Governor Brownback, the Wizard of Oz

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Has Kansas, under Governor Sam Brownback, become  second-rate, with a semi-Fascist government? The answer is in the history of the state since Brownback took over.

Remember this about Fascist governments, under which domination Kansas seems to have fallen. They are never unpopular when they are being installed by their masters. Even Hitler was very popular with Germans. The Neo-Fascists of today, like the Kansas legislators, like Karl Rove and like Governor Brownback understand how to grasp power from the citizens. Dick Cheney would never have been elected President. The Republican Party knows that they need stooges, like George W. Bush. In Kansas, that stooge may be Governor Sam Brownback. Or it may be that his brand of disregard for the middle class, the working class and the truly poor and powerless is the Kansas brand of Neo-Fascism.

Or it may be in Kansas, as it is in some other states, that millions of completely propagandized, brainwashed individuals lack the understanding that their freedom is being taken away. They vote for the Party that says that it wants to return citizens and the country to its prior “freedoms.” And what does that mean? In Kansas, it was pretty simple. It has meant cutting taxes for the rich and corporations, giving them more “freedom” to amass wealth. It means reducing funds for education, closing schools, firing teachers, juggling pension funds.  It means allowing the insertion of irrational religious ideas into secular schools. It means reducing the number of people who have access to health care—think of that—deliberately cutting off poor and in some cases destitute families from health care until they are so sick they come to emergency rooms, often with a death sentence from incurable disease. It means reducing the power of the intellectuals, the universities and the newspapers with mailings and events that pander to the top ten percent of society whose lives now seldom touch those of the lower economic classes. This is the kind of government that Sam Brownback has designed for the average citizen of Kansas.  

As with earlier Fascists, those seeking to control the population have arguably won the confidence of the majority of the people. In a time of fear or economic chaos, demagogues will come to offer simple solutions.  Although Reagan was not a dictator or in all likelihood, even a Fascist, in a time of crisis and high inflation and high unemployment, he portrayed himself as a genial, grandfatherly presence. But his backers were the military-industrial complex and hard-core Conservative CEOs of global corporations. It was during Reagan’s presidency that the infrastructure for Neo-conservative action and later Neo-Fascist action began. Now we see the eventual result: deprivation of rights, voting rights, multiple attempts to repeal the right to publicly legislated health care options, the denial of legal birth control and abortion rights, the obstruction by Congress of job creation efforts in a time of extremely high unemployment and the reduction of the civil right to a public education. This and many other attacks on American citizens took place in the ALEC-sponsored Fascist legislatures in the South and in large parts of the Middle West. Over half the states in the Union are now under the control of Neo-Fascist legislatures and governors, all bribed by the giant lobby group, ALEC that works tirelessly to confuse the public while buying up legislatures. They are elected by a public that succumbed to the hundreds of lies created through millions of dollars of Right Wing television commercials.

There is no question that a failed educational system that allows people to fall into the gap between reality and religion has had a disastrous effect on the average citizenry. Anti-abortion and alternative lifestyle issues have divided the population into those who are educated and understand science and those who are ignorant. Right Wing so called, think tanks plus Neo-Fascist politicians, and commentators provide some gibberish for Right Wing politicians to use as justification for their corporate votes.

Next came the gigantic effort by the super-rich to control elections and buy politicians with unlimited money through the new Supreme Court approved Citizens’ United law. With this law, the Supreme Court has made the worst decision since Dred Scott and has given corporations the right to spend enough money to buy legislatures. Backing the Fascist-Republican Party, they have already purchased 31 state legislatures and governors, the House of Representatives and now, a Republican Senate.

Which brings us to Sam Brownback and Kansas. Is Sam Brownback in the pocket of large contributors? Is he merely another pawn of the Right, carrying out a global corporate agenda to control all levels of government? Before we answer that, let’s look at one of his prominent pieces of legislation. With a state government deep in debt from revenue losses incurred in the Great Bush Depression and never restored, (because Brownback never took any action to restore them) Brownback decided to eliminate state personal income taxes…one third of the state’s revenue stream. And he had support from both Democrats and Republicans. Why?

Well, when 73 current or recent members of your state legislature, all Republicans, are members of ALEC, the nationwide corporate lobbying group, then a piece of legislation likely written by that lobbying group, will probably pass. After all, ALEC supports only Republicans in Kansas and thanks to ALEC’s reciprocity for their votes, there is now a Republican super-majority in both House and Senate. So some Democrats had the choice of voting for tax cuts for their constituents or being subjected to television campaigns accusing them of voting against the people. In reality, a vote for the tax cuts, both for high income individuals, who made out best, and corporations, whose taxes were also eliminated, would have been a vote against the people. But that is not how the millions of dollars of television commercials paid for by ALEC and people like the Kansas-based Koch Brothers would portray it.

In addition, the President of the Senate, Susan Wagle, is a member of ALEC, hard at work passing the corporate-written legislation, and the Speaker of the House, Ray Merrick, is a longstanding ALEC member, at work for Brownback and the corporations. Payoffs and bribes everywhere up and down the line.

So what was the outcome? By June of 2015, after severe cuts to public education, to highway and road maintenance and after juggling payments to pensions….the little state of Kansas has a $400 million deficit. Kansas has less than 3 million people, about the same as Chicago, only far less sophisticated. And boy have they been swindled, metaphorically of course. (And maybe literally. Who is to say?) Now the governor, who saved the wealthy and corporations millions in aggregate tax cuts, must now increase taxes. So Kansans, average Kansans, will see sales tax increases, again sponsored by good old ALEC. And no business income taxes. That wouldn’t be helpful to Brownback’s supporters, the global corporations who pay for his lies to the citizenry of Kansas. Yes. There will be tax abatements for the poor. Hell, they don’t have any income to speak of anyway.

So, thanks to the brilliant work of Governor Brownback, Kansas has gone from a solid, conservative state to the twelfth highest state in gross debt per capita, right in there with California and Louisiana. Has corruption come to Kansas? Only Kansans can tell you that. But what they will also be telling you, as their roads and bridges disintegrate and their education statistics begin to drop. Kansas already has a D+ rating in overall achievement and in early childhood education. With the Governor’s budget cuts, those declining figures are probably destined to fall even further.

The worst part of the Brownback tax cuts are the following results: there is no business growth. The numbers of new businesses is declining. The exciting possibilities of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, continually reduced by tax cuts and finally being considered for complete defunding has moved prospective hi-tech companies away from the high level of interest that had developed among innovation technologies. Sin taxes, the governor’s solution to declining revenue and debt, his legislature says, will not fill the gap. (People probably don’t smoke and drink much in Kansas anyway.) So what caused the big problem? Here, in brief, from the Wichita Eagle, is the answer:

”And with the state facing a $422 million budget gap, that has some lawmakers questioning the wisdom of the expansive business tax cuts enacted three years ago, the report says. The exemption has allowed more than 330,000 business owners and farmers to pay no income tax.”

So, if we consider the number of people in Kansas, 2.9 million, consider that only about 40% are working and one third of those pay no taxes because their incomes are so low, that means that, in this agricultural state, only about half of the eligible people pay any taxes. No wonder there is a deficit of $422 million. There will be a lot more debt next year because the state will never be able to recover that fast. In fact, cutting the budget, and cutting growth enterprises like the Kansas Bioscience Authority, have Kansas in a downward spiral. Next year’s revenues have just been reported to be revised downward by another $98 million dollars.

Everything is failing in Kansas. What’s the matter with Kansas? Brownback for one. ALEC, a national organization designed to bleed states dry for huge international corporations is another. Corrupt Republican politicians (well…the ALEC people only seem to find allies, that is, sell-outs, among Republicans.) And finally an ignorant populace, intellectually lazy, greedy (for a pittance in tax breaks) and short-sighted…selling out their children’s future to corporations. While Kansas declines, people-oriented states like Massachusetts are gobbling up all the hi-tech jobs, have 50% higher annual incomes, better schools, better roads, cheap world-class health care, and in return pay a few hundred dollars a year in state taxes.

Finally, there is nothing, perhaps, that distresses the public more, in most sane communities, than the reluctance to provide adequate funding for education. Comparing Kansas and Governor Brownback’s approach to other states, it may be best seen from an education perspective. In 2009, 2010 and 2011 as a result of the Bush Depression, 34 states actually reduced funding for elementary and high school (K-12) education. Over 300,000 teacher positions were cut. Kansas under Brownback was one of the worst, cutting by 14% eliminating whole schools and cutting music teacher and librarians positions. Staffs were slashed in place like Shawnee Mission, Wichita, Baxter Springs, Galena and other school districts. But in 2013 and 2014 things began to turn around in education. In 2013, 18 states began to raise funding for education and in 2014, 29 more states increased educational funding. But not Kansas. Brownback, whose kids probably attend a private school, as do ALEC lobbyist members’ children probably, and many of the Republican legislators’ children, cut education spending another 4% while other states were expanding.

So how is that “red state” plan that cuts taxes but somehow makes everything better working out for Kansas? It is doing about the same good for Kansas as the Wizard of Oz did for Dorothy.