- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sam Brownback was on the front lines when President Lyndon Johnson declared his 1960s war on poverty.

Armed with an intact family and a community that placed a value on education and elbow grease, Mr. Brownback fought off the shackles of destitution and worked his way out of Parker, Kansas, going on a meteoric rise through state politics and both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Now, when he returns to the farming town of his boyhood as the governor of Kansas, he still sees the poverty. But he doesn’t see the success stories.

Wrought by the spirit-killing subsidies of Lyndon Johnson’s quixotic quest, Parker, like so many other small towns from the Great Plains to the Rust Belt, lost its edge.

“You could go back to that same community today, to Lynn County, Kansas, and look at generational poverty, induced partially because of all of the government programs that came in and didn’t require work, penalized family formation and didn’t support an educational structure,” Mr. Brownback said at the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday.

The governor’s three-pronged approach to fighting poverty is to emphasize work, education and family. He said able-bodied work requirements on welfare and subsidized work-training programs in Kansas have increased the labor participation rate — giving people the necessary skills and motivation to drive themselves out of poverty.

“We’ve tripled the number of people leaving poverty, the average income went up 127 percent for people getting out of poverty programs and we’ve even had some uptick in the marriage rates that have taken place with this program,” he said.

Mr. Brownback said fiscal conservatives have been accused of everything from racism to heartlessness for opposing welfare expansion — more often harping on the insolvency of welfare programs than their deleterious effect on the poverty rate. In order to get their ideas implemented, he continued, conservatives need to change the message.

“I think our objective should never be about saving money in welfare reform,” Mr. Brownback said. “Our objective should always be about getting people out of poverty, and we should talk passionately about getting people out of poverty. That that’s what our objective is.”

“This is a critical issue, and it’s a big moral issue for me, and I think for everybody,” he said. “What we do for the poor. We need to measure outcomes, not just how much money we spend in the programs.”

Despite his effort to avoid penny-pinching rhetoric, Mr. Brownback’s fiscal policy has its critics in Kansas.

The governor has been a piata for Kansas officials who have criticized him for refusing to raise taxes in the face of a projected budget deficit. Even some Republicans concerned about the upcoming November elections have distanced themselves from the policy.

“Let him own it,” Republican Rep. Mark Hutton told the Associated Press. “It’s his policy that put us here.”

But if he was sweating a protracted legislative fight over his fiscal policy, Mr. Brownback’s didn’t show it. Pointing to his 2014 re-election bid, the governor said he’s run on his economic record before, and all indications were, he’s willing to do it again.

“Normally when you finish up a campaign, what you try to do is put your strongest ads up right at the end, and usually they’re attack ads, because those end up being the most successful, where you can move the most voters,” he said.

“One of the ads was a single mom whose child was now going to college, because she had gotten off of welfare, and she was very thankful for the programs, for the educational opportunities we had done, and that was the most powerful ad that we closed our campaign with, which I loved.”

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