To track Kansas Statehouse accurately, distinguish shiny objects from vital basics

January 12, 2022 1:28 pm

Statehouse workers remove the House lectern for Gov. Kelly’s 2022 State of the State speech. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

News from the Kansas Statehouse operates on a couple of levels.

On one, you have headline-grabbing hearings about critical race theory and vaccine mandates. On the other, you have the nuts-and-bolts work of allocating tax dollars, funding schools and highways, and overseeing social service programs.

Those who follow current events should learn to make the distinction. The flashy items fire up the partisan base. Occasionally, they even become law and have adverse consequences. But the unflashy business of constructing budgets, along with insisting that state agencies live up to their promises to Kansans, make a big difference in our day-to-day lives.

Thankfully, Kansas Reflector reporters are able to cover all kinds of news. That’s not a given in these days of few news outlets and even fewer reporters. States Newsroom has invested across the country in making sure that readers have access to stories that matter.

Colorful stories have their place, too. Partisan slugfests might not have much to do with governing, but they swing elections. That means a different set of folks, with different priorities, make the mundane decisions.

As for the budget and oversight responsibilities, in weeks to come readers should follow where the money goes. When I worked in the New Hampshire news media, every year we covered town meetings. At these eccentric New England gatherings, residents would gather to vote on the next year’s municipal budget. These meetings could drag on for hours, often consumed with bickering about a few hundred dollars here and a few thousand dollars there. Meanwhile, the overall budget was multiple millions of dollars.

Likewise in Kansas, the biggest pools of money make the most difference but aren’t always highlighted by politicians.

We’re still at the beginning of this year’s session, of course, and who knows what excitement waits over the next three months, give or take. We’ll see plenty of news on both levels, and our reporters are ready to bring it to you every day. As well as overseeing our morning op-eds, I’ll plan to drop in a couple of afternoons each week to provide context and thoughts that might not fit into a longer column.

Wear a mask, keep your cool and we’ll make it through together.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.