May 17, 2010
Written by Burdette Loomis
Insight Kansas Columnist

Any legislative session leaves in its wake some clear winners and losers, as well some prospective gifts and time bombs for campaigns and policy decisions to come. The historic (and it was) 2010 session did not disappoint in producing all of the above, in abundance.

First, the winners.

The biggest and least significant winner: Gov. Mark Parkinson. He laid out an aggressive agenda early on, including a higher, allegedly temporary sales tax, along with a smoking ban in public places. He prevailed, and even got to talk a little trash along the way. But to what end? He's not running for re-election, and it's at least possible his successes came about because he could portray himself as above the fray.

Big winner with lots of potential significance: the moderate Republican-Democratic coalition in the House, which dominated the chamber and had its own array of key players, including Charles Roth (R-Salina), Bill Feuerborn (D-Garnett), Minority Leader Paul Davis, and, perhaps most remarkably, freshman Rep. Don Hineman (R-Dighton), who emerged as an articulate and influential lawmaker in his first term. We're used to the Senate working in bipartisan ways, thanks in large part to President Steve Morris, but the steady nature of this House coalition suggests the possibility of linking up in 2011 to elect a speaker. Stay tuned.

Another winner: highway advocates, from the heavy contractors to rural counties to Secretary of Transportation Deb Miller, who demonstrated how an experienced cabinet officer (like Joan Wagnon from Revenue) can find ways to gain support for a difficult-to-pass initiative.

One major winner is the next governor of Kansas, who will receive about a billion dollars in extra revenue over his first three years in office. If the Kansas economy recovers even modestly, the state's coffers should be full enough to carry out a reasonable agenda. Either Sam Brownback or Tom Holland should put Gov. Parkinson and key legislators at the top of their Christmas card list.

A small but significant winner: historic preservation. The previous legislative session produced cuts to historic tax credits that derailed some large projects, most notably the renovation of Wichita's Broadview Hotel. In a tough year for tax cuts, Wichita and historic preservation advocates got a $7 million increase in credits, which will probably allow the Broadview project to move ahead, demonstrating that a good story (preservation plus development) can prevail even in tough times.

Now for the losers.

The biggest is, without a doubt, Speaker Mike O'Neal, along with his band of hard-core conservatives. Speakers are supposed to run the House, but like his predecessor Melvin Neufeld, O'Neal simply didn't, and it was obvious from the early days of the session. All in all, he had a faction of 45 conservatives who couldn't pass much more than gas.

Right on O'Neal's heels are the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, who couldn't produce basic fiscal conservative majorities in this reddest of red states. For all the money and bluster, they weren't effective. But they'll certainly double down in the fall elections, when legislators will have to defend their positions on taxing and supporting education and highways, among other programs. Speaking of doubling down, the pro-expansion of gambling interests were also losers, although they made it interesting near the end of the session.

Most perplexing loser: Appropriations Chairman Kevin Yoder. Running for the 3rd District U.S. House seat, Yoder never budged from his "no (state) tax increase" position, which he apparently sees as crucial to his success in August's GOP primary. But his disingenuous explanations and absolutism, while larding his conservative credentials, are unlikely to endear him to the pro-public schools majority in Johnson County. So indirectly, perhaps, Democrat candidate Stephene Moore may have benefited from the session's outcomes. We'll know in November.

And that's the essence of assessing winners and losers in May. Six months from now, things can easily be different. As Bob Dylan put it, almost 50 years ago, "Don't speak too soon, for the wheel's still in spin, and there's no tellin' who that it's namin', for the loser now will be later to win."

As always in politics, the "wheel's still in spin," even as victories are savored, and wounds licked.

Burdett Loomis is a professor of political science at the University of Kansas.