2017 DemoFest Luncheon Speech
Delivered by Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley
September 30, 2017
Have you heard the good news?
Sam Brownback is leaving Kansas. Next Wednesday will be his Senate confirmation hearing and in the very near future he will no longer be governor.
When he first became governor, Sam told Republican legislative leaders that he wanted to go down in history as the best Governor our state has ever seen.
That didn’t work out so well. So, here’s the bad news. Here’s some of what he’s accomplished as Governor:
A self-inflicted budget crisis that resulted in a $700 million shortfall in one year, or $100 million more than in the three years our state suffered through the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression;
Not one, not two, but three credit downgrades;
Turning a billion dollar surplus into a billion dollar shortfall;
Increasing our state’s sales tax to where Kansans now pay the highest sales tax on food in the nation, when combined with local sales taxes;
Borrowing and bonding at all-time record levels;
Using our state’s retirement system like a credit card;
Depleting our state’s highway fund by $2.7 billion and, as a result, deteriorating our infrastructure;
Funding K-12 schools inadequately and unfairly;
Stripping teachers of their due process rights;
Subsidizing private schools with public dollars;
Cutting $24 million from higher education;
Recurring record levels of poverty, especially for children;
Refusing to expanding Medicaid while 150,000 Kansans remain uninsured;
Children sleeping in the offices of Kansas foster care contractors;
Working men and women facing stagnant wages, no job growth, and unsafe workplaces;
Asking state employees to sacrifice their civil service protections in exchange for pay increases;
Rioting in our prisons while corrections officers are being forced to work 18-hour shifts;
Shutting down the Joan Finney office building in Wichita and moving state agencies to less secure office space, which resulted in the recent shooting of a Revenue employee.
With accomplishments like these, Sam Brownback will go down in history as the worst Governor our state has ever seen.
When I heard the news that Sam was taking a position in the Trump administration, this was my statement to the news media:
“Sam Brownback will be remembered for becoming the most unpopular governor in America. His tax experiment failed to grow the economy as he promised. Instead, his policies have bankrupted our state and led to destroying nearly every agency of state government as well as his own political career.
He is moving on not because of anything he accomplished in Kansas but because of who he knows in Washington, D.C.”
Last year at Demofest, I told you that the people of Kansas need and deserve a new and different Legislature.
I told you that the only way we can stop Sam Brownback’s reckless tax experiment, his anti-public education and anti-labor agenda, was to defeat those Republican legislators who have rubber-stamped that agenda.
Well, what do you know?
Voters ousted more than a dozen Brownback rubber stampers in the 2016 primary elections and elected more moderates and Democrats in the general elections.
In my statement following the primary elections, I said, “It is time to move beyond Brownback and elect candidates who will chart a new roadmap for Kansas in a positive, productive, and bi-partisan direction.”
The 2017 session of the Kansas Legislature did exactly that. We took the first bi-partisan steps to restoring our state from the reckless Brownback agenda.
We put an end to the failed Brownback tax experiment, allowing Kansas to begin down a path to a solid financial future for the first time since 2012.
We restored fairness to the tax code and eliminated Brownback’s “glide path to zero” income tax.
We restored three income tax brackets that are still at lower rates than the tax brackets prior to 2012.
We restored the Child Care Tax Credit to help Kansas families with small children.
We restored the mortgage interest, property tax, and medical expense temized deductions, which will help homeowners and those living on fixed incomes.
We put us back on a path to stabilize the budget, restore funding cuts made to K-12 schools, Regents institutions, the state highway fund, KPERS, and other important services that have had to bear the brunt of Sam Brownback’s disastrous policies.
Less than 24 hours after overriding Brownback’s veto on our new tax plan, Moody’s Investor Services adjusted our credit rating from negative to stable.
This credit rating change is further proof that the 2017 Kansas Legislature took the right step in overriding Brownback’ veto.
I want to commend our ranking Democrats on the House and Senate tax committees for their leadership on the tax bill – Tom Sawyer and Tom Holland.
After the veto override, we passed a budget that provided state employees a pay raise – the first time many had received a raise in nearly a decade.
Our budget began restoring cuts to Home and Community based services by approving a 7% rate increase over the next two years, and we provided funding for additional beds at Osawatomie State Hospital.
We also passed a bill to expand Medicaid. And, while Brownback vetoed the bill, we will not be deterred. We will expand Medicaid this next session.
And, we passed a law to keep guns out of hospitals, mental health facilities, and adult care homes.
While all of this was a major step in the right direction, it is just the first step.
There is still more work to be done.
K-12 schools continue to face inadequate funding, rural hospitals risk closure without Medicaid expansion, and our sales tax on food remains the highest in the nation.
State agencies, including the Kansas Highway Patrol, the KBI, the Department of Corrections, and our state hospitals are understaffed and their employees are overworked and underpaid.
We also need to extend the prohibition of guns to our college campuses.
The damage caused by Brownback and his allies did not happen overnight. It will take time to fully recover, and it will take a continued bi-partisan coalition to undo the damage.
But, while a bi-partisan coalition is important, electing more Democrats to the Kansas House in 2018 is even more important.
You can’t always depend on moderate Republicans to do the right thing.
But, the people of Kansas can always count on House and Senate Democrats to continue the fight to reverse the Brownback agenda.
They can always count on us to be a strong voice for common sense policies that strengthen our state by investing in our people.
They can always count on us to stand up for equality and social justice; to stand up for fundamental human rights, like the right to marry who you love or to make your own health care decisions.
They can always count on us to protect the dignity of a hard day’s work for a livable wage, and to provide government services that help those most in need.
Or, as Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”
Yes, and above nearly all else, the people of Kansas can count on the House and Senate Democrats to maintain a fair, sustainable tax system and invest those tax dollars to improve the quality of public education and our state’s infrastructure.
We must work hard to protect the seats we won in 2016, and fight together in 2018 to win more in the Kansas House of Representatives.
And, we must roll up our sleeves, put our differences aside, and work together to elect Democrats to statewide offices and to send Democrats to Washington D.C.
Because the last thing this country needs is for Sam Brownback’s failed tax experiment to go national.
In the 41 years I’ve held elective office, I have staked my reputation and my public service on working for and with the Kansas Democratic Party. Through the years, we have celebrated election night victories and endured painful election night defeats.
One such election night defeat I shall always remember was in 1986. That was the night Tom Docking lost his race for Governor. And, even though he was not able to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather or his father, Tom Docking never lost his purpose and passion for life.
He never lost his involvement in the Kansas Democratic Party nor his commitment to the Wichita community and to our state.
So, as we enter yet another election cycle in 2018, let us follow the example set by that great Democrat, Tom Docking.
Let us never lose our purpose and passion as Democrats.
And, let us never lose our commitment to the Kansas Democratic Party and, more importantly, our commitment to the people of Kansas.