It’s the GOP’s turn to ask, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

WASHINGTON – Several years ago, the book What’s The Matter With Kansas? explored why voters in the Great Plains, the Mountain States and the now solidly Republican South – among others-vote against their own economic self-interest.

Well, with less than a month to go before the Nov. 4 election, “What’s the matter with Kansas?” is a question Republicans are asking, where both the incumbent Republican governor and incumbent Republican senator from that state are trailing.

And governors and senators are two of the categories of races that workers and their allies are concentrating on in the run-up to Election Day, Nov. 4 – especially since, if Steelworker Mike Michaud wins in Maine and Laborer Mark Schauer wins in Michigan, workers would have two new governors who are active union members.

Despite all the publicity given to anti-worker Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., Kansas GOP Gov. Sam Brownback has arguably been the most-radical tea partyite governor in the U.S. And his anti-worker, pro-plutocrat policies sent the Kansas economy into the tank, smashed the state’s education system and split his own party right down the middle, with more than 100 GOP elected officials defecting to State Senate Minority Leader Paul Davis (D).

Davis, who leads eight Democratic state senators out of a total of 40, leads Brownback in the polls, too.

So does independent Senate candidate Greg Orman, a business executive who has not said whether, if he wins, he’ll join the Democrats or the Republicans next January. In the past, Orman donated money to candidates from both parties. Orman’s hammered on veteran GOP Sen. Pat Roberts’ absence from the state and lackluster record. The Democratic nominee, whom the Kansas AFL-CIO endorsed, wisely pulled out of the race to give Orman a clear shot.

The Orman-Roberts race is important. The Republicans are gunning to take over the Senate, which would virtually kill all pro-worker prospects on Capitol Hill. Senate Democrats are defending 21 of the 35 seats up this year, and now hold an overall 53-45 lead, with two independents who caucus with the Democrats.

Two of those 21 – Montana and South Dakota – are considered gone and pundits say pro-worker hopes are fading in a third, West Virginia, despite the strenuous efforts of the United Mine Workers there. And a recent negative ad by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, boomeranged. Despite a much better ground game in a heavy union state, he now trails Lieut. Gov. Dan Sullivan (R). That leaves two to go, but an Orman win would make that number “three.” So Kansas and national Republicans and their allied groups are trashing Orman.      But Orman leads Roberts by 10 percentage points. An Orman win makes a GOP-run Senate less likely. Still, with the House staying Republican-run, what would a GOP Senate mean for workers?

For starters, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., an ordinarily sane Republican who moved rightward to fend off a Tea Party primary challenger, would chair the Senate Labor Committee.

Alexander, in another bid to cater to the Radical Right, recently introduced legislation to emasculate the already weak National Labor Relations Board, by expanding it from five members to six, mandating a 3-3 partisan split and ordering that any decision needs four votes. That’s a recipe for deadlock on everything and lack of enforcement of worker rights.

Alexander’s measure would also truncate the powers of the agency’s General Counsel, the NLRB’s chief enforcement officer. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., who is in his own tough re-election race against Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergren Grimes, is Alexander’s lead co-sponsor on the NLRB bill.

The Grimes-McConnell U.S. Senate race may well set spending records, including cash from all the shady corporate-bankrolled outside GOP groups running anti-Grimes ads. Unions in the Bluegrass State are stumping hard for Grimes, knowing her stands, even if “moderate,” would be a vast improvement over those of McConnell, who made hate of Democratic President Barack Obama his prime cause for the last six years – even at the cost of trashing the nation.

The Grimes-McConnell race is not the only key U.S. Senate race this fall, though. Others include:

LOUISIANA. Senate control may not be decided on Election Day. That’s because Louisiana’s unique system features an all-candidate “primary” on November 4 and a later runoff between the top two finishers if nobody gets a majority. It also pits endangered Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) against a slew of Republicans. In a red state where unions, already low-density, were weakened by Hurricane Katrina’s trashing of New Orleans nine years ago, Landrieu will make the runoff. But if she doesn’t get a majority in November – and that’s likely-she’ll face united Republican opposition in that follow-up vote.

IOWA. Senate Labor Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D) is retiring and Rep. Bruce Braley (D) is the nominee to succeed him, against Tea Partyite State Sen. Joni Ernst (R). Braley should have had a cakewalk, but the Right is pouring money into pro-Ernst ads and Braley has committed some blunders of his own. Iowa is a “purple” state that has elected senators of both parties. Braley’s blunders turned this race into a tossup, but Ernst’s extreme positions are alienating moderate voters.

MICHIGAN. Rep. Gary Peters (D) is leading Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land (R) in the race for retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin’s seat. This race, like the others, will hinge on which side does better at turning out its voters. After controversial statements cost her votes, Land has been ducking debates. Various polls now give Peters a lead of six to 10 percentage points. But coattails from the hot governor’s race, between anti-worker incumbent Rick Snyder (R) and former Rep. Mark Schauer (D), may influence this contest, too.

If Peters defeats Land, it’s one less seat that organized labor has to worry about, The Michigan Building Tradesman points out. “That’s why the labor movement in this country is so important,” Peters told a Labor Day audience in Detroit. “They lift the standards for everybody in this country. I will fight to make sure collective bargaining is not diminished; we need to fight for union rights.”

“There are millions being spent in this state against what we believe in,” said Peters, referring to the $6.5 million that the Radical Right Koch brothers alone have already thrown into the race. “Our democracy is on the line. We can’t let out-of-state interests determine who represents us. We will show that it is the people who still rule.”

NORTH CAROLINA. Sen. Kay Hagan (D), who does not have unanimous union support in the Tar Heel State, narrowly leads another Tea Partyite, House Speaker Thom Tillis (R). Counting outside groups’ anti-Hagan spending – including ads with outright lies about her voting record on gun measures – this may be the second most-expensive race in the nation.

Hagan has hung the legislature’s anti-worker, anti-minority, anti-woman record around Tillis’ neck. And the Moral Monday movement, which marshaled tens of thousands of people against the lawmakers’ moves every Monday for months – and which includes the state AFL-CIO in the least-unionized state-is out in force. Hagan has a small but consistent poll lead.

Though there are a handful of tossups in Senate races, there around a dozen hot races among the governors – and that’s not counting Gov. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, who lost his primary, and Right Wing Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Pa., who is so far underwater in polls – even in GOP-leaning regions in the rural middle of the state – that he’s viewed as gone.

By contrast, Ohio’s John Kasich (R), presumed to be in trouble all year, is now coasting. The campaign of Democrat Ed Fitzgerald, the Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) executive, has imploded. The Hawaii, Ohio and Pennsylvania developments still leave other races, including:

WISCONSIN. After a narrow win in 2010, his destruction of public worker unions in 2011 and a failed recall attempt in 2012, Right Wing GOP Gov. Scott Walker is the top priority for unions both in the Badger State and elsewhere. And he’s in a neck-and-neck race with bicycle company executive and former Democratic state Commerce Secretary Mary Burke.

 “Think of what Walker’s re-election would mean for the anti-worker politicians. I’m serious,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told the state federation’s convention. “Walker gave Wisconsin’s working families a razor sharp choice when he tore apart public-sector bargaining, slashed funding for education, turned his back on additional federal Medicaid money and ran the state not for the good of your people but for his billionaire backers.

“Walker wants to rig every game for the richest of the rich, and he wants nothing to blunt the cold, hard edge of the marketplace. If you’re too young, too old, too sick, too poor, too anything, it’s just tough luck,” Trumka continued.

“These days, too many Republicans are Right-Wing extremists. They don’t govern, they rule. They run roughshod over anyone who disagrees with them. And so when Walker gets the call from the Koch Brothers, he’ll keep cramming the Right-Wing agenda down Wisconsin’s throat, without so much as a ‘hello,’ because he doesn’t give a damn about Wisconsin’s working families. He doesn’t give a damn about…a nation where you and I can enjoy the fruits of our labor and the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution.”

MICHIGAN. If beating Walker in Wisconsin is #1 in unionists’ priorities among GOP governors, then defeating Snyder in Michigan is not far behind. Former Rep. Mark Schauer (D) leads Snyder, narrowly.

Like Walker, Snyder took his agenda right out of the Right Wing American Legislative Exchange Council’s playbook, with an extra twist. Among the 37 separate anti-worker measures Snyder helped push through the GOP-run Michigan legislature were a so-called “Right-to-Work” law, cuts in workers comp and jobless benefits and abolition of teacher tenure.

The extra twist? Legislation to let the state take over financially “failing” local governments, which Snyder used to impose a czar on majority-minority Detroit, among others.

Schauer told Michigan unionists that if elected, he will support an attempt to repeal Right-to-Work, reverse Snyder’s tax hike on pensioners and Snyder’s tax cut for businesses, and restore unemployment compensation to 26 weeks of benefits, after Snyder and the Republican legislature reduced benefits to 20 weeks, the Building Tradesman says.

“As governor I will value the labor movement and all that it’s done to lift the middle class,” Schauer told Detroit’s Labor Day audience. He’ll also dump that financial czar law.

“Democrats have made a good case out of the fact, or disputed fact, that a lot of what Snyder and the Republican majority have done has helped upper-income people the most,” Bill Ballenger of Inside Michigan Politics told MLive. “And the tax on pensions is a factor. It’s definitely an issue.” Ballenger added: “If (Snyder) continues to just tread water or act like all he has to do is be governor, I think he’s going to have real problems on Nov. 4.”

MAINE. If Schauer, an active member of the Laborers, wins in Michigan, he’d be a governor with a union card. And if Rep. Mike Michaud (D), a Steelworker, beats controversial anti-worker and anti-union incumbent Paul LePage (R), he’d be a second governor with a union card.

Michaud has been a leader on workers’ issues, especially battling against anti-worker “free trade” pacts, among the U.S. House’s minority Democrats. He also co-chairs the Congressional Labor Caucus. He’d have a healthy lead over LePage, except that business executive Eliot Cutler, who took just enough votes in a 3-way 2010 race to let the Republican squeak in, has thrown his hat – and his millions – into the race again.

ILLINOIS. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) barely won a first full term, thanks to huge labor support, in 2010. But then he tried to solve the state’s financial ills by slashing public worker pensions and even threatening their collective bargaining rights. That’s alienated some of the Land of Lincoln’s largest unions, and made Quinn the most-endangered Democratic governor in the U.S.

The catch is that Bruce Rauner, the Republican financier and business executive opposing Quinn, is worse. With a record of outsourcing jobs overseas, supporting anti-worker “free trade” treaties, a budget proposal that would convert workers’ pensions into 401(k) accounts, and schemes to cut – you read that right, cut-the minimum wage and eliminate workers’ rights, Rauner would be a disaster for workers. Polls show the race is a tossup.

CONNECTICUT. Democrat Dannel Malloy, another narrow winner in 2010, joins Quinn on the endangered list. Though Malloy walked a picket line with locked-out nurses and signed a paid family leave law, he clashed with the teachers’ unions over school issues and with public worker unions over pension problems.

FLORIDA. This is a governor-versus-governor tilt and the Sunshine State is up for grabs. Unions have united behind Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, who now walks picket lines and who embraced the Affordable Care Act verbally and Obama literally, after a disaster during Crist’s term, which ended at the end of 2010.

His foe is incumbent Right Winger Rick Scott (R), a former CEO of the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain. He’s known for turning down stimulus money that would have put construction workers on jobs building a high-speed rail line – and for his firm’s bilking Medicare of millions of dollars.

COLORADO. Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall, both pro-worker Democrats, are late additions to the endangered list. Hickenlooper angered pro-gun voters by signing a regulatory law last year. First, they retaliated by ousting two state senators in a recall vote, giving the state senate to the GOP. Now they’re going after the governor.

Udall faces arguably the most-Right Wing U.S. Senate hopeful, GOP Rep. Cory Gardner. Oil, coal and natural resource industries are still a big share of the economy of what sometimes can be a “green” state, so Udall is on defense on his pro-environmental record.

OTHERS: Democratic incumbents who have been mostly – but not totally – pro-union are expected to win in the nation’s largest state, California (Jerry Brown) and third-largest, New York (Andrew Cuomo). So is reliably pro-worker Gov. Mark Dayton, DFL-Minn. In Texas, the Republican Right Wing state attorney general, running for the seat Republican Right Winger Rick Perry vacated, is expected to keep the governor’s chair in the second-largest state deep red.

Note: The names of candidates considered to be labor friendly are in boldface type.

Photo: Paul Davis is considered to have an excellent chance of defeating Sam Brownback, the furthest right-wing Republican governor in the country. Charlie Riedel/AP


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).