To make big changes in Kansas, look beyond Election Day

Republicans have held a supermajority in the Kansas House for a decade and in the Kansas Senate for even longer. Democrats hoped to change this by flipping one seat in the 125-member Kansas House or three seats in the 40-member Senate. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. John Wilson is president of Kansas Action for Children.

All eyes are on Election Day. The local, state and national races decided Nov. 3 will shape our lives for years to come. If you’re registered, make sure to cast your ballot.

But I’d like to focus on all the days after the election.

Here’s the tough truth. Our civic responsibility doesn’t end once we’ve voted, and the policies that we care deeply about don’t magically come into being.

High-quality child care? Affordable health care? Family support programs like food stamps? Making these ideas a reality takes dedicated work, from many different people. And much of that work takes place in the corridors and chambers of the Kansas Statehouse.

Unless you have the money to hire a lobbyist, then you’ll need to learn about your representatives, the issues and the legislative process. If taking this all in feels overwhelming, it’s because it is — at first. I know, because I served in the Legislature.

And listen, I get it. Everyone’s lives are busy and complicated, especially now. It can feel impossible to make a difference when confronted by well-funded special interest groups.

“Why bother?” you might ask yourself.

Because I’ve seen it work.

Followers of Kansas government know the hard-won success stories. Think about the most notable reforms of recent years — ending the Brownback tax experiment, fully funding schools. They happened because enough of us engaged in the process. We took the time to talk with our friends, families and neighbors. We called and emailed our lawmakers.

Now, think about what else could happen if we banded together in just the same way.

At Kansas Action for Children, we have seen how motivated folks, with the right information and contacts, with courage and determination, made things better. They took the same path that I did as a lawmaker: digging into the data and connecting with people who are passionate about the same issues. Then we had to keep at it, month after month, session after session.

Whatever issue you care about, be it Medicaid or the social safety net, be it higher education or public safety, there are others who feel the same. You just need to find them.

KAC welcomes those interested in making Kansas the best place to raise — or be — a child. That means focusing on health care, early learning and family support programs. And we’re not the only game in town. We’ve worked with incredible organizations across the state like Kansas Appleseed, Harvesters, More2, the Liberal Area Coalition for Families, Dress for Success Wichita, El Centro and so many others. They have all accomplished important things. And they could use your commitment and your voice.

One of my favorite parts of being a state representative was bringing constituents to the Statehouse. The carved-stone corridors and ornate furnishings could be intimidating, but I wanted to show them that it was truly the people’s house. They had as much right to be there as a well-paid lobbyist. Their own experience and stories had just as much value as testimony from a multinational corporation.

Remember, our state’s kids aren’t partisan. They don’t belong to Republicans or Democrats. They are members of our families and our communities, and we owe them a bright future. No matter who wins Nov. 3, and no matter at what level, we all have to look after our kids every single day of the year.

How will those days go? How will they turn out? Well, that depends on Kansans who are informed, engaged and activated. Folks just like you.

Let’s not see Election Day as an ending. Let’s see it as a beginning.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find more information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.