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11:24 22 July 2016

OPINION: When "We're not in Kansas anymore" is an understatement

By James Simms
OVERLAND PARK, Kansas, July 21, Kyodo

For a glimpse of what more, extreme fundamentalist Republican policies could engender across America, one need to look no further than the Midwestern state of Kansas.

The state has become the self-styled (and failed) laboratory for the free-market extremism and anti-government policies espoused by the likes of the Tea Party and wealthy backers such as the billionaire Koch Brothers of Kansas. A lesser form of such libertarian doctrine has played out nationwide and in other states where Republicans control the governorship and legislature.

Such policies, especially economic, have led to greater income and wealth disparities, which politicians of all stripes now acknowledge, and increased distrust of government. That in turn has fueled the populist rage that led to the unexpected rise of Donald Trump, now the Republican Presidential candidate, as well as avowed socialist Bernie Sanders.

(The Democratic Party, especially under President Bill Clinton and his ex-Goldman Sachs Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, also share blame for kowtowing to Wall Street demands, which led to the subprime meltdown.)

That standard Republican template includes a push for drastic tax cuts, spending reductions, deregulation and privatization of government services. In moderation they can make sense. But in extremis, they don't, especially when the facts prove otherwise.

In parallel, while calling for greater freedom and strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights, that template can also encompass right-wing religious and social views at the state level, such as restricting abortion and the teaching of evolution in schools.

Moreover, it's no coincidence that these Republican states pass laws that can disenfranchise African-Americans, a traditional support base for Democrats. Last week, in the name of preventing voting fraud, Kansas fine tuned proof-of-citizenship requirements to make it harder to cast ballots in state and local elections.

Today in Kansas, the libertarian, evangelical-Christian governor, Sam Brownback, has run the state with an iron fist since being elected in 2010. In addition to massive tax cuts that were supposed to stimulate economic growth and higher revenues (they didn't), he purged the remaining moderate Republican state senators in 2012.

Revenue shortfalls caused the state to slash education, health and welfare and infrastructure outlays. Indeed, some poorer school districts had to shorten their school year in 2015. The state's Supreme Court ruled the education cuts unconstitutional because of the inequity created among districts.

A Republican and former state senator, Wint Winter, Jr., told me that Brownback appears to be pursuing stated and unstated goals: eliminating income taxes on individuals and corporations and "starving the beast" of government of funding. The latter may be to enable the privatization of state services, said Winter, an executive committee member of the "Save Kansas Coalition."

While Trump has reaped the benefits of failed Republican policies, it's unclear to what extent he actually believes the dogma of the party that he now leads. His choice of the Tea Party sympathizer and evangelical governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, as his running mate, could be simple political expediency to gain votes. Let's hope that it's not an indication that the disastrous Kansas policies will go nationwide, should Trump go to Washington.

-----------------------

NOTE: "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more," is a quote from the character Dorothy in the book and movie "The Wizard of Oz" used ironically to indicate a situation when someone isn't in familiar surroundings.

(James Simms is a Forbes contributor, freelance reporter and television and radio commentator in Tokyo and is a former Wall Street Journal columnist and former Scripps Journalism Fellow at the University of Colorado.)

==Kyodo

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