governor when it comes to pushing bills against abortion, reproductive health and other rightwing redmeat items.

Via KansasCity.com:

“This election was not about social issues. It was about economic issues,” said Andy Wollen, a Lenexa marketing consultant who’s chairman of the moderate Kansas Traditional Republican Majority. “If Republicans dash down the path of social issues — making our culture more conservative — then they’re heading in the wrong direction.”

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The Legislature will open its annual session, also on Jan. 10, with GOP majorities of 31-9 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House.

Republicans picked up 16 seats in the House, and legislators of all philosophies concede it has moved to the right on issues such as abortion, stem cell research and gun rights.

But legislators also don’t see a big philosophical shift in the Senate, where only two seats were filled in special elections and all 40 seats won’t be on the ballot until 2012. While it’s likely to pass some abortion legislation, key leadership jobs will still be held by GOP senators who resist social issues.

As governor and the real leader of the state GOP, Brownback will have to mediate conflicts among Republicans.

It could be tricky. As a U.S. senator, he was a strong opponent of abortion and gay marriage, and his identification with religious conservatives in the past has built expectations that he’ll help them achieve their goals as governor. Yet, as a candidate and governor-elect, he’s warned publicly against overreaching and has made it clear that he’ll emphasize economic issues.

“His No. 1 priority is going to be getting the economy growing again,” said Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag. “The governor-elect isn’t worried about being distracted from his No. 1 priority.”

Steve Cloud, a former Kansas House member from Lenexa who served on the GOP National Committee, said Republicans prospered this year because voters were unhappy with how President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats handled the economy and sense that government spending and the federal debt are out of control.

He said centrist voters supported Obama in ’08 because they were tired of the GOP’s “right-wing” agenda, then switched back to the Republican Party when Obama and his fellow Democrats proved too liberal for them on issues such as health care and the federal economic stimulus.

“If the Republicans in Kansas don’t learn from that and they come back with an avalanche of right-wing issues, then they’re going to push all of the independent and centrist voters back to the Democrats,” Cloud said.

Although there may not be a “big philosophical shift” in the Senate, a big shift may not be entirely necessary to push through legislation once it has been brought to the floor.  The only thing to stop some anti-choice legislation during the last session was a lack of enough votes in the senate to override the governor’s veto.  With a Republican governor in the driver’s seat, a majority is all that is needed, and Brownback could then continue his moderate stance untouched by appearing to champion rightwing social causes.

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Kansas, Sam Brownback

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