Kansas conservatives claim control after primary victories

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Kansas conservatives are claiming total victory in the state’s Republican civil war after a string of defeats for moderate Senate candidates in state legislative primaries Tuesday.

The shift in the balance of power could free up large parts of Gov. Sam Brownback’s agenda stalled by the infighting.

Joseph Aistrup, a political science professor with a specialty in Kansas politics at Kansas State University, predicts an abolition of the state income tax, a school-choice voucher program, a change in the state’s education-funding formula, and constitutional amendments expanding the appointment power of the governor over judicial nominees at the appellate and Supreme Court levels.

Tuesday’s primary results almost guarantee even more of a single-party state in Kansas because conservatives already dominate the 125-member House of Representatives with 93 seats and have a strong advocate in the governor’s mansion with Mr. Brownback.

In all, nine moderate Republican state senators, including Senate President Steve Morris, were knocked off the general election ballot by conservative candidates.

Mr. Aistrup expects Senate Republicans to easily win 23 to 26 of the 40 seats, giving Republicans a solid and reliable majority.

He characterized this week’s election as a referendum on Mr. Brownback’s policies, with voters showing they strongly support the governor.

“It was a gamble and it paid off,” he said of Mr. Brownback’s targeted attacks on liberal-leaning members of his own party in the primaries. “In Kansas, moderate Republicans are either dead or in hospice.”

With a closed primary, no high-profile statewide elections, and a 22.8 percent voter turnout rate, the conservative bloc of voters spoke loud and clear.

“The people of Kansas have a clear choice: Do we want to grow the government or grow the economy? Most Kansans want to grow the economy and increase the number of private sector jobs in our state. We will continue working every day to help Kansans fulfill their aspirations,” Mr. Brownback said, exulting in the primary results.

Kansas Republican Party Executive Director Clayton Barker was more conservative in his expectations for the legislative session, hoping for a modified tax bill, state pension reform, and a pro-growth economic agenda.

Mr. Barker characterized the results as a net positive for the Republican Party and Kansas. “These candidates are more in line with the governor’s policies, priorities, and philosophy — ultimately resulting in a more efficient and effective legislative session.”

Mr. Barker attributed the results to a strong conservative electorate and President Obama’s health care law and tax policy, in addition to more energized and experienced challengers.

Mr. Barker said that “2012 was the first election where many of these incumbent senators had a significant challenger.”

Mr. Aistrup said Tuesday’s results send a signal to the entire Republican Party: “Sing the same tune and walk with your right foot first or face the consequences.”

Despite the perceived uniformity in the Kansas Republican ticket, Mr. Barker emphasized there would still be debate and deliberation in the state Legislature.

“These candidates come from rural and urban centers or industrial and agricultural communities. They will represent their districts first. In addition, these candidates have strong personalities and could never be puppets,” Mr. Barker said.

Kansas is just one example in a series of elections in which moderate Republican incumbents across the United States have lost their respective primaries. Ballotpedia reports that of the 134 incumbents who have lost their primaries, 90 were Republican compared with just 44 Democrats.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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