Opinion

Kansas Republicans spurn the voters and results they don’t like while reheating tired humbug

January 12, 2023 3:33 am
Sen. Molly Baumgardner said parents needed to have more input in school decisions, following a Jan. 10, 2023 conference on Republican legislative goals. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Sen. Molly Baumgardner said parents needed to have more input in school decisions following a Jan. 10, 2023, news conference about Republican legislative goals. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The first few days of the 2023 Kansas legislative session have exposed a core contradiction: Elected Republican lawmakers only respect the elections that put them in power.

Other elections, such as those on the local level or for statewide constitutional amendments, don’t carry the same weight. Indeed, they might not represent the will of the people at all, even though many people voted in them. This peculiar juxtaposition of beliefs has already encouraged lawmakers and advocates to make colossal fools of themselves. A free piece of advice: Pace yourselves. The week isn’t even finished!

Let’s see how that works out in practice.

 

Senate President Ty Masterson (left), Rep. Valdenia Winn and Rep. Vic Miller attend Gov. Laura Kelly’s inauguration on Jan. 9, 2023, on the Statehouse steps. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Abortion

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, believes that abortion is bad. How bad? He’s willing to invent fantasy stories to oppose the routine medical procedure.

“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,” he said as the GOP unveiled its legislative agenda. “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.”

Time for some straight talk, folks. Masterson is lying.

No one, no Democrat or Republican or independent, supports abortion until the moment of birth or after (at which point it becomes infanticide). Kansas bars abortions after 22 weeks, and statistics show that no abortions outside that limit have been performed in recent years. He’s spouting a ghoulish bit of extreme rhetoric, and as a lawmaker he surely knows that he’s spreading horse manure.

Regardless of all this, Kansans weighed in on abortion. On Aug. 2, they voted by a nearly 20 percentage point margin to preserve abortion rights in the state. They decided the state constitution should continue to protect the right of women to make their own personal health care decisions.

Did Masterson miss that vote? What does he think of the 557,837 Kansans who turned up to support abortion rights? Only 27,199 voted for him to be a state senator.

 

Senate President Ty Masterson (right) and Speaker of the House Dan Hawkins outline the Republican legislative agenda on Jan. 10, 2023. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

School boards

Republicans’ plan, tastefully titled “A Better Way,” also targets schools and teachers.

They believe that somehow, under the noses of parents, teachers and administrators, a sinister “woke agenda” has taken root in public schools. This agenda apparently means acknowledging the existence of racism and transgender people.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, heads up the the Education Committee this year and told Reflector editor Sherman Smith that local school boards have become a problem.

“We’re seeing that occur throughout the state of Kansas, where parents go to school board meetings to talk about issues, they’re concerned about graphic books that are in the library at the elementary level, and they’re being shut down from speaking to the board,” she said.

“You’ve made a case for for electing different school board members,” Smith responded. “Where’s the state role come into that?”

Made aware of her obvious contradiction, Baumgardner deflected.

“Again, that was one of the components of the parents rights bill, and that was that parents had the right to speak to the school board, and that school boards couldn’t circumvent parents at the open public meeting,” she said. “So again, we support local control until local control doesn’t allow constituents such as parents to speak at the meetings.”

The voters who elected those school board members apparently don’t matter. The 30,758 Kansans who elected Baumgardner matter far more.

 

Kansas Chamber lobbyist Eric Stafford attends the agenda event this week at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Plastic bags

Lori Lawrence, the founder of Bag Free Wichita, wrote a column for the Reflector about her efforts.

Wichita, along with Lawrence, Salina and Prairie Village have started looking into banning cheap and ecologically disastrous plastic bags.

“These bags take about 500 years to degrade, and then only degrade into microplastics,” she wrote. “The average American family takes home about 1,500 plastic bags a year and recycles only 1%.”

That sure sounds like something local officials might address. Reducing waste makes sense, both to protect the environment and keep communities clean. Local officials have listened to the community members who elected them and want to act.

Not so fast, says the Kansas Chamber. The business lobbying group wants to keep those bags blowing through parking lots and streets.

“Why do we want to keep them? We want consumers to choose,” Chamber lobbyist Eric Stafford said on this week’s Reflector podcast. “And it’s a government intervention of business practices to decide whether we have plastic cups, plastic straws, plastic bags, whatever. If you have one city that bans them, and then one city that doesn’t, or my competitor’s outside of the city limits in the same county and doesn’t have to comply with those restrictions, it can put me at a competitive (dis)advantage, add more cost to my business if I’m held to those standards.”

In a way, this irritates me more than the last two examples. Who elected Chamber president Alan Cobb or Stafford to anything? Both men make prominent examples of themselves: Cobb as the face of Kansas businesses and Stafford as a glad-handing Statehouse lobbyist. Neither has been elected.

Their group’s primary contribution to public dialogue has been accepting Koch Industries money to advance billionaires’ political goals. Cobb and Stafford have been hired to promote an anti-environmental, anti-worker, extremist ideology.

Money does a lot of talking through the Chamber, but that’s no reason for the rest of us to listen.

 

Gov. Laura Kelly gives her second inaugural address outside the Kansas Statehouse on Jan. 9, 2023. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Whose agenda?

The examples keep coming.

Gov. Laura Kelly, who has vetoed repeated attempts to bar transgender kids from playing school sports, was reelected with 499,849 votes. Legislative leaders plan to target those children again in the new session. Voters rebelled against former Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax “experiment” by electing majorities to overturn the policy. Legislative leaders now want a flat tax. Voters overwhelmingly favor expanding the state Medicaid program. Legislative leaders conspicuously avoid the issue in their agenda.

Republicans have controlled both chambers of the Kansas Statehouse for the past 30 years. They have enjoyed robust Statehouse majorities and lengthy spells in the governor’s office. Lately, they have held legislative supermajorities.

So why do we need “A Better Way” with them now? What have they been doing all this time since 1993? Surely Kansas should be a utopia now, given Republicans’ power over the levers in state government.

I suspect the reason they haven’t achieved an ultraconservative perfect world is that voters don’t like it.

Kansans value public schools and government services. They want to keep abortion legal. They like their local elected officials. They pick Democrats as governor and for the U.S. House of Representatives. Some communities pursue progressive policies because (gasp) that’s what their residents want.

We return, then, to the core contradiction. Republican legislators value their voters over other voters, never minding that it makes them look foolish. Somehow, they never reach the promised land of ideological purity.

Maybe, just for once, they could try listening to everyone.

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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. Clay spent 2017 to 2021 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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