Kansas’ Dan Hawkins and Trump prove that political normalcy remains a distant dream

December 6, 2022 3:33 am

Dan Hawkins, right, was selected Monday as the next Kansas speaker of the House. He stands next to Secretary of State Scott Schwab at the Statehouse on Dec. 5. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

After a midterm election that many in Kansas and the country hoped was a return to normalcy, we’re faced with a deeply disconcerting fact.

We don’t live in normal times.

In Topeka, we saw the worst of bare-knuckle partisanship on Monday. Incoming House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, threatened Democrats’ committee posts if they nominated a candidate from their party for speaker. In Florida, disgraced former President Donald Trump called for “termination” of the U.S. Constitution to restore his power.

Neither man needed to do what he did. Hawkins will lead a supermajority from his party. As a superminority, Democrats pose no threat to his goals of guiding the chamber.

Likewise, Trump has declared another run for the highest office in the land and enjoys a legion of dedicated supporters. He sits upon a billion-dollar fortune. He has no need to attack the Constitution of the country he purports to love.

Yet both men have decided that the pure exercise of power — divorced from reason or proportionality — justifies all.

Like most parliamentary maneuvering, Hawkins’ actions can be defended by some obscure citation of how one party screwed the other one over decades ago. That’s been the time-honored tradition of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during the years that he ran the chamber. The dastardly Democrats are considering a different approach, so Republicans now must change the rules.

Or as Kansas Reflector’s Sherman Smith wrote: “Hawkins said he would revoke a 50-year-old ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that allows the minority party to choose which members serve on which committees if (Rep. Boog) Highberger didn’t withdraw.”

The outcome? Absolute silencing of dissent.

Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, gathers with other Democrats at the Statehouse in Topeka on Dec. 5. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Highberger, a Lawrence Democrat, has represented his community faithfully for years. He’s as close to a saint as the Kansas party has to offer, and his bid for speaker was a purely symbolic one. Hawkins would simply have had to sit quietly for 15 to 20 minutes in January and hear what Highberger had to say. Smith’s reporting suggested the representative wanted to talk about transparency.

Snowflake-in-chief Hawkins and his ever-more-sensitive party members couldn’t bear contemplating the prospect.

As for Trump, words fail.

No one who claims to care about our state, country and shared history can read this man’s incoherent ramblings and fail to see the clear and present danger. Trump is, as I wrote last year, an authoritarian threat. Republicans must cast him aside for the good of our shared future.

But he posted this message on his “Truth Social” platform Dec. 3: “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”

Any politician who would ignore or explain away those words should rethink their public service. Our common political society cannot last long with a party leader who calls for terminating our founding document. Trump has shown himself for once and all a revolutionary radical, one who would overthrow all that we know and love about the United States in his quixotic pursuit of self-validation. Democrats and the few sane Republicans remaining have a solid claim to the mantle of “conservative.”

A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.

– Donald Trump

We want to retain what has made this country great. Trump and his ilk have made clear — if anyone has missed the clues up until now — their commitment to its destruction.

You may see Hawkins and Trumps and their accompanying actions as dramatically different. Indeed, the threat posed by Trump outclasses that of Hawkins in every conceivable way. But both politicians preside over a clear and present breakdown in our shared notions of civic decorum and mutual respect.

Trump cannot bear to countenance the idea that he lost a free and fair election. Hawkins would choose to grievously wound the Kansas House of Representatives rather than listen to a Democrat speak.

This is not normal.

These are not normal actions taken by men who seek to lead a state or nation. They do not set themselves up as examples for children or historians of the future. Instead, Hawkins and Trump have cast themselves as ominous warnings, politicians who have been broken and corrupted by the need to seek ever more power and approbation. They think only of the moment, of seeking revenge against those who may have wronged them.

Voters have done their part. Kansans elected Laura Kelly as governor of Kansas — she received 499,849 votes to Hawkins’ 5,641 votes in last month’s election. Americans elected Joe Biden rather than Trump as the president of the United States.

But if Hawkins and Trump refuse to listen, where does that leave us? What landscape can we traverse when political losers refuse to acknowledge the obvious? How can our state and nation function?

For better or worse, we’re about to find out.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His Reflector columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and website across the state and nation. He 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. Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent 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.