TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Sam Brownback is perhaps the most conservative Kansas governor-elect in at least a generation, but he's likely to face political problems on his right from Republican legislators ready to capitalize on big GOP election victories.
Signs of potential trouble emerged last week, when a Kansas House member urged GOP colleagues in a letter to seek the repeal of this year's sales tax increase. Brownback has criticized the tax increase but opposes repealing it next year because of the state's immediate budget issues.
Abortion opponents are eager for additional rules and reporting requirements for clinics and doctors, and their agenda also includes restrictions on medical research with embryonic stem cells. Brownback is a strong abortion opponent but has made it clear the economy is his top priority.
Anti-abortion groups and anti-tax, small-government Republicans sense great opportunities because the GOP picked up 16 seats in the Kansas House, giving Republicans a 92-33 advantage. Some GOP members see a new mandate to govern from the right, something thwarted for years by governors and bipartisan legislative coalitions.
"What Brownback's challenge will be is facing a group of conservatives who've been waiting a long time for this moment," said House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican. "They've won, and they want results and have set the bar pretty high."
Brownback himself concedes that he's the most conservative governor at least since Democrat Robert Docking, who unseated Republican Gov. Bill Avery in 1966. Avery had established an income tax withholding system and boosted taxes to help public schools.
The new governor is a sharp break with those who've held office over the past 15 years, Republican Bill Graves and Democrats Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. They vetoed anti-abortion bills; Graves and Parkinson pushed through tax increases to deal with budget problems in 2002 and 2010.
Brownback talked frequently during his successful campaign about keeping taxes and government spending in check. He said recently that he'd like to cut individual income taxes to spur economic growth.
He's also gained some national attention on social issues. He's a strong opponent of abortion and gay marriage and, as a U.S. senator, pursued issues such an allegedly "activist" judiciary and the perceived need for a new "family hour" for television.
But a few Kansas conservatives have privately doubted Brownback at least since 2006, when he supported bipartisan legislation creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Others were upset last year when he voted to confirm Sebelius, an abortion rights supporter, as U.S health and human services secretary.
Brownback's transition team includes moderates, most notably former state Rep. Kenny Wilk, of Lansing, and Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican who supported this year's tax increase.
And the "Road Map for Kansas" outlined by Brownback in his campaign for governor listed goals with broad appeal, such as creating private-sector jobs and improving test scores for public school students.
He said in his first first post-election night interview that it was important to avoid "things that are an overreach."
"I ran on the Road Map, won on the Road Map. We're going to govern on the Road Map," he said last week. "Part of that thinking, actually, was that if we were able to win, that there would need to be a set agenda, or there might be a lot of different ideas coming in that we might be able to move forward and deal with."
But the Road Map may not be enough for some Republican legislators, particularly in the House.
Last week, Rep. Owen Donohoe, a Shawnee Republican, sent GOP colleagues a letter urging them to commit to candidates for leadership posts who back what amounts to a "consensus platform."
His goal is an agenda that includes anti-abortion legislation and repeal of the sales tax increase. He'd also like to require legislative audits of all 293 Kansas school districts.
And, tellingly, Donohoe wrote: "As you know, Gov.-elect Brownback has a legislative agenda, but it may not be as conservative as we wish."
Brownback isn't backing repeal of the sales tax increase next year because it would make budgeting significantly more difficult.
In its current budget, the state is sustaining aid to public schools and spending on social services with federal stimulus dollars. Officials don't expect additional stimulus aid, leaving a $492 million gap in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Subtracting an additional $370 million in sales tax revenues would require cuts — and 88 percent of the state's revenues go to education and social services.
The governor-elect said the state can't grow economically if it's perceived as a high-tax state.
But he added, "Having said that, we've got to balance our budget."
As for social issues, Brownback has said little about them publicly, suggesting he's likely to let anti-abortion groups and legislators take the lead for a while.
Meanwhile, some Republican legislators' hunger for results, fueled by the tea party movement and Brownback's 63 percent of the vote, should keep expectations high among conservatives. And that's likely to create at least a few headaches for the new governor.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Political Writer John Hanna has covered Kansas politics and government since 1987.Tags: