Many observers believe Brownback had been hoping to set himself up for a presidential campaign in 2016. He’d run once before but wound up dropping out before the 2008 Iowa caucus after social conservatives flocked to Mike Huckabee. Perhaps being outflanked as God’s candidate led to a bit of soul-searching. Or perhaps he just felt the winds shifting: Button-pushing “values” issues (like gay marriage) were losing their sway, particularly with younger voters, at a time when the recession had forefronted economic issues in stark ways for millions of Americans who had yet to feel the effects of any reputed recovery.
Being governor in the midst of a national economic crisis, then, handed Brownback the perfect opportunity to reinvent himself. “My focus is to create a red-state model that allows the Republican ticket to say, ‘See, we’ve got a different way, and it works,’ ” he told The Wall Street Journal last year. “We’ve got a series of blue states raising taxes and a series of red states cutting taxes. Now let’s watch and see what happens.”
That’s one thing I always wondered about: Is it possible a guy as smart as Brownback really believed his own budgetary hoodoo? As Tom Holland, one of the top Democrats in the Kansas Senate, points out, “When the governor talks about how we need to be more like Texas or Florida” - meaning, a “pro-business” state with no income tax - “well, what is Florida? Basically, you have, like, 700 miles of sandy beaches and a $70 billion annual tourism economy. That’s why they don’t have an income tax. In Texas, oil and gas generate a huge amount of revenue, they’re also huge in tourism, and Houston is one of the largest export ports we have in North America. And so this talk about ‘we need to be more like Texas’: We’re not going to be like Texas in a million years!”