Dawn Rattan cries and applauds at the Kansans for Constitutional Freedom watch party after Kansans vote to keep abortion a constitutional right on Tuesday. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)
I’m pretty sure that 2022 took the usual 365 days. Yet it felt like several callithumpian years packed into one.
We started by fighting a monstrous COVID-19 hangover, with the omicron variant tearing through Kansas and the Statehouse. We endured a nasty legislative session, along with redistricting and a subsequent court battle. But that was just a beginning. Roe v. Wade was overturned, and Kansas’ abortion amendment vote in August only brought us eight months along. We then swept into an epic midterm campaign season. Candidates’ hair-on-fire rhetoric accompanied us to Election Day and beyond.
That’s just the start! Did we witness culture wars over Black history and LGBTQ students? We sure did, in several different waves throughout the year. Did we boggle at a $4 billion dollar Panasonic megaproject announcement over the summer? Yep. Did Emporia State University suspend tenure and fire a bunch of professors? Indeed.
Also, and this actually happened, Dr. Anthony Fauci muttered, “What a moron. Jesus Christ,” after some particularly dumb questioning from Kansas’ own U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall.
Before the holidays, Kansas Reflector staff gathered in our Topeka office to record a podcast wrapping up the year. Editor Sherman Smith, senior reporter Tim Carpenter and reporter Rachel Mipro chatted with me about their most-read stories of 2022. They also highlighted stories that didn’t see the same traffic, but were still important for understanding the ever-so-paroxysmal 2022.
Add them all together, and we have six stories. They follow, along with links and pithy comments.
1. Kansas voters defeat abortion amendment in unexpected landslide (August 2, by Sherman Smith and Lily O’Shea-Becker)
The ballot measure was failing by a 60-40 margin late Tuesday after voters responded to an intense and costly campaign marked by dubious claims by amendment supporters and the unraveling of protections by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The biggest 2022 Kansas story by the length of several football fields, the rejection of an anti-abortion amendment by Kansas voters shocked national pundits. It surprised me too, as I expected the vote to at least be close. It wasn’t, with voters rejecting anti-abortion extremism by nearly 20 percentage points. As I wrote at the time, it turns out that constitutional protections for bodily autonomy do pretty well at the ballot box. What does that mean for state politics going forward? I’m not sure anyone has seriously grappled with the question yet.
- Kansas abortion ban is the plan, officials pushing constitutional amendment tell GOP crowd
- Kansas abortion-rights activists emphasized attack on personal rights to defeat amendment
2. Johnson County sheriff threatens to deploy ‘army’ of deputies against IRS agents (Sept. 9, by Tim Carpenter)
Hayden, who described the IRS as a “spooky, spooky entity,” generated applause from a group of about 30 people during a two-hour open meeting at the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department headquarters with a promise to protect their homes as if they were castles.
Hayden’s embrace of election conspiracy theories generated statewide headlines. But Carpenter noticed the sheriff’s bellicose rhetoric about IRS agents and whipped up the Reflector’s second most-read news story of the year. Despite touting egregious nonsense, Hayden notched a substantial win the November election. An amendment guaranteeing that sheriff posts like his would continue to be elected — as opposed to appointed by county commissions looking to tamp down controversy — sailed through.
- Kansas constitutional amendment on sheriffs: What would it do, who supports it, who is opposed?
- Kansans pass constitutional amendment on election, removal of sheriffs
3. Future of Kansas town’s library in jeopardy over refusal to remove ‘divisive’ books (Nov. 14, by Rachel Mipro)
All of it might be gone come January.
The city council is debating whether to renew the library’s lease with the city following the library’s refusal to accept a lease clause asking it to remove all material that could be viewed as socially, racially or sexually divisive, including all LGBTQ content.
I didn’t have “book banning becomes all the rage again” on my 2022 bingo card, but perhaps I should have. Tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons has gained newfound popularity, after all. Why not resurrect another moral panic from the early 1980s? The truly positive outcome of the St. Marys fracas was that more people heard about Alex Gino’s “Melissa,” a sensitive novel about a transgender student.
- Kansas town’s library lease renewed after months of debate about LGBTQ content
- Alex Gino, author of book that sparked effort to close Kansas town’s library, speaks out
- The book ‘Melissa’ was targeted at the St. Marys library. But what’s it actually about?
4. Analysis: How the Kansas Legislature avoids public scrutiny by hiding in darkness (May 8, by Sherman Smith)
Republicans who control the legislative process conduct hearings with selective one-sided testimony and provide no advance notice of a committee’s plans to take action on significant legislation.
They refuse to acknowledge the authors or special interests involved in writing state policy. They may even delay the filing of a bill so that it can’t be reviewed by news reporters or opponents before holding a hearing on it.
Smith doesn’t often venture into analysis territory. When he does, watch out. This scathing summary of Kansas legislative leaders’ shortcuts, obfuscation and bad faith should be read by anyone interested in knowing how state government really works. It might come as an unwelcome surprise, and that’s the point. No matter your ideological beliefs or party, Kansans deserve better than its current, deeply flawed Statehouse and those who enable it.
- Column: With open government on the line, we’re calling Kansas legislators to account
- Column: Simple reforms could make the Kansas Legislature more transparent. Leaders don’t want that.
5. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly wins reelection over Republican challenger Derek Schmidt (Nov. 9, by Sherman Smith)
Democrat Davids wins reelection to U.S. House along with Kansas’ three GOP incumbents (Nov. 8, by Tim Carpenter)
Kobach wins Kansas AG race, vows to fight Biden administration (Nov. 9, by Rachel Mipro)
Carpenter grouped these three stories together during our podcast, and for good reason. All three of these election results came as at least a slight surprise. Pundits saw Democrat Kelly’s re-election race in deep-red Kansas as a stretch. Republicans redistricted the state’s congressional districts to make U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids vulnerable to Amanda Adkins. And Kris Kobach had lost two races in a row before tossing his hat in the ring for attorney general. All three won Nov. 8.
- Kelly vs. Schmidt postmortem: Incumbency, cash and Brownback’s legacy pivotal in close race
- Dole Institute panel: GOP dominance submarined by demise of Roe vs. Wade, Trump’s unruly politics
- Republicans won the Kansas AG’s race on Aug. 2. Here’s how Democrats failed big Nov. 8.
6. Kansas voters with disabilities blocked by restrictive legislation, voting rights advocates say (Oct. 20, by Rachel Mipro)
What does the right to vote actually mean? Rachel Mipro, who started at the Reflector in September, wrote about that thorny question in her 2022 pick. While battling nonexistent voter fraud, the Kansas Legislature ended up making it more difficult for disabled people and people of color to cast ballots. Add the congressional redistricting mentioned above, which split Wyandotte County, and you have a state where votes were diluted and obstructed.
- Kansas Secretary of State candidates debate election fraud, gerrymandering
- The ‘blue dot’ of Lawrence, Kansas, will soon have a new congressman. No one’s talking about it.
We’re about to find out what comes next for Kansas.
The Legislature returns next week, full of vim and vigor and eager to match wits with Gov. Kelly. Reflector staff will be on hand to report what happens and find out what they don’t want you to know. This opinion section will put politicking in perspective and champion transparent, representative government.
Thanks for following along with us in 2022. Please join us for all the wild and wooly escapades and imbroglios of 2023.
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