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Analysis: Kansas governor relies on Obama as foil

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 8, 2014 at 12:24 pm •  Published: June 8, 2014
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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is already playing off his preferred political foil at the start of his campaign for re-election — Barack Obama.

The Democratic president's administration gave the conservative Republican governor openings with last week's proposed rule for curbing carbon emissions from power plants and its earlier listing of the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. The federal government's actions have stirred up business and agriculture constituencies that lean toward the GOP but aren't considered as rock solid as abortion opponents or gun-rights enthusiasts.

Brownback and his allies are building a narrative designed to aid the governor's re-election in his GOP-leaning state. Kansas Republican Party Chairman Kelly Arnold acknowledged that it starts with the premise that early in the campaign, many voters still don't know much about Davis, including that the Kansas House minority leader was an Obama delegate to the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions.

"It's easy to compare Davis and Obama," Arnold said. "We associate the two together."

Democrats argue the tactic is designed to distract voters from questions about Brownback's record, particularly whether personal income tax cuts he championed provided their biggest benefits to the wealthy and are starving public schools and social services of necessary dollars.

They intensified their criticism of Brownback after tax collections in May fell $217 million short of expectations. The governor and his critics debated whether the shortfall came in the wake of investors' uncertainty about federal tax policy or showed that Brownback underestimated the generosity of his tax breaks for professionals, business owners and other top earners.

"Campaigning against Obama is the only strategy he's got," said state Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon.

Of course, the new rule for power plants, the lesser prairie chicken's listing and Brownback's responses have significant implications beyond politics, both for the environment and Kansas businesses and landowners.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said last week that its new rule would require Kansas to cut power plants' emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming by 23 percent by 2030. The rule gives states the flexibility to devise their own plans, but Kansas has resisted such regulations — and the rule was announced three days after Brownback's administration gave the regulatory go-ahead to a new, $2.8 billion coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas.

Brownback contends allowing the new plant will help develop "clean coal technologies" to cut emissions and that the development of wind farms is moving Kansas toward lower reductions without formal regulations.

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