The Kansas gubernatorial race has become a rare bright spot for Democrats in an election cycle full of foreboding darkness. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has been a fixture in Kansas politics for almost 20 years and has won every statewide election he’s participated in by double-digit margins, including his 31-point landslide in the 2010 gubernatorial race. But right now he’s trailing Democratic challenger Paul Davis in the poll averages and doing all the things last losing candidates typically do, like releasing mediocre internal polls to push back against horrendous public polling.
Mother Jones’ Patrick Caldwell has a great examination of why Brownback is on the skids politically: He came into office with a radical agenda to turn Kansas into a laboratory of ultraconservative economic policy, and it’s been a complete disaster. But Brownback isn’t out of it yet. In the last week, a thin ray of hope emerged in the form of an inopportune lap dance.
“In the late 1990s the Democratic candidate for governor of Kansas was getting a lap dance at a strip club when cops raided it in search of drugs,” Politico reported on Sept. 20. Davis was, at the time, unmarried and working as an attorney for the owner of the club. The cops raided the place acting on a tip that drugs were being sold there, and Davis was found by the cops “alone with a topless stripper who was wearing only a G-string,” as Politico put it. Davis responded to the story by saying, “I was never accused of having done anything wrong, but rather was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Reading this story, it seemed to me to be fairly silly and in every possible way disconnected from the current race for governor, save for the fact that it involved Paul Davis. But that’s not what the Kansas Republican Party thinks. “Now the question becomes, as an individual, is he fit to govern?” asked Kansas GOP executive director Clayton Barker. It’s an intriguing question, as it forces us to consider whether a man’s career in public service to date is overmatched by the fact that he was in the presence of semi-nude woman 16 years ago.
You can almost see the attack ads: Paul Davis can make it rain, but can he LEAD???
There is actually a far more interesting question raised by this story: How is it that it came to light in the first place?
Here’s what the Kansas City Star reported this morning:
A top staff official in Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration asked for and was given reports on a police drug raid that took place 16 years ago at a Coffeyville strip club, prompting an accusation Thursday that Brownback used government resources to orchestrate a smear campaign against his opponent, House Minority Leader Paul Davis.
Timothy Keck, chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and deputy chief counsel for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, requested and received reports on the club raid several days before a news story broke linking Davis to the club, according to Montgomery County Sheriff’s records obtained by The Eagle on Thursday through the Kansas Open Records Act.
The Davis campaign is incensed, claiming that Brownback’s administration is using taxpayer resources to conduct a smear campaign. “It is shameful that Sam Brownback is laying off teachers, but paying partisan hacks with state funds to dig up dirt on his opponent,” a Davis campaign spokesman said.
Brownback’s people are firing back, claiming that this is all nice and legal, and also tipping their hand as to how absurdly lame this strip club story is. According to Brownback campaign spokesman John Milburn:
Paul Davis must have spent too much time in VIP rooms at strip clubs back in law school because, as an attorney and candidate, Paul should know full well that the law allows personal staff of the governor’s office to work on campaign issues.
So it looks like that’s going to be Team Brownback strategy from here to Election Day – forget that our guy drove the state economy into a ravine through aggressive and unchecked right-wing policy experimentation; the other guy got a lap dance during the Clinton administration.