Kansas shifted moderate in 2017, but not enough

On last Thursday, MainStream released our 2017 Vote Count scorecard, rating Kansas state lawmakers on key votes they took in the 2017 legislative session, and how they compare to MainStream's legislative priorities. You can find the 2017 scorecard here, with our past scorecards. You can also look up your own state legislators with our ksleglookup.org tool, and see their lifetime score. We'll wait. It's important for you to know how your legislators stack up.

We've looked at the numbers a lot, and we want to point out a couple of important trends we see.

But first...

What are these "MainStream positions" you're using?

On the scorecard, we describe what areas and which specific votes we used to arrive at our scores. But in brief, MainStream stands for good governance, quality public education, healthy communities, and sustainable fiscal policy. Specifically, we outlined 2017 legislative positions in five specific areas: tax reform (necessary), public school finance (must be fully funded), health care (access must improve), guns (safety and local control are key), and women's health (protecting women's rights to private health decisions). The votes we chose to use all reflect these positions. You can read more about MainStream's positions on our website: Where we stand

Here is our analysis of the vote count results:

1. The Kansas Legislature shifted towards moderate values in 2017

No question. When you compare the overall scores in the Legislature in 2016, to the scores lawmakers turned in this year, the shift is undeniable. In 2016, only 32% of the legislature as a whole was aligned with MainStream's positions. In 2017, 57% of legislators aligned with our positions. Both the Kansas Senate and the Kansas House were aligned in favor, with the Senate in particular doubling the numbers in support.. That's a huge shift.

2. The 2016 election made a huge difference

Sixty new legislators were sent to Topeka by voters in 2016. Of those, two thirds (67%) were aligned with MainStream's positions in 2017. That's 40 seats. Of those 40 seats, only 9 of them were aligned with Mainstream in 2016, meaning we jumped 31 seats in the election, on new legislators alone!

3. But it wasn't just new legislators, incumbents shifted, too

A small but significant number of incumbent legislators whose lifetime scores were out of alignment with MainStream, nevertheless voted with us in 2017. Some of them have lifetime scores in the 40% range, yet voted in alignment on 80 or 90% of the votes in 2017. Two Senators and ten Representatives made this startling shift. This is a big deal.

There were others who voted for one or two of our positions, uncharacteristically. For example, the final override of Brownback's veto of tax reform saw as many as 32 legislators out of alignment with MainStream vote to override. That's a big deal, too.

4. It isn't enough

We saw, in 2017, that an unfriendly Governor can still stop good legislation. Health care expansion, supported by over 80% of Kansans, ran afoul of Brownback's veto. Comprehensive gun safety measures never got a vote, ostensibly because even if they did pass, they would never pass a veto override in gun-friendly Kansas. And at the other end of the spectrum, while attempts to defund Planned Parenthood did fail, new restrictions on abortion providers still got through. There's still work to be done.

In the Senate, 27 votes are needed to overcome a veto. We count 22 as reliably in line with our values.

In the House, 84 votes are needed. We can count on 72 in most cases.

So what do we need to do?

We made great progress in 2016, towards a Legislature more in line with the values of average Kansans, but 2018 looms large ahead of us. The Governor's race will determine how much of a difference the Legislature can make. If a moderate wins, those veto override margins won't likely be necessary. But if another Brownback wins (or worse), we'll be faced with the same hurdles we faced this past year.

Vote in 2018. 

Remember to do more than vote. Get informed, get involved, make a difference.

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