What the ‘culture of life’ looked like during the Kansas Legislature’s first week

January 15, 2021 3:04 am

Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said the Senate debate on the Value Them Both Amendment would be delayed until Thursday because of absent legislators. The debate originally was scheduled for Thursday of last week but was delayed for a similar reason. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

“We trust you to make your own health care decisions.”

These were not the words of an urgent Planned Parenthood fundraising appeal or a phalanx of supportive boyfriends marching behind a contingent of women and chanting “her body, her choice” at the nearest lefty march.

These were the words of Ty Masterson, the Republican from Andover who is the new president of the Kansas Senate, in his response to Gov. Laura Kelly’s State of the State speech on Tuesday.

He wasn’t talking about abortion when he said his party trusted people to make their own health care decisions. He was digging Republicans’ feet in against any discussion of expanding Medicaid in Kansas.

When he talked about abortion, he trusted Kansans “to ensure a culture of life can flourish in our great state.”

At the end of the Kansas Legislature’s first week, let’s take a moment to appreciate the soaring success of Masterson’s debut. He’s so powerful he doesn’t even have to pretend he’s not a hypocrite.

Masterson wants to ensure a culture of life, but on the session’s opening day, he indulged two dozen Republican senators in their refusal to wear masks at what was by definition a mass gathering.

Masterson survived COVID-19 himself, so perhaps he feels immortal, like a teenager whose undeveloped brain encourages risky behavior. Maybe his own sense of invincibility is what’s diluting his sense of judgement, or just human decency.

Because Masterson did not disclose when he conquered the disease that has killed 3,355 other Kansans, maybe he was quarantining and missed the memo from his Republican colleagues in the House.

“We call on all Kansans to practice personal responsibility and compassion for their fellow Kansans by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and proper hygiene,” wrote House Speaker Ron Ryckman, Majority Leader Dan Hawkins and Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch in a statement back on Oct. 27, saying they’d met with the governor and agreed “to seek strategies to improve public education and voluntary collaboration to increase the use of masks” instead of calling the Legislature back for a special session to try to pass a statewide mandate.

“This is the right thing to do,” Ryckman, Hawkins and Finch wrote. “In the words of the former U.S. Senate chaplain Peter Marshall, ‘May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please but as the opportunity to do what is right.’ ”

If Masterson won’t even respect the wishes of his counterparts in the House, there’s no reason to think he’d honor the wishes of his fellow senator, Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Democrat from Wichita whose brother died of COVID-19 and is being buried Friday afternoon.

“I would just urge everybody to wear a mask. You can save a life. It’s just such an easy thing to do,” Faust-Goudeau said on Monday.

What Masterson said on Monday: “To those in our great chamber today who recently lost someone close to them, we are thinking about you and praying for you.”

But not wearing a small piece of cloth to try to keep them alive.

Republicans who trust Kansans to make their own health care decisions will spend Friday morning in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee pretending to listen to testimony about the “Value them Both” amendment to the state constitution:

By the end of the day, the Capitol will then close to the public for a week, just in case any patriot militias decide to invade Topeka in the days surrounding the inauguration of Joe Biden. If that happens, the governor should send the Kansas Highway Patrol’s overtime bill to the four gentlemen from Kansas who objected to the presidential election a week and a half ago, even though they’d celebrated their own victories in the same election.

I’m not afraid to die,” Democratic Rep. Stephanie Clayton of Overland Park said. She was talking about the security situation, but she might just as well have been talking about the COVID situation.

In any event, the Legislature needs to keep working because valuing life is so urgent. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take final action on the “Value them Both” amendment on Tuesday, which means putting the constitutional question to Kansas voters … a year and a half from now.

“The more time we have to educate the state, the better,” Wichita Republican Rep. Susan Humphries said in announcing the campaign strategy this week.

As if, by now, every Kansan doesn’t know exactly where they stand on the question of abortion.

What Humphries really meant is that Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, is the date on which Republicans trust not all Kansans but only primary voters to make health care decisions for everyone.

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C.J. Janovy
C.J. Janovy

C.J. Janovy is a veteran journalist with deep roots in the Midwest. She was the Opinion Editor for the Kansas Reflector from launch unit l June 2021. Before joining the Reflector, she was an editor and reporter at Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, KCUR. Before that, she edited the city’s alt-weekly newspaper, The Pitch, where Janovy and her writers won numerous local, regional and national awards. Her book “No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas” was among the Kansas Notable Books of 2019.