Kansas governor cooked renegade representative’s goose. Like it or not, that’s how politics work.

May 17, 2023 3:33 am
Gov. Laura Kelly gives her second inaugural address at the Kansas Statehouse

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

Gov. Laura Kelly, by all appearances, dished out a chilly bowl of revenge to Kansas City Rep. Marvin Robinson on Monday.

Robinson, in case you stayed sane and didn’t follow the Kansas legislative session this year, abandoned his Democratic colleagues to vote for a host of hard-right Republican priorities, such as banning transgender girls and women from school sports and restricting access to food benefits. In the magical way that these things sometimes happen, funding for his pet project — the Quindaro Ruins historic site in Wyandotte County — subsequently passed at the last minute.

Suggestions of quid quo pro flew, and only angels know the truth. Kelly, however, didn’t give a rat’s patootie about what angels or any other celestial beings saw. The Democratic governor vetoed the quarter-million dollar provision, showing once and for all that she’s the boss. As the saying goes, politics ain’t beanbag, regardless of party.

Republicans still have their legislative victories, while Robinson has been left with precisely nothing.

GOP leaders excoriated Kelly’s heartlessness.

“Preserving the archeological integrity and educational importance of the Quindaro Ruins should be a bipartisan priority and excluded from the wrath of political punishments,” said Republican House Speaker Dan Hawkins in a news release.

In which case, one might wonder why GOP lawmakers hadn’t allocated the money until they stood to gain politically.

He also neglected to add that his own party had taken similar revenge less a couple of weeks earlier. After Sen. Rob Olson tanked a much-anticipated flat tax plan, Senate President Ty Masterson booted him from the utilities committee chairmanship.

“His services are no longer required,” the Senate leader sniffed in his own news release.

I didn’t hear Hawkins, or any other Republicans, rushing to defend Olson. So why was Masterson’s power play acceptable and Kelly’s verboten?

Looking north from the Quindaro Ruins Overlook: The Missouri River, with the slave state of Missouri to the east and the Free State of Kansas to the west.
Looking north from the Quindaro Ruins Overlook: The Missouri River, with the slave state of Missouri to the east and the Free State of Kansas to the west. (C.J. Janovy/Kansas Reflector)

Pure partisanship. Raw exercises of political clout can always be justified when it’s your side doing the exercising. When the other side does it, they’re playing dirty.

Olson handed Democrats an unexpected win on tax policy, so Masterson took revenge. Robinson handed Republicans a plethora of overrides to pass destructive policies for Kansas children and families, so Kelly made him pay. As the preceding sentences might suggest, I think Kelly had more reason than Masterson to act as she did. But each were nonetheless flexing their muscles. (I should note the governor claimed the provision hadn’t been vetted and that advocates needed to “work through the proper channels.”)

Five years on from her election, Kansas Republicans still haven’t figured out how to handle Kelly. They have never respected her, seldom willingly work with her, and yet she has run circles around them politically from the start.

The latest example came from Hawkins’ appearance on Peter Mundo’s Kansas City radio show Tuesday morning. After repeating his news release criticism, Hawkins said a bill would likely be prefiled before the 2024 session to restore the Quindaro Ruins funding.

No one has accused the Kansas GOP of — how can I put this delicately — overly sensitive views on the reality of racism. Indeed, the state party has moved toward “kicking groups representing women, Black, Hispanic and young Republicans off the state party’s executive board, a move that would consolidate the power of its new hard-right chairman,” according to the Kansas City Star’s Katie Barnard.

But Kelly’s veto now has ensured Republican support for historical site honoring Black settlers.

Perhaps she could put this Jedi mind trick to work in other areas of state government. If she opposed her intention to cut Medicaid funding for needy Kansans, perhaps Republicans would suddenly see the light on expanding the lifesaving health insurance program.

If she wanted to go for the gusto, our governor could announce her intention to strengthen penalties for marijuana use and eliminate all vaccine requirements. Her opponents might just be blinded enough by their loathing of everything Kelly stands for to finally support cannabis legalization and bolster public health requirements. In the meantime, of course, Kelly could pick up support from the state’s far right wing. Win win, as the saying goes.

In all seriousness, Robinson made a bad bet. A historic site can never outweigh the needs of living, breathing Kansas. However we want to honor the memory of Quindaro, stripping rights from transgender people and making life more difficult for low-income families seems like an abhorrent way to go about it.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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 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.