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Libertarian likes his odds in a 3-way race for governor

By Dave Bergmeier

In the topsy-turvy political world of 2014, a Libertarian candidate believes this could be the year for an upset in the governor’s race in Kansas.

Keen Umbehr will be on the ballot in November. The headliners from the other two parties are incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback, a Topeka Republican, and a former U.S. senator, congressman and state secretary of agriculture; and state Rep. Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat and House Minority Leader. All three men are attorneys.

Umbehr’s campaign focus is on voters are tired of “politics as usual.” Brownback’s approval numbers have opened an opportunity for Davis and Umbehr. In a highly Republican state, the Libertarian believes voters should consider him because his views offer a pragmatic alternative to the presumed front-runners. With a three-way split in the votes, he believes he can win.

Umbehr’s core issues for those involved in the agriculture sector are a “fair tax” by implementing a zero income tax rate, but also by removing tax loopholes and executing a consumption tax.

Those who sell goods and services, including attorneys, who are now exempted, would collect the tax, which is based on a tax rate of 5.7 percent. For example, that would mean if someone had $1,000 in attorney services or purchased merchandise, it would mean $57 in a consumption tax would be collected. There would also be benchmarks so impoverished Kansans could apply for a rebate.

The tax reduction plan approved by Kansas Republicans and signed into law in 2012 and 2013 has led to concerns about future deficits beginning in 2015. Brownback believes the tax cuts should remain intact. Davis has stated he would suspend the second phase of the tax cuts. Umbehr believes both stances are the wrong approach.

Under the current plan 191,000 businesses pay zero income tax, meaning 1.3 million W-2 wage earners pay all the state’s income taxes, Umbehr said. All that is important as the state tries to fund a $15.35 billion budget.

He believes his tax plan is revenue neutral and could generate more tax revenues. Its biggest selling point is its simplicity, he said.

As a Libertarian he supports a smaller and more limited government. He considered himself a conservative Republican but changed his affiliation because some of his views were at odds with political leaders.

“If you weren’t in lockstep, you are called a RINO (Republican in Name Only),” Umbehr said, adding he was comfortable with his decision to leave GOP. “I think we all have Libertarian views (in us).”

While he supports a smaller state government, he also believes government should be socially neutral and all laws should be applied equally. Schools must be adequately funded and services need to be in place to help the poor and disabled. Those are needs in rural areas, too. Programs deemed essential would be handled differently if an across-the-board reduction in the state’s budget were required.

In general, Umbehr supports what Brownback and the Legislature have been trying to do to establish a state water plan. It is important for Kansans to have an understanding of why it is important to conserve the resource, he said. The state’s economy depends on a long-term solution for surface and underground water supplies. He liked concepts that sought voluntary reductions that will extend the life of the aquifer in western Kansas.

Without any action, the rural areas face a significant reduction in property values if irrigated land has to be converted to dryland crop production.

“It’s a difficult decision,” he said, but with thoughtful dialogue and planning there is an opportunity for the state to develop policies that will help farmers and ranchers. “There are answers.”

Umbehr, 55, of Alma, Kansas, is not a stranger to the headlines. He won a landmark First Amendment case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996. Umbehr was a private contractor who sued his home county, Wabaunsee County, because he lost his contract as a trash collector despite never missing a day of work. He had criticized county commissioners in weekly newspaper column called “My Perspective.”

After the court case he sold his trash business, earned a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University and graduated from the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka in 2005.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached by phone at 620-227-1822 or by email at

Date: 8/25/2014


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