It’s been an out-of-the-ordinary year for Kansas politics, and with the holiday season upon us an out-of-the-ordinary celebration fits. In that spirit, let’s celebrate 2014 with Festivus, the parody holiday made famous on the television series Seinfeld.
Festivus begins with a pole, known for its high strength-to-weight ratio and low maintenance needs. Kansas’ lowest-maintenance politician has to be Sen. Jerry Moran. In addition to his strength-to-weight ratio, Moran managed to lead the National Republican Senatorial Committee to a Republican U.S. Senate majority while holding more in-state town hall meetings than any other state politico.
Festivus dinner, a mix of meat loaf and spaghetti with meatballs, is a cheap dinner that serves as a good proxy for what’s coming next year: big cost cutting. Gov. Sam Brownback is dipping into KPERS and the highway fund to fill 2014’s budget shortfall, and next year’s budget looks to even more austerity. No steak for this Festivus. And the state legislature might want to start pricing ramen noodles.
After Festivus dinner comes the Feats of Strength. Guests challenge the head of the household until he is pinned. This year, the event ran long as there were plenty of hopefuls to knock off the state GOP campaign apparatus, but neither Jennifer Winn nor the Paul Davis campaign could pin Gov. Brownback. Tim Huelskamp held on after a close match with Alan LaPolice in his primary and quickly dispatched his general election opponent. Mike Pompeo, Lynn Jenkins and Kevin Yoder all won easily. Milton Wolf and then Greg Orman failed to pin Pat Roberts, while Ron Estes, Kris Kobach and Derek Schmidt made short work of their challengers.
After the Feats of Strength the mighty GOP, head of Kansas’ political household, remained pinned. In a year where it seemed Democrats and Independents might actually upset the old guard, our biennial Feats of Strength had a default result.
No Festivus would be complete without the words of Seinfeld’s Frank Costanza, “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!” The Airing of Grievances begins. Campaigns are one long extended airing of grievances, never truer than with the Paul Davis campaign. We were constantly reminded of Davis’ disappointment with Gov. Brownback throughout the election season.
Low approval ratings for all political figures were another part of our protracted Airing of Grievances. Everyone seemed to hate everyone. The highest-rated political figure wasn’t running — our Festivus Pole himself, Sen. Moran. But if we learned anything this year, it’s that the public’s general dissatisfaction will probably suppress his rating as his 2016 re-election nears. After all, Pat Roberts’ ratings were 10 points higher before he ran for re-election. Once a candidate runs, they immediately get cast into the pool of “politicians,” who are actually LESS trusted than used-car salespersons. The public is so fed up with politics of their own making they have taken to airing their grievances in polls and not at their polling places.
The last grievance to air is against pollsters. Nationwide polls were skewed in favor of Democrats, which became evident on Election Day. As mobilization has moved to the individual level and potential voters have gotten tougher to contact reliably, it has become harder to predict votes from poll responses. The polls had it wrong, and we trusted their reliable history a bit too much.
Everyone now is hoping for a Festivus Miracle to pump money into the state’s coffers. Gov. Brownback’s “shot of adrenaline” tax cuts have not produced as promised, taking one potential miracle off the table. Perhaps we can set up Kansas’ own version of George Costanza’s “Human Fund” charity to feed a very hungry state budget.
Chapman Rackaway is a professor of political science at Fort Hays State University.