By general agreement and election results, Missouri and Kansas are Republican states.
So it’s interesting that a recent poll shows Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is more popular in Kansas than Republican Gov. Mike Parson is in Missouri.
Why would that be? Is it because running a state rationally still appeals to voters?
Morning Consult conducted the poll. It reported favorability ratings for governors in all 50 states.
As always, polls are a snapshot in time, and numbers can move. But: This one tells us Parson has a 51% favorable rating in Missouri, while Kelly is at 54% favorable in Kansas.
Parson’s rating is the more understandable of the two. While 51% approval is solid, it suggests some Missourians, particularly some conservatives, remain skeptical of the governor’s approach and record.
Parson’s COVID-19 response was confusing — he was for local control before he was against it — and the results were mixed. The governor’s penchant for firing his cabinet members, and engaging in appointment skullduggery, mystifies some Missourians.
And what, precisely, has he accomplished? That leaves the Republican governor, in a Republican state, with an approval rating in the lower third of all governors in the nation.
To be fair, he was also criticized for his plan to raise the state’s gas tax, which is one of the most rational things he’s proposed. That hike was needed — Missouri’s roads are a mess — but adding to the price at the pump is rarely popular.
Missouri’s gas tax rose 2.5 cents a gallon on Oct. 1.
Kelly’s polling results are more intriguing. Her polling average has dipped slightly in 2021, but she remains more popular than unpopular by a double-digit margin.
Five years ago, former Gov. Sam Brownback was the most unpopular governor in America. (In July of 2016, Brownback’s favorable rating was 15%.) The Republican’s tax cut experiment had decimated the state’s budget, touching off a round of borrowing and spending cuts that infuriated many Kansans.
Those days are gone. The state’s healthy budget picture may be the single most important achievement of Kelly’s first term.
Kansas has a projected budget surplus of $2.9 billion, an unthinkable prospect during the Brownback years. School funding seems assured, old debts are being paid off early and lawmakers can now consider eliminating the state’s sales tax on food.
Republicans will howl at this record, insisting Kelly does not deserve credit for it. During the special legislative session, they’ll work overtime to put the governor in politically compromising situations, passing right-wing bills and daring her to veto them.
Next year, Kansans can expect dreary arguments over whether critical race theory is really taught in Kansas schools. Mask and vaccine mandates will again be under attack. Republicans will try, again, to cut taxes for the rich. Medicaid expansion will be off the table.
In her first three years, Kelly has responded to these efforts with restraint — often, too much restraint. But after the chaos of the Brownback years, though, Kansans seem to be responding to the governor’s steady path.
They may also see Kelly as a check on the absurdities of some Republicans in the legislature. Topeka’s Cuckoo Caucus has many members.
The 2022 governor’s race in Kansas will be close, and bitter. But the incumbent starts from a position of strength because she has navigated through a pandemic with a steady hand, quite unlike her colleague to the east.
Kansas City Star