Santorum: Free world at stake

7/15/2014

By Dion Lefler

By Dion Lefler

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) — Former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum told a Wichita audience Monday that the "future of the free world" hinges on the upcoming election between Gov. Sam Brownback and House Minority Leader Paul Davis.

"This race is important not just for Kansans, it's important for the country," Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, told about 100 Brownback supporters who gathered at the Warren Theatre East for a Brownback rally and a screening of the 1940 film "Knute Rockne All American." The movie featured a young Ronald Reagan and earned the future president his nickname "the Gipper."

Outside, about 60 demonstrators gathered, mostly dressed in the red shirts that have become symbolic of opposition to Brownback's signing of a bill that strips teachers of protections from arbitrarily firings.

Among the protesters was Rep. Carolyn Bridges, D-Wichita, a retired educator who worked for 25 years as a school principal in the Wichita district.

"I can watch 'Knute Rockne' on TCM (the Turner Classic Movie Channel); I don't have to pay 10 bucks," which was the price of admission to the rally, Bridges said.

Brownback is locked in what polls show to be a tight race with Davis, D-Lawrence. Davis supporters are motivated by what they see as an attack on teachers and a series of setbacks in the state budget sparked by business-friendly tax cuts the governor shepherded through the Legislature.

Santorum ran for president in the 2012 election, and although he lost the GOP nomination to Mitt Romney, he easily won the GOP caucus in Kansas.

On Monday, he characterized the upcoming race as an epic clash between competing visions of government, one sparked by the American Revolution, represented by Brownback and Republicans, the other inspired by the French Revolution and represented by Davis, Democrats and the news media.

"The left has targeted Sam," Santorum said. "The New York Times has no idea where Kansas is, but they've written several articles hammering Sam Brownback, because Sam is a descendant of the American Revolution.

"This man (Brownback) loves this country and cherishes the principles and believes those principles can work, not just in Kansas, but can work to help rebirth a great civilization in America," said Santorum, who served with Brownback in the U.S. Senate. "And he came back to Kansas because he believes like I do that Washington isn't solving a whole lot of problems these days, but Kansas can. Kansas can — it can do the things that Sam has done — cut government, cut taxes, support small businesses and the family, the building block of our civilization."

He said the attack has come because if Brownback is successful, his ideas could spread nationally.

"The left doesn't want a successful governor doing big things that are conservative, so they've come after him," Santorum said.

Santorum urged the crowd to "light up" social media and put Brownback stickers on their cars, even if they were worried about getting the glue remnants off after the election.

"OK, I'm sorry, the future of the free world is at stake, and you're worried about it sticking to your car," he said.

Santorum, now a producer of Christian and conservative-themed movies, drew an analogy from the "Lord of the Rings" films to illustrate his view of Brownback's political opponents.

"The other side is like the Eye of Mordor," he said. "That eye that's constantly searching. That eye does not have an eyelid. It doesn't sleep, it doesn't stop. It's constantly searching to try to oppress and defeat."

And although Kansas is a heavily Republican state, Santorum warned the crowd not to take the other side lightly.

"They're out there in the heat," he said. "And they're going to be out there today, tomorrow and the next day.

"America has changed not because there's more of them than there are of us," he said. "No, that's not why they're winning. They're winning because they don't give up."

In his own answer to the protesters, Brownback reprised his campaign claim that he has increased funding for education — which has been disputed by opponents who argue that the increases are in school building and retirement funds while operational spending has been cut substantially.

The governor also said the elimination of teacher tenure in state law restores local control and that "they can fight for that locally" if they want it.

The protesters started their demonstration in the parking lot at the theater but moved to line an entry lane to the shopping center after theater security guards asked them to leave.

Teralyn Cohn, a teacher at Southeast High School, said she participated in the protest to draw attention to Brownback's education record.

"We're not here for our salaries" but because of the loss of due process for teachers, she said.

Lacking state protection from unjust and arbitrary firing, "we're afraid that could silence teachers from fighting for their kids."

John Hope, a retired teacher who taught in several Kansas districts, said he'd seen good teachers fired "to make room for a coach's wife or the superintendent's brother-in-law."

Sandrine Lisk, a lawyer with the Immigration Advisory Network, said she is "sick and tired of Mr. Brownback."

"Mr. Brownback claims to be a compassionate Christian, but he's let the poorest of the poor in the state of Kansas go without health insurance and cut their programs," she said.

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