Opinion: Kansas governor’s race might be a test for Trumpism

Recent days have me wondering what Kansas’ fifth governor — James Madison Harvey — would say about the pickle the state find itself in now.

Harvey, a Republican, is my relative by marriage. He married Charlotte Cutter, whose sister is my great grandmother.

To the inevitable reader who will doubt that someone with the last name of Sanchez — read: a foreigner — could be related to the fifth governor of Kansas, consider: Like most humans, I had two parents. And my mother’s side is steeped in the fascinating history of the land that is Kansas, dating from when it was merely a territory.

So I’m bracing for the almost inevitable mischaracterizations of Kansas and the political motivations of its inhabitants.

The upcoming general election of Gov. Harvey’s next successor will draw national and maybe even international attention. You see, the race (along with races for two U.S. House seats) may well shape up as a test of Trumpism.

The Republican candidate for governor is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an anti-immigrant warrior of national repute and a favored associate of President Donald Trump. In the state Republican primary Aug. 7, Kobach narrowly defeated the sitting governor, Jeff Colyer. A day before the election, Trump tweeted his support for Kobach, a fact that played a definite role in the close race, which went down to provisional ballot counting.

Kobach’s renown as an immigrant-baiter has not translated into unconditional esteem, even among the people who generally fall for that song and dance. He’s the guy who all but bankrupted many a small town that took his advice and passed sweeping anti-immigrant laws that later couldn’t stand expensive constitutional challenges.

Kobach is signaling that he will go full MAGA in his campaign against Democrat nominee, state Sen. Laura Kelly.

And yet Kobach’s victory is not assured. The state is still reeling from the recent governorship of conservative ideologue Sam Brownback, whose tenure in office was a fiscal and economic train wreck for the state.

Pragmatic Kansans will weigh whether to turn over state government to a Midwestern mini-Trump or to step toward a more moderate middle and chose either Kelly or the independent Greg Orman. It will be a decision that brings a whole other set of considerations about splitting the vote.

Conservative Kansans — and they are not easily categorized — have much to consider. For Republicans, the choice will be between party loyalty and the welfare of their state.

In Gov. Harvey’s time, after the Civil War, the state burnished its’ agricultural image. And the railroad was completed through the state and beyond, linking to Denver.

The need for farm laborers and railroad workers is likely why Harvey is said to have “urged that all means be used to forward immigration,” according to a history written by an early secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society.

Some things don’t change. Kansas is still a heavily agricultural state, and it is also home to growing biotech and animal health industries. It needs highly trained workers, and it needs global trading partners. An erratic and unhinged president — and a governor to match — aren’t likely to be good for Kansans and their enterprises.

A two-term governor, Harvey was a captain for the Union Army, a surveyor and farmer by trade and had a lengthy political career that eventually led him to a U.S. Senate seat. Harvey was known as “Old Honesty.”

Honesty. How sad that the word almost seems something of bygone era.

Writes for Tribune Content Agency.