The good, the bad and the ugly as Kansas follows 2020 U.S. election trends

November 10, 2020 3:46 am

Voters lined up in cars to deliver mail ballots at a Shawnee County drop box in Topeka. As voters become skittish about the status of their mail ballots, some voted in-person via provisional ballot. (Noah Taborda/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. Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman is executive director of the Aspen Institute Congressional Program.

I am no expert on recent Kansas politics — it’s been 25 years since I represented the state’s 4th Congressional District. But I watched the election results from Kansas with enormous interest, always considering the state where I was born and served in Congress for 18 years to be my home. Having some time and geographical distance gives one a certain perspective.

Though Kansas reflected the national trends in many respects, it is also unique in its political history and demography.

From my vantage point, here are the good, the bad and the ugly realities of the 2020 election in Kansas.

The good

Both parties worked diligently to communicate with their voters and increase turnout. We had record voter turnout in Kansas and most other places in the country. The election process in the state by and large went smoothly and without incident, whether one voted in person or absentee, which is remarkable given that COVID-19 has infected nearly 100,000 Kansans and has killed more than 1,000.

Election officials and voters actively participated in our political process, without incident, at a time of a cruel public health pandemic. It appears that large numbers of younger voters participated, which is healthy for the future of our democracy.

Further, the election of Joe Biden will likely be helpful to Gov. Laura Kelly as the state deals with public health, economic and budget issues. Both are Democrats, but each has a long history of bipartisanship and working across the aisle to be true problem solvers.

Notwithstanding Republican victories in the state Legislature, a strong relationship with the White House will be helpful to our state and to Kelly personally.

The bad

Pre-election polling in both state and federal races was incredibly inaccurate. Political scientists should drill down on the reasons for the inconsistencies and inaccuracies, but I suspect the failure of candidates to campaign person to person because of the pandemic, the lack of sufficient independent media coverage of local and state elections and the sometimes insidious role of social media all had a lot to do with this.

In addition, there was a huge amount of inaccurate information being disseminated on both sides, but particularly on the political right, whose candidates labeled Democrats as being in favor of defunding the police and portrayed them as socialists.

The incredible amount of campaign money, some of it “dark” and not easily transparent, facilitated the spread of falsehoods much more easily than in years past. That money often exacerbated a vicious toxic political tone that does not encourage collaboration.

The ugly

It is disappointing that so many Republican leaders, in Kansas and elsewhere, have yet to acknowledge that Biden has won the Presidency — something they likely would be heralding if the electoral numbers were reversed.

What disturbs me the most is the tribalism that afflicts Kansas and American politics. Republicans rarely cross over and support Democrats and vice versa. A review of voting in Kansas counties reflects this trend.

That missing streak of historic Kansas political independence is so harmful in making compromises for the common good.

One positive exception is U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, who was re-elected to Congress from the one Kansas congressional district that currently trends middle of the road. But her victory was also due to her working across the aisle on so many issues affecting her district.

During the prehistoric era when I served in Congress, Kansas voters elected people of both parties to federal and statewide and legislative offices, which I think made Kansas a stronger state, and a more relevant one as well.

Let’s hope the election of Joe Biden will inspire us to an era of less toxic political rhetoric, less partisan infighting and more collaboration to actually get things done. Encouraging the media to better cover local and state politics and policy and continuing to encourage civic education for the increasing number of younger voters participating in the political process would help to bring about positive change in Kansas and elsewhere.

As Biden recently said, “The purpose of our politics, the work of our nation, isn’t to fan the flames of conflict, but to solve problems. We may be opponents but we are not enemies. We are Americans.”

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Dan Glickman
Dan Glickman

Dan Glickman is a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center; adjunct professor of agriculture and nutrition, Tufts University; board member of the World Food Program USA; and recently retired as vice president and executive director of the Aspen Institute Congressional Program. He served for eighteen years in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the 4th Congressional District of Kansas, as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1995 to 2001, and as chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc., from 2004 to 2010.