Kansas Speaks poll proves majorities support bold change, but GOP leaders have plugged their ears

October 30, 2023 3:33 am
Kansans crowd a Medicaid expansion rally on March 15, 2023, at the Statehouse.

Kansans crowd a Medicaid expansion rally on March 15, 2023, at the Statehouse. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The problem with Kansas politics today can be summed up by the following four statements.

First, we know what the challenges are.

Second, we know how to fix them, or at least begin to address them.

Third, we have the public support to do so.

Fourth, GOP legislative leadership appears entirely unwilling to act.

You can see this with the release of the annual Kansas Speaks public opinion survey, released by Fort Hays State University. Researchers collected information from 485 Kansans older than 18 from Sept. 20 to Oct. 10 and crunched the numbers of their responses. On multiple issues, Kansans supported commonsense — even progressive — solutions that have been blocked for years at the Statehouse. Kansas Reflector senior reporter Tim Carpenter and I chewed over the results in this week’s podcast, but here are a handful of highlights.

“67.2% of respondents supported legalizing recreational marijuana for individuals 21 and older to allow state taxation.”

“69.6% of respondents supported expanding Medicaid in Kansas.”

“63.5% of respondents agreed that women are in a better position than politicians to make their own choices about whether to get an abortion.”

“56.9% of respondents felt climate change is a crisis or major problem in Kansas.”

What a red state, huh? What a hardcore, conservative place, full of people ready to clamp down on individual liberties.

That was irony, in case you couldn’t tell. The survey confirms, as it has for years now, that the broad majority of everyday Kansas folks want a state with legal weed, expanded Medicaid for people who get sick, legal abortion and action addressing climate change.

My big question for GOP leadership in Kansas is this: Why is your messaging so bad?

If you truly believe that your prohibitionist, anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-climate agenda is so appealing, why haven’t you sold it better? Why don’t healthy majorities of Kansans support your positions? Why do you prefer to prevaricate, evading scrutiny from the news media or at town halls, claiming you have everyone’s best interests at heart while instead ruthlessly hindering even a modicum of progress?

Instead, House Speaker Dan Hawkins shared this loony Twitter post likening health insurance for poor people to a dangerous monster. Okay then, chief.

Ty Masterson and Dan Hawkins discuss GOP legislative goals during a Jan. 10, 2023 news conference. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Ty Masterson and Dan Hawkins discuss GOP legislative goals during a Jan. 10, 2023 news conference. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Frankly, I don’t get it.

Republicans in Kansas could get on the right side of every one of these issues. They could produce some type of “conservative Medicaid expansion” plan and put Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly on the defensive. Instead, the governor tours the state advocating expansion and eating the GOP’s lunch. They could advocate “responsible cannabis legalization” and make potheads statewide ecstatic (Republicans want to smoke weed and gobble edibles too, according to Gallup). Instead, they’re handing the issue to Democrats on a silver platter. They could even let up on abortion restrictions for a few years to let the public forget their disastrously unpopular position — but they couldn’t manage that one simple thing last session.

Sure, addressing climate change might be a stretch given that fossil fuel behemoth Koch Industries squats in Wichita like an obscenely bloated tick. But you could at least toss a few feigned words of concern folks’ way as their lawns wither and utility bills explode.

As I’ve written before, I suspect that many Kansas legislators are just bad at their jobs. Their leaders lack the imagination, honesty and good faith needed to serve their state.

Instead, they will toss this poll in the garbage bin and forge straight ahead with more failed policies.

They will offer unqualified support to law enforcement agencies, the same folks who profit from cannabis prohibition. They will rail against Medicaid expansion despite its successful deployment in 40 states across the nation. They will continue to salivate at the prospect of prosecuting pregnant women. They will cheer on climate denialism that threatens to turn this planet into an uninhabitable wasteland.

They will do this because they can. They will do this because they know that voters might support progressive ideas in general but won’t vote for Democrats at election time. They will do this because they know that outside donors will rush to their sides to vanquish moderate Republicans in the primary. They will do this because they care more about themselves — their power, their wealth, their future — than they care about the people of Kansas.

They will do this because they don’t fear consequences from ignoring the will of the people.

That means everyone else has to answer a big question.

What are you all going to do 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.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has written and edited 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, and cnn.com. 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.