Happy Birthday, Kansas! Now grow up

Happy Birthday, Kansas! Now grow up

By Aaron Strain / Opinion Page Editor

From its establishment as a radical free state on Jan. 29, 1861 to its centrality in the 20th-century populist movement, Kansas holds a special place in progressive history.

Now, as the same political party that devastated state finances less than a decade ago once again holds unanswerable power, families and communities play second fiddle to corporations and millionaires.

As it turns out, the Brownback years were not “just a phase” for our state, and it has learned nothing from them.

After Kansas got out of its toxic relationship with former Gov. Sam Brownback, the state reversed corporate tax breaks and restored funding to public schools. This set Kansas up for economic recovery and flourishment.

Then, COVID-19 and an election season entered the picture.

After Gov. Laura Kelly instituted base-level public health guidelines last March, legislative leadership stripped her legal executive powers and stymied every action aimed at curbing the pandemic. At various points, Kansas counties ranked among the worst in the country for positive test rates, hospitalizations and overcrowding, and vaccine distribution.

Across the state, Republican moderates lost primary elections to Trumpian insurgents. Now, the GOP holds supermajorities in both state legislative chambers, giving the party carte blanche to fulfill its destructive goals.

Last session’s long-fought and bipartisan effort to expand Medicaid, which could provide some 100,000 poor Kansans with healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, is all but dead.

While not outright banning it, a proposed state constitutional amendment could overturn a Kansas Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing the right to an abortion under the existing constitution. If it passes the legislature, voters would decide its fate during a Republican-dominated, low-turnout primary election in 2022.

A bill marketed to increase transparency in taxation was ironically given only 24 hours of hearings before passing out of committee. It may have the unintended consequence of limiting local ability to raise taxes when needed.

There’s an act to expand the school voucher program, which may divert even more funding away from public schools.

These, and other crazed measures, are being passed through the legislature at break-kneck speeds and without time for public rebuke. This is no way to run a government. This is no way to ensure the prosperity of citizens.

Not every legislative action this year has been as extreme. There are bills to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day and give food sales tax to low-income families. Their likeliness to pass, however, remains to be seen.

As someone who shares a birthday with Kansas and has lived here for all 22 years of my life, I have a lot of personal investment in the future of my home state.

So, take this critique as a kind intervention from someone who knows and loves you. It’s time to move on, Kansas, you’re better than this.

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