Opinion

Amid the beauty of the Kansas Statehouse, a furious session crashes toward its scheduled close

April 1, 2022 3:05 pm

The third-floor rotunda inside the Kansas Statehouse offers a glimpse of the building’s burnished beauty — regardless of what state lawmakers are up to. (Clay Wirestone/Kansas Reflector)

Welcome to the last regularly scheduled session day of the Kansas Legislature, where lawmakers are working twice as fast and thinking half as much.

Just about anything can happen as lawmakers crash into the final day, up to and including an explosive rumor that members were being subpoenaed by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. GOP members then promptly set about trying to oust the executive director.

We won’t know where all the pieces fell until later tonight — or until the entire body reconvenes for a veto session later this month. Still, anyone tracking the Legislature will tell you this: After troubled sessions in 2020 and 2021, when COVID-19 threw a wrench into normal order, lawmakers were ready for some old-fashioned partisan hackery and rhetorical brawling.

On a strict policy level, the to-do list was onerous. Kansas Reflector editor Sherman Smith laid it out in a tweet shortly before 1 p.m.:

Good luck, everyone.

Inside the Statehouse building itself, the view was glorious. Those of us who spend days on end at the building might forget it, but the legislative quarters can stun with breathtaking beauty. Folks know about the John Steuart Curry murals, of course, but the interior teems with sculptures and architectural frippery.

This place is important, the building seems to say whenever you enter. Now why are you looking to pass legislation discriminating against transgender people again?

The statue of Amelia Earhart by Peter “Fritz” Felten is located on the second-floor rotunda of the Statehouse. (Clay Wirestone/Kansas Reflector)

The building itself seems to suggest a better way. We could truly work together as a state and its people to make things better for everyone, not just the well-connected interests whose lobbyists stride through these halls like they owned the place.

Speaking of lobbyists, I spent time chatting with a handful I knew from my time in nonprofit activism. These folks don’t have Koch Industries’ vast influence operation behind them. They’re trying their best in exceptionally trying times. They talked to lawmakers and tried to look on the bright side.

No one knew how the day was going to end. No one knew how many bills would make it out, how many would be vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly, or how many could ultimately be overridden.

Meanwhile, tour groups and random visitors foraged through the hallways, across the marble tiles. They had so much beauty to see, so much to be proud of in this exceptional state.

We’ll see whether legislators live up to their surroundings.

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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.

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