Defeated Kansas Senator: "Koch Industries is Just a Terrible, Terrible Citizen"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 8 2012 3:21 PM

Defeated Kansas Senator: "Koch Industries is Just a Terrible, Terrible Citizen"

Kansas State. Sen Tim Owens was one of the moderate Republicans who went down in flames in yesterday's primaries -- a 20-point landslide defeat. I talked with Owens today to get his take on the shellacking.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Slate: When did you realize that you would lose the election?

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Owens: At around 9 o'clock last night. We thought it would be close, and I'd heard people mention that it was close. I've been doing this for a long time, though, and... well, it came out the way it did.

Slate: Well, how would you describe what happened to you?

Owens: It's something of a classical battle that's going on in the Republican Party these days between the ultra conservative wing and the moderates. My assessment is that there's a very passionate, ultra-conservative part of the party that got their people out to vote, and there's a fairly apathetic middle of the road moderate group that doesn't seem as passionate, to me, about anything. And that's too bad, because in the new Senate there won't be much attention paid to social services, to education, and some of the other things that at least some of us believe are tantamount to quality of life.

Slate: And you were targeted, at least in part, because you opposed the tax plan. Why did you oppose it?

Owens: I've seen projections that say we'd be at a $2.7 billion in five years if we cut taxes too deeply. We have a constiutional mandate in Kansas that we have to balance the budget. if we're $2.7 billion in the hole, we either have to go back and raise taxes, which the new senators won't do, or we have to cut the programs. What do you cut in Kansas, where 67% of the budget is K-12 or higher ed? You're talking about higher ed taking a huge hit, and I suppose you're expecting private or parochical school to fill the gap. But Kansas right now is sixth in the nation for quality of public education. The theory, as I understand it, will be that businesses will bring enough new jobs to Kansas to make up the difference in funding. But if part of his tax plan is to eliminate income tax, it's not gonna make a lot of difference, is it? Do they raise the property tax instead? The whole theory is haywire.

Slate: Did the governor allay any of these concerns with you?

Owens: I chair the judicial committee, so when we talked, it was usually about that. And he probably wrote me off based on that.

Slate: Why?

Owens: I think that early on in the next session, the governor will revisit the idea of selecting appelate court judges. What he wants to do is have the governor pick and choose judges, the way that it works in Washington, and send them to the Senate, which -- if it's made up of the people who won yesterday -- will deliver a virtual rubber stamp of his selection. We will have judges selected on a basis of their social leanings instead of their merits.

Slate: But I'm curious, did the Kansas Chamber or any of the groups that opposed you try to work on you before spending money in the election?

Owens: They wrote me off early on. They went after the eight moderates they saw as impediments. And the challengers were backed very strongly by the Americans for Prosperity. I don't know if you've heard of them, but they basically have an anti-tax philosophy. They were started by Koch Industries and the Koch brothers, that's where the money comes from against us. The local Chambers are wholly owned by Koch Industries and AFP.

Slate: But Koch Industries is a Kansas-based company that ostensibly provides jobs in Kansas, pays taxes in Kansas.

Owens: Sure, but they are absolutely opposed to taxes. If it were up to them they'd want us to do away with all taxes and leave them alone. They may be a Kansas business, they may be the biggest company run by a single family, but they need to be asking the question "What can we do for Kansas?" and not "What can Kansas do for us?" Koch Industries is just a terrible, terrible citizen as far as I'm concerned. I think Koch Industries has done a major disservice to the state of Kansas.

Slate: What's the disservice, specifically?

Owens: I'd say that maybe 80 percent of country are middle of roaders. They're not always fired up enough to go and look at what impact government has on them. The people who play close attention, it seems, are so passionate against everything. And so the middle of the roaders don't want to be anywhere close to that. Until we turn back to the middle and get balance, we're in trouble. That will bleed over into opinions people have of Kansas. It will bleed over into opinions people have of us internationally.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.