GOP Gov Fights Ad From Group Chaired By Former Obama Advisor

By John Celock

The latest front in the war between Kansas Republicans and the Kansas Values Institute has opened up, with Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) campaign criticizing a new ad from the group.

KVI posted a commercial criticizing Brownback’s education and fiscal policies, saying they have failed the state. Brownback’s campaign fought back Wednesday saying that the ad does not contain the facts about the governor’s record and comparing KVI to the campaign platform advanced by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Paul Davis. Conservative Republicans in the state have been at war with KVI in recent months, following the group’s involvement in GOP primary races on behalf of moderate Republican lawmakers. KVI is chaired by a former advisor to President Barack Obama, a fact brought up by Republicans during the primaries.

“Sam Brownback’s experiment, the wrong priorities for Kansas,” the ad said. “Brownback made the largest cut to schools in Kansas history and call it a victory.”

Brownback campaign spokesman John Millburn rebutted the education numbers in a statement saying that the governor has increased education spending while in office. Figures released by the Brownback campaign show education spending increasing from $3.83 billion to $4.01 billion when he took office in 2011. Millburn also rebutted statements about cuts in special education funding.

The education funding issue has become increasingly contentious in the state, with Democrats and the Kansas National Education Association criticizing Brownback over an education-funding bill passed earlier this year following a state Supreme Court ruling. Republicans have criticized Brownback’s two immediate predecessors, Democrats Mark Parkinson and Kathleen Sebelius, for education funding cuts.

Millburn was quick to tie Davis to the cuts.

“The truth is that he, Paul Davis, voted for the largest cut in state education funding in Kansas history,” Millburn said in a statement. “The truth is that he has repeatedly voted against increased funding for schools and property tax relief for Kansas families.”

A main point of contention on the education bill were the inclusion of the state dropping teacher tenure as a statewide requirement and the allowing of mid-career professionals to switch into teaching careers, a practice common in other states. Both items were opposed by the KNEA, the state’s largest teachers’ union. Under the new law, local school districts can decide whether or not to have tenure in place for teachers.

The Brownback campaign also attacked KVI for saying that Brownback’s tax cuts have hurt the state economy and cut jobs statewide. Millburn took issue with the ad citing a New York Times story that said the state lost jobs under Brownback. He argued that the number included public sector jobs and said that private sector jobs have grown under Brownback. The Republican touted his private sector job growth when releasing a second term economic plan on Tuesday.

Davis and his campaign have made the education and tax policies centerpieces of his line of attack against Brownback. Brownback and Republicans have fought back by criticizing Davis’ past votes and aligning him with Obama, who he backed in the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. The Republican Governors Association criticized Davis for his Obama involvement in an ad last week.

“The entire Davis campaign is ultimately based on two bold-faced and easily disproven lies. The latest ad is proof that his liberal allies in the media and special interest groups will stop at nothing to deceive Kansas voters on these two key issues,” Millburn said in the statement.

Davis’ campaign spokeman could not be reached for immediate comment on the KVI ad and Millburn’s statement.

KVI has taken a center stage in recent weeks, with conservative Republicans attacking the group’s involvement in the primaries and its ties to Democrats. KVI is chaired by Dan Watkins, a former senior campaign advisor to Obama in 2008, who was also chief of staff to former Gov. John Carlin (D) in the 1980s. The group’s other board members are former state Senate Vice President John Vratil (R-Leawood) and former state Rep. Jill Quigley (R-Overland Park), both moderate Republicans who have endorsed Davis.

KVI’s ads on behalf of moderate candidates, include mailers claiming some of the state’s most conservative lawmakers were close to Obama, who is deeply unpopular in the state. A Republican political consultant, Jared Suhn, unveiled a social media picture days before the primary calling 10 legislative candidates backed by KVI the “Obama Values Supporting Team”.

A KVI spokesman could not be reached for immediate comment; with a message saying the group’s offices in Topeka and Wichita had closed.

In a statement on the group’s website, KVI explained their thinking on the ad. The statement did not quote any KVI official in particular.

“The ad informs Kansans about Brownback’s cut to classroom funding and about the disastrous consequences of his economic policies, which have left Kansas as one of only five states to lose jobs in the past six months,” KVI said. “Brownback’s very first budget included the single-largest cut to classroom funding in state history. We think Kansans should know he made that cut — and that he called it a “victory” when he signed the cut into law.”