THE Continental Divide runs through Colorado but not neighboring Kansas. The Sunflower State, whose highest point is 934 feet lower than Oklahoma's, has a massive divide that also bisects the Sooner State.
It's the political divide within the Republican Party, the split between mainstream GOPers and more tea party-oriented Republicans. Awareness of the split in both states has risen to new heights in debates over tax cut stratagems.
Kansas was once as Republican to the core as Oklahoma was solidly Democratic. Changing demographics and national political trends have moved mountains since then. Kathleen Sebelius handily won two terms running as a Democrat for governor of Kansas. She's now President Barack Obama's secretary of health and human services and a key promoter of Obamacare.
A Republican successor, former U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, has inked a tax cut plan that Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin often referenced in lobbying for an income tax cut here. Debate on the Kansas bill highlighted the Republican divide, as it has here.
“This was just a war,” Kansas GOP state Rep. Owen Donohoe, a tax cut supporter, told The Wall Street Journal. The Wichita Eagle says the bill will force huge spending cuts in the next few years because the split nixed passage of offsets for the tax cuts.
More centrist Oklahoma Republicans such as House Speaker Kris Steele have been under siege from the Republican right over ideological issues as well as fiscal matters. What might have been a molehill if Steele weren't term-limited became a mountain of disunity that threatened to see the regular session end without a budget.
It did end without a tax cut.
Some Oklahoma Republicans were bent on scrapping the personal income tax, regardless of the consequences. Disagreement over how much to cut the tax, and how fast, erupted early in the 2012 Legislature. The wrangling serves as a topographical map for the Republican divide between the forces who want smaller government and lower taxes — even if it means substantial cuts to core services — and those who urge caution in permanently reducing revenue options.
The top personal income tax rate in Kansas is now 4.9 percent. For the cut to reach Brownback's desk, the governor had to compromise by forgoing revenue offsets. Fallin's proposed offsets included elimination of virtually every credit and deduction available to individuals.
The split that sank the tax cut and vital bond issues saw fracturing at every level — between Republicans and Democrats, between centrist and conservative Republicans, between the House and the Senate, between tax cutters and tax consumers.
Average Oklahomans weren't clamoring for a tax cut. Unlike in Kansas, neither was the business lobby. Tax consumers such as the public education establishment would like taxes raised, not lowered.
Yet Republicans had the drive and the numbers to cut taxes. Those who thought a solid Republican majority would produce unity on tax cuts were mistaken. Majorities don't produce unity. Minority status does. Just ask any of the surviving Republicans who formed a small but enthusiastic “crowd” 30 years ago in the Legislature.
Democrats have an increasingly obvious urban-rural split. Republicans? They seem to be split just about every which way. The result hasn't produced a mountain of good policy but an arroyo of infighting. In the off-session, Fallin has some bridges to build.