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Conservatism in One State

Conservatism in One State

The Kansas Experiment and the Logic of Reform

(p.120) Chapter Five Conservatism in One State
Conservative Innovators
Ben Merriman
University of Chicago Press

This chapter argues that the concerted state challenge to federal power described in the preceding chapters does not represent a crude opposition to government. It arises from a positive, reformist conservative vision for government. The chapter presents a study of Kansas government during the tenure of Governor Sam Brownback and his allies, who used Kansas as a testbed for a self-proclaimed “experiment” in small government. The core provisions of that experiment, all of them initiated by executive officeholders, included an enormous, novel approach to income tax cuts, a new model for school funding, extensive reorganization of state administration, quasi-privatization of Medicaid (the KanCare program), and the creation of the Office of the Repealer, a novel agency charged to identify wasteful or obsolete laws and regulations. These policies have been unpopular and unsuccessful. However, the initial rationale and staunch defense of the policies reveal a great deal about the ethos of the conservatives studied in this book. They are proud, principled reformers who view market-like forces as a means to make government more honest. The Progressives represent the closest historical analogue to these conservatives’ views about policy, democracy, and the uses of state executive power.

Keywords:   Kansas, Sam Brownback, conservatism, Progressivism, taxes, Medicaid, KanCare, state government

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