Kansas GOP rails against ‘woke agenda,’ will work toward stricter abortion rules
Republicans say they want to flatten Kansas taxes and implement more abortion prevention measures in coming weeks
Ty Masterson and Dan Hawkins discuss GOP legislative goals during a Jan. 10, 2023 news conference. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Kansas Republicans have vowed to fight the rise of a “sexualized woke agenda” across the state, saying they will work to pass legislation to stop the ideology, though conservative lawmakers have differing opinions on what the woke agenda is, and how to prevent it.
Senate President Ty Masterson and House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, both Republicans from Wichita, talked about the dangers of “woke ideology” during a Tuesday news conference where they unveiled the GOP eight-point legislative agenda for the session.
Legislative agenda items
Agenda priorities included election security and resisting “Biden’s efforts to hijack our elections,” along with preventing abortions in the state through implementing more anti-abortion measures and funding crisis pregnancy centers.
Masterson said Democrats wanted unchecked abortions and would support allowing women to abort during any stage of pregnancy, as well as allowing abortions after birth.
“The most radical view of abortion right now is actually the Democratic Party view, that unregulated abortion up to and, in some cases you see around the country, after birth,” Masterson said. “That is the most radical view of abortion there is. And with Hodes in place, we have the potential of that. All our commonsense restrictions are under attack.”
Abortions in the state are illegal after 22 weeks of gestation, except in cases where the mother’s health is in jeopardy. State records show there have been no abortions performed outside of this 22-week window in recent years.
Also on the agenda was authorizing the attorney general to investigate companies that “conspire to constrain the fossil fuel industry,” growing the Kansas workforce, regulating government assistance and the welfare program, continuing to support law enforcement, and protecting personal freedom.
Masterson said it was also time to change tax rates. Republicans favor tax rates that are flatter, fairer and lower, according to Masterson.
“We’ve seen in recent history that inflation is eating away the advantages gained in our income, and so we would like to give some of that back,” Masterson said during the news conference.
House Minority Leader Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat, said a flat tax rate wouldn’t help all Kansans equally.
“Flat is not fair,” Miller said in a short rejoinder.
Statehouse Republicans said they would prioritize Kansas children during the session by working to implement a student transgender athlete ban and adopting legislation that would give parents more say over education, including a “parental bill of rights.”
Parental authority and transgender student athletes have been the subject of recent debate. A form of the bill of rights was discussed in last year’s legislative session, though it didn’t become law. The legislation has been criticized for encouraging skepticism of classroom instructional materials and inciting challenges to books in school libraries.
Legislation that would have blocked transgender athletes from taking part in athletic teams designated for girls or women failed last year, though it is expected to be introduced again this year.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican who chairs the Education Committee, said local school boards have tried to silence parents who are upset about issues of gender identity and sexuality.
Baumgardner said she has heard from parents who were upset about sleeping arrangements involving LGBTQ students on school trips. She also expressed concerns about introducing the idea of gender identity to young students.
“The concern that’s going on right now in our school districts is that parents don’t have a voice,” Baumgardner said.
During the conference, many Republicans said that a radical ideology was taking hold of Kansas students, though they struggled to define the specifics of this ideology.
Masterson said parents needed more input in school decisions, saying that Kansas children were struggling with mental health due to an insidious “sexualized woke agenda,” being pushed on students, though he said he didn’t blame teachers for the woke agenda.
When asked what specifically what woke ideology was, Masterson said the definition varied from person to person.
“Woke means the focus on identity and dividing us up into different groups and causing fractions,” Masterson said. “That’s the woke agenda. Woke has all kinds of meanings to different people. That’s what it means to me, is this focus on somebody’s individual – your innate characteristics, about somehow you’re different than everyone else.”
Hawkins refused to define woke ideology.
“You don’t know what woke ideology is?” Hawkins said when asked to explain the term. “Go and Google it.”
Democrats in the Legislature said the phrase was just being used as a rallying cry for Republicans looking to gather public support.
Helena Buchmann, communications director for the Senate Democratic leader, said GOP lawmakers were using the idea of radical ideology as an excuse to pass harmful legislation, referencing the transgender student athlete bill.
“The legislation that the Kansas Republican party proposes in response to their perception of wokeness, whatever their definition of that looks like, has actual tangible harmful consequences on the lives of Kansans,” Buchmann said.
Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, said he didn’t think Republicans had a clear understanding of the word. Carmichael said it was used to solidify the Republican base.
“I hate to tell you, but I don’t think they know consistently what they mean by it, either. It’s just a word that gets people fired up,” Carmichael said. “It’s very telling that my friend, the speaker, says to look up what his words mean on Google. He needs to have that answer on hand because we can’t base legislative policy on something that is not defined.”
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