Good Riddance, Sam Brownback

(Gage Skidmore)

Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

Ultimately, it was Mike Pence who bailed Kansas out from its economic disaster.

The vice president had to cast two tie-breaking votes in the Senate Wednesday to get Sam Brownback, his fellow conservative evangelical and GOP right-winger, confirmed as President Trump’s ambassador at-large for religious freedom—a position Brownback was nominated for nearly a year ago.

Brownback has now officially announced that he’s resigning his position as Kansas governor next Thursday. The former U.S. senator was first elected governor in 2010, spearheading the Tea Party backlash against Barack Obama. He promptly turned his own state into a Petri dish for radical trickle-down economics, promising it would prompt a “shot of adrenaline” into the Kansas economy.

The reckless cuts to income and business taxes didn’t work, as I detailed in a deep-dive examination last year. State revenue plummeted, the economy struggled, and the legislature entered into a cycle of steep spending cuts.

Brownback was the first governor to fully privatize Medicaid, and then relentlessly blocked Medicaid expansion. He cut public education funding, starved state agencies, and through it all was one of the least transparent state leaders in the country.

But above all, Brownback will go down as the man whose economic agenda failed so decisively that it prompted Republican legislators from one of the most conservative states in the country to team up with Democrats to roll back his disastrous tax cuts.  

Unfortunately, the survival of trickle-down economics as a political strategy does not depend on the success of its policy prescriptions. Its viability is entirely rooted in its ability to secure tax cuts for the rich and corporations, and to set the table for slashing government services.  

To the end, Brownback insisted that his tax cuts worked—and when it came to enriching those at the top and breaking the government, they did. While legislators were ultimately able to partially restore the pre-Brownback status quo, it will take decades for Kansas to climb out from the fiscal rubble. 

As governor, Brownback even had the chutzpah to openly lobby U.S. senators in the halls of the Capitol to follow his tax-cutting lead. Unfortunately, national Republicans have done just that, implementing a federal tax plan that largely mirrors that of Kansas: steep cuts for the rich and businesses, a massive loophole for LLCs, and, of course, no way to pay for it except for magical amounts economic growth.

So while Kansas may finally be free of Brownback, the entire country will also be saddled with his economic legacy for years to come.

Tax Cuts for the rich. Deregulation for the powerful. Wage suppression for everyone else. These are the tenets of trickle-down economics, the conservatives’ age-old strategy for advantaging the interests of the rich and powerful over those of the middle class and poor. The articles in Trickle-Downers are devoted, first, to exposing and refuting these lies, but equally, to reminding Americans that these claims aren’t made because they are true. Rather, they are made because they are the most effective way elites have found to bully, confuse and intimidate middle- and working-class voters. Trickle-down claims are not real economics. They are negotiating strategies. Here at the Prospect, we hope to help you win that negotiation.