Opinion

Summer’s discontents weigh on Kansas mood, political races and long-term outlook

July 11, 2022 3:33 am
The U.S. Supreme Court decision raised the importance of an already high-stakes vote in the Aug. 2 Kansas primary on a proposed constitutional amendment that will determine if the right to an abortion will remain in the Kansas constitution. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

The U.S. Supreme Court decision raised the importance of an already high-stakes vote in the Aug. 2 Kansas primary on a proposed constitutional amendment that will determine if the right to an abortion will remain in the Kansas constitution. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

Now is the summer of our discontent.

The end of Roe v. Wade has shaken the nation. Kansas has been gripped by an amendment vote on just that subject scheduled for next month. Political candidates circle one another like irritable peacocks, knowing that weeks or months of squabbling await.

Nationally, inflation has stressed households and scared investors, while the White House searches for fixes. Gun violence has spread throughout tiny towns and giant cities. Gas prices have shot up, and the new Thor movie isn’t even that great. I ran down the issues with Kansas Reflector editor Sherman Smith in this week’s podcast, in case you’re keeping track.

As I said, welcome to our season of grumpiness.

By some measures, it should be a glorious time. The pandemic of the past two years has been tempered with vaccines and treatments. Fears of an apocalypse arising from our conflict with Russia have receded. The University of Kansas even won the men’s basketball championship a scant few months ago.

Somehow we’ve still fallen into a funk. I described it the other day during a conversation as the implicit understanding — shared by many who follow current events in the Sunflower State — that we’re in a brief oasis of calm.

Things aren’t that bad right now. But they could soon become catastrophic.

If the anti-abortion constitutional amendment on the ballot Aug. 2 passes, abortion could well be outlawed in Kansas within a year. If Kris Kobach prevails in the Republican primary and becomes attorney general, one can only imagine his eagerness to pursue the most far-right causes in courts throughout the land. And if Derek Schmidt becomes governor, don’t expect him to block or restrain the worst impulses in the state GOP.

For some in the state, perhaps I’m painting a paradise rather than a dystopia. They would welcome this new Kansas with hosannas and Main Street parades. But how many other folks — those expecting a no-nonsense, efficient government and a state free from nationwide ridicule — realize how close we are to these dire scenarios becoming reality?

– Clay Wirestone

For some in the state, perhaps I’m painting a paradise rather than a dystopia. They would welcome this new Kansas with hosannas and Main Street parades. But how many other folks — those expecting a no-nonsense, efficient government and a state free from nationwide ridicule — realize how close we are to these dire scenarios becoming reality?

Some of us, in the news media or adjacent to it, think about such scenarios all too often. The air sizzles with a toxic brew of heat and humidity as we read stories from throughout the country.

We frown. We grumble. We turn up the air conditioning.

On the other hand, nothing could happen. Perhaps everything will work out just fine! Maybe Kansas won’t become a dystopian hellscape of abortion bounty hunters. Maybe our instinctive moderation and optimism will win out.

That’s the difficulty of 2022’s Kansas summer. We don’t know how our state will evolve, what decisions voters will make, or what paths our politicians will choose. What we do know doesn’t exactly boost one’s confidence.

Consider, for a moment, the Jan. 6 hearings in Washington, D.C., where politicians’ opportunistic wrongdoing has been spotlighted again and again. We now know just how bad things can get behind the scenes.

Consider, closer to home, this Kansas Reflector headline from April 3: “Kansas Statehouse subpoenas, pay-to-play allegations, consultants’ feud disrupt end of session.” That sounds important! Lawmakers took it seriously enough to try ousting the state ethics commission’s executive director. No one quite knows the full story, and one imagines legislators are working hard to keep it that way.

To summarize, we face a bunch of potentially bad things that we know about, as well as a bunch of potentially bad things that we’re only learning about in retrospect.

Also, fireworks cost way too much this year.

At this point, I should pivot to some kind of affirmation. We can all make things better. We can change our perspective. Those with perseverance and bravery can push through any obstacles. Yadda yadda, as the saying goes.

In this season of uncertainty, however, I’m not sure those reassurances count for much. Many bad things could happen, but they haven’t necessarily happened yet. Our state could face enormous problems, but we just brought in $438 million more than expected for the last fiscal year. We could suffer, but perhaps we will thrive.

So we sit here in uncertainty, sweating profusely. And we wait.

SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.

MORE FROM AUTHOR