Can Libertarian candidate turn 13/87 into a winning formula?

If there is a simple key to wooing voters in Kansas this campaign season, it’s coming up with a memorable, catchy phrase that even voters who don’t parse candidate qualifications will remember when they enter the voting booth.

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That key phrase might just have been hatched last week when Libertarian Party gubernatorial nominee Keen Umbehr, Alma, filed his campaign papers and paid his filing fee.

The phrase? It’s based on the state income tax bill that Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law two years ago — the massive state income tax cuts that are part of his program to bring prosperity and jobs to the state.

Those tax cuts, Umbehr noted, creates two classes of Kansans: 13 percent who don’t pay Kansas income taxes anymore and, oh yes, 87 percent of Kansans who still pay taxes. Wonder which group likes the tax plan that Brownback touts?

Hmmm….13 percent and 87 percent. That percentage split personalizes what reporters for the past two years have been routinely tossing off as 190,000 Kansans not paying taxes — it puts the number into a clearer context, doesn’t it?

Now, the governor’s tack is that those farmers and self-employed folks who work for themselves, and/or have just the right business corporate structures, are the people who will be hiring new workers, buying new machinery, spending more money on things like groceries, cars, and such.

That means more jobs, more prosperity.

But, Umbehr found the flip side of that roadmap for Kansas: Making everyone aware that 13 percent of Kansans pay no state income tax, and 87 percent probably aren’t happy about that.

It’s not quite the national 1 percent of the super-rich we hear about on national television and in the newspapers, but it’s a clear division, and you 13 percent who don’t pay Kansas income taxes are probably going to be quiet about it at picnics and neighborhood gatherings this summer.

Plus, your neighbors are probably going to be looking around the picnic crowd, trying to see if they can identify those tax-free folks. (Oh, if the neighborhood picnic takes place inside a gated community, the percentages are likely to be different.)

But Libertarian Umbehr has found a wedge there, one that is likely to be picked up by at least Democratic candidates who didn’t think of the catchy phrase first. While as a Libertarian, Umbehr talks about eliminating all state income taxes, Democrats would say Brownback split Kansas into the taxed and un-taxed.

Now, chances Kansans will elect a Libertarian governor are statistically slim, and while Umbehr would like to live in Cedar Crest, the governor’s mansion, chances are that his party would claim a victory if he garners 5 percent of the vote in November, which would catapult the Libertarian Party into the big leagues—a major party which can place candidates on the primary election ballot instead of having them selected by a party convention. That’s a win for Libertarians, if not Umbehr.

But, the catchy statistic: 13/87 is likely to be memorable … possibly clear into the voting booth — at least by the 87 percenters.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit