The elections earlier this month sent a singular message to Kansas lawmakers: Work together.
Really, how else can you interpret a vote that hands over the governorship — and the entire executive branch — to Democrat Laura Kelly while still giving healthy majorities to Republicans in the Legislature? As far as voters are concerned, the path ahead couldn’t be clearer. Pragmatic Democrat Kelly will collaborate with Republicans to pass bills and enact policies for the good of all Kansans.
Right? Well, maybe.
We acknowledge that there are challenges in achieving bipartisanship. There are structural incentives for both Democrats and Republicans to clash, rather than unite.
Think of it this way: Democrats have been locked out of power in Kansas for nearly a decade. During that time, a once-formidable bloc of moderate Republicans have faced challenge after challenge from within their own party. In this latest election, Democrats knocked out at least two high-profile legislative moderate Republicans.
The party is hungry to reassert its relevance, and in a political era defined by the resistance to President Trump, there seems precious little reward in joining hands with political opponents. Gov. Kelly will face stiff pressure from fellow Democrats not to give too much.
On the other hand, Republicans can persuade themselves that Kelly’s win was a fluke caused by the uniquely terrible candidacy of Kris Kobach. They will have every incentive to flex their legislative muscle against Kelly. And while GOP moderates may have worked with Democrats to oppose the arch-conservative Sam Brownback, they will face great pressure to vote as a bloc against Kelly.
Mitigating this view is the election of Sharice Davids as a U.S. representative in the 3rd District and the strong showing of Paul Davis in the 2nd. In each case, Kansas’ reputation as the reddest of red states came up short. While hardly blue, there’s no question that hints of purple are spreading through the state’s suburbs.
While the politicians, parties and die-hard partisans might not like it, the message is clear. Kansans are more interested in effective governance than ideological purity.
Voters crave normalcy. They want a government that works for them, and that delivers results. That might not mean Democrats can spend as much as they want, or that Republicans can cut taxes as much as they want, but it might mean we all see a state that grows and thrives once more.