On Wednesday, barring any disruption by Timothy McVeigh wannabes, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the oldest person to take office as president of the United States. This is a fact, not a judgment; voters rationally understood that correcting course after the reign of a sociopathic toddler would require the calm force of experience.
But in the spirit of brighter days ahead for everyone, let’s celebrate inauguration day by looking to Kansas’ horizon.
If there’s any hope for our politics it might rest with the young members of the Kansas Legislature who’ve branded themselves the Kansas Future Caucus. This group of 18 Republicans and Democrats under the age of 40 are part of a national movement called the Millennial Action Project, whose mission is to “activate young leaders to bridge the partisan divide and transform American politics.”
They weren’t delusional. There are issues on which the two representatives stand firmly with their parties and their districts. They aren’t wasting anyone’s time by trying to come to consensus on abortion, for example.
Instead, they’re talking about smaller issues that “reflect our generation,” Xu said, such as tax credits for first-time homebuyers. Their goal is to find one piece of legislation they can unite behind, he said, “and see what we can do to get something passed together.”
“I’m not looking at what your political party is, I’m looking at how can we work together,” Arnberger said, adding that she was often frustrated by Statehouse dynamics in which “people first see the R and D before they get to know the person.”
There’s more than justifiable cause for distrust between Republicans and Democrats in Topeka. But by getting to know each other as friends first and politicians second, they both said, they’re creating a spirit of good faith.
The effort might also help alleviate some of those notorious urban-rural tensions as well.
As a Democrat from Johnson County, Xu made an effort to serve on the House Agriculture committee.
“I want rural Kansas to know that my district does care about rural issues,” he said. “We care tremendously about our food systems, and we care tremendously about our water. And this is one of those things where I want to advocate for Tory’s district almost as much as I advocate for mine.”
Rural Kansas could use the help.
“We are constantly doing tax credits and helping out the larger industries, like aviation,” Arnberger said. “But when we had the Ad Astra bill for rural tax credits, the Senate didn’t even want to take it up.” That was in 2018, and it hasn’t come back up. “It’s just frustrating that, while it’s really easy for us to help out Wichita, we would like it on our side as well.”
As if often the case in these kinds of conversations, you hear people from opposite political parties who both want the same thing.
“The frustrating thing for me in the Legislature is how often you hear ‘Kansas is 48th in the country in something,’ or 47th, or 49th,” Xu said. “I think this generation, we’re looking for a little bit of ambition. We want this to be a place where all of our friends and our upcoming children can settle down.”
“Especially in my area, population is declining,” Arnberger said. “I want to do whatever I can to bring the younger generation back.”
I asked each of them what advice they had for the leaders of their own parties.
“I’ve said to many people in my own party, some just want to work with Republicans and I think that’s a shame,” Arnberger said, “but it shows their true character.”
“Especially coming from the super minority party, you know, we take plenty of losses, and there’s a certain amount of bitterness because of that,” Xu said. “But not all Republicans are bad people, and nor should we demonize them as a party because of that. You know, as a minority you deal with stereotypes a lot.”
He had a request of Republicans. It seemed reasonable.
“One of the (frustrating) things for me has been just a really lack of willingness to allow bills to go through that have a Democrat’s name on it,” he said.
He understood the political concerns. But there are, for example, Native American issues that are important to Reps. Christina Haswood or Ponka-We Victors. Allowing such bills to pass probably wouldn’t hurt Republicans’ chances of getting re-elected, he suggested.
“I know there’s some Asian American issues that I would love to have my name on it,” he said. “And I would just ask for more open mindedness. You know, it’s going to be something that we can point to our kids later on that was really meaningful to us.”
In the spirit of unity and healing for America, let’s all wish them good luck with that.