Kansas GOP lawmakers want these bills to horrify you and your friends

The cruelty is the point.

That’s the only impression left after watching state Sen. Mike Thompson’s latest foul attack on LGBTQ people.

His new bill would classify drag shows as promoting obscenity and bar children from viewing them. Depending on the bill’s wording (text was conspicuously difficult to find Wednesday), it might make showing “Mrs. Doubtfire” a criminal offense. Performances of the family musicals “Hairspray” or “Peter Pan,” which feature crossdressing lead actors, could likewise be banned.

That’s an absurd result. So what’s behind the bill? What’s behind Thompson’s accompanying legislation to criminalize gender-affirming care for transgender youths?

He and like-minded legislators want to create a climate of fear and uncertainty around LGBTQ Kansans. They want the community to feel unwelcome. Perhaps LGBTQ folks might just leave if Thompson and his ilk persecute them enough. If not, under these laws, police can simply throw gay people in jail.

The cruelty is the point.

You could hear such shortsighted, vindictive cases echoing throughout the Statehouse this week, bouncing off the walls like unpinned grenades.

Officials didn’t just introduce a flat tax proposal that would favor the wealthy at the expense of working-class Kansans. They also cast doubt on whether the state could afford to eliminate its sales tax on food, given the flat tax tab.

That’s right. These GOP leaders don’t even pretend to care about the poor. They outright state that we can afford a $1.5 billion-a-year revenue hit to pad the pockets of plutocrats but can’t scrape together the change for an accelerated food tax reduction.

As a (non-drag) queen supposedly said, let them eat cake.

The cruelty needn’t be obvious.

A Tuesday hearing of the House Elections Committee saw repeated airings of conspiracy theories. Bills proposed would slash access to drop boxes and require voters dropping off their ballots be observed by staff or recorded on video. The implied message? Voters have something to hide and should be surveilled.

Stacey Knoell, executive director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission, testified at the hearing about those proposed limits and others.

“I think it is part of the government’s job to make voting as accessible and as equitable as we can for people who need to vote,” she told lawmakers. “I want to reiterate what another conferee said: If we take this bill in conjunction with other bills, we’re just making it more difficult to vote for various reasons. … I just oppose these upon the moral stance that we need to make it more easy for people to vote in this country.”

Who votes, of course, makes the difference. Drop boxes, early voting and expanded hours at polling places have traditionally been used by poorer people, younger people and those in communities of color. They may work nontraditional hours or find it difficult to vote on Election Day.

Conspiracy theories about stolen elections rely on racist tropes. These bills and this hearing send the same kind of message: Your kind isn’t welcome here.

The cruelty is the point.

The list runs painfully long. I could write about the House’s new “welfare reform” committee, which appears to be sharpening its knives to limit poor Kansans’ access to public support programs.

I could write about legislative leadership’s continued, steadfast opposition to expanding the state Medicaid program (at the precise time that thousands are being kicked off their health insurance).

I could write about efforts to kick environmentalists in the teeth by preventing local plastic bag bans. Statehouse leadership pays lip service to local control until the Kansas Chamber decides otherwise.

I could write about restrictive abortion legislation that would contradict both the state constitution and Kansans’ clearly expressed wishes.

In all these situations, one group makes the laws. They’re on the inside. Another groups feels the effects of the laws. They’re on the outside. The folks on the inside don’t have to worry about being on the outside, thanks to their status and overwhelming privilege. They like holding that privilege, and they enjoy extending it.

They don’t even have to pass hateful legislation. They just have to introduce it and persuade those on the outside to quiet down, quit or leave. They will have achieved the same goal.

The cruelty is the point.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, the 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.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

A Kansas woman killed her abuser: At every level — in every instance — the system failed her.

The story of Sarah Gonzales-McLinn is one of incomprehensible abuse and personal redemption.

It’s also one of baffling, and repeated, institutional failure.

At every step, those who might have been expected to care for and protect a victim of grooming and human trafficking looked the other way. They retreated into legalistic formalities. All the while, a woman who thought she had no other option than to kill her rapist sits in prison for at least a quarter century.

Read Kansas Reflector editor Sherman Smith’s story about the case as published Monday. And then ask yourself: Why did no one step up to help this woman in her times of need? And even today, why has Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly not granted her clemency?

“How do we define justice when an abused individual kills his or her abuser?” wondered retired journalist and advocate Dave Ranney. “I can’t give you an exact number, but I can assure you that there are a lot of women in prison for killing their abusers at a time when they truly believed their lives were in danger. Sarah is not alone in this.”

Kansans face a decision point today, in our Legislature and culture. We can decide to protect those like Gonzales-McLinn through targeted changes in state law and education about human trafficking. Or we can continue to avert our eyes from abuse of children at the hands of prominent community members or those employed by powerful institutions.

The powerful will always have those willing to defend their worst excesses. Those like Gonzales-McLinn face a system that has failed them and continues to do so.

Each juncture

Consider Smith’s careful and detailed reporting.

Gonzales-McLinn was molested as a child and raped at age 16. Her community did not protect her from those who sought to sexually gratify themselves at her expense. And it did not find a way to ensure that she had the supports she needed to heal from such violence.

“I wish I could say that I was just this ideal 17-year-old girl when I moved in there,” she told Smith. “But that’s not true. If I was, I don’t think he would have picked me, and I don’t think the tactics would have worked as well. But for the year that I lived there with him, I just felt like all of the pain building up and building up.”

As a 17-year-old, Gonzales-McLinn went to live with Hal Sasko, then 50 years old. From her accounts, a man who promised to look after her and take care of her proceeded to rape her multiple times a week for 10 months. She sent a text to her sister reading: “I feel like a caged animal right now, and it’s making me crazy.”

Who was looking out for her then? Who was there to prevent a man in his 50s from grooming children?

A confidential police report found that Sasko tended to gravitate to girls who had been “abused, battered, dumped, trouble with the law, or massive complaints about their moms.” Think of how much damage could have been prevented if officials knew that, and acted on it, before Gonzales-McLinn went to live with him.

Even after the abuse, after the violent slaying, the system failed this young woman. The judge in her murder trial didn’t allow jurors to hear testimony about her abuse.

“Details of those allegations would not be proper in front of the jury during the guilt phase of the trial because they would be simply information that would be used to create sympathy for the defendant,” prosecutor Charles Branson argued to the judge, according to a 2015 transcript of a closed-door meeting.

Well, yes. That’s what common sense demands. Both the judge and prosecutor failed to allow a jury to hear all the evidence. They enabled a miscarriage of justice.

While Douglas County District Attorney Susanne Valdez later reached a deal with Gonzales-McLinn to reduce her Hard 50 prison sentence to a Hard 25, the change only matters if a parole board agrees to let the prisoner out. And there’s no guarantee of that. In other words, Valdez made a high-profile change that appeared to extend mercy but instead represented another falling short, another person shying from the courage necessary to make a difference.

When it came time to write this story, Smith witnessed another systemic failure. The state Department of Corrections would not allow him to meet in person with Gonzales-McLinn, who has grown and flourished while confined. She was forced to speak about her personal pain via telephone, in a shared space.

Its official policy states that “the Kansas Department of Corrections does not grant interviews with specific residents, except for those rare circumstances where residents are designated by the Department to participate in news stories about topics determined appropriate.”

This topic, apparently, was not deemed appropriate.

The way Megan Stuke sees it, Sarah Gonzales-McLinn acted in self-defense when she killed Hal Sasko. Stuke is the executive director of The Willow, a domestic violence center in Lawrence. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Taking responsibility

Countless societal and institutional failures have crashed down on Gonzales-McLinn, who already has spent the better part of decade behind bars.

Her fate rests in the hands of Kelly, whose staff likely would advise against granting clemency to someone who committed a brutal murder. They may be right, politically. But that makes Kelly the latest person to fail this young woman, to ignore her promise and potential.

We don’t have to accept this. We aren’t helpless.

Right now, as I write these words, bills have been introduced in the Kansas Legislature to address child sexual abuse. Advocates and survivors have spoken up, sometimes at great personal cost. We can create laws, policies and societal expectations to prevent more children and adults from falling into the traps that ensnared Gonzales-McLinn. We can educate one another about human trafficking, sexual abuse and mental health.

Megan Stuke of The Willow, a Lawrence domestic violence center, put it in perspective: “There’s so much shame, there’s so much guilt, there’s so much minimizing and denying and self blaming that when you’re in that situation, you’re not looking for resources, you’re just trying to kind of hide and survive. So the bigger the conversation gets, the more people will recognize it when it’s happening to them, and realize that they may have options.”

We can enlarge that conversation. We can act to protect children and young people.

We can also grant a measure of mercy to Gonzales-McLinn.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, the 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.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Kansas GOP follows Trump's lead and plots revenge

The nation turned its incredulous eyes to Mar-a-Lago Tuesday night as former President Donald Trump launched his third campaign for the highest office in the land.

But spare a wary peeper or two for the antics of the Kansas Republican Party, which seems to have absorbed the onetime commander-in-chief’s taste for vengeance against his enemies, with none of the sparkling “YMCA” dance moves. Following the loss of standard-bearer Derek Schmidt in the gubernatorial election, the party has decided to punish members who signed a petition for state Sen. Dennis Pyle, who ran as an arch-conservative independent.

You might expect a party grappling with multiple high-profile losses to engage in some self-examination. But Trump didn’t manage such a thing after overseeing GOP losses in 2018, 2020 and last week. Why should we expect anything else from Kansas Republicans?

“Your signature on the Pyle petition wrongfully provided direct support of a candidate other than the Republican nominee,” reads the letter from Mike Kuckelman, chairman of the state GOP, to supposed offenders. They could be ousted from committees as retaliation.

Party leaders believe, contrary to all sense, that Pyle cost them the election against Gov. Laura Kelly.

The math says otherwise.

Derek Schmidt addresses the crowd at the GOP election night watch party in Topeka. Schmidt lost his campaign against Gov. Laura Kelly. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

According to the secretary of state’s running totals, the incumbent governor earned 492,209 votes to Schmidt’s 471,323. That’s a 20,886-vote margin. By comparison, Pyle received 20,057 votes. Even if every single vote for the independent candidate went to Schmidt, Kelly would have still won by 829 votes. What’s more, everyone knows that Pyle’s voters might have stayed at home or cast a ballot for Libertarian Seth Cordell before supporting the establishment Republican.

Trump blames illusory voter fraud for his defeat at the hands of Joe Biden. The Kansas GOP blames Pyle for their defeat at the hands of Kelly. The blame game allows both to avoid examining their own failures and taking responsibility for future campaigns.

State Republicans had an archetypal Republican moderate in Schmidt. He served a dozen years as state attorney general, apprenticed under former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum and learned to shake hands with the best of them. He could have followed in the footsteps of Bill Graves, Kansas’ monstrously popular governor from the late ’90s. Instead, he ran a sluggish campaign embracing banal right-wing tropes.

Or as Pyle pithily put it: “Derek Schmidt didn’t perform. As much as Kansas desperately needed a conservative governor, the Republican Party gave us a candidate that could not and did not win.”

The Kansas GOP has been here before.

Back in 2018, they decided that Kelly’s gubernatorial victory against Kris Kobach didn’t matter. First of all, independent Greg Orman ran a disciplined campaign and earned 6.5% of the vote. His margin of 68,498 votes was indeed larger than there 53,479 ballots that separated Kelly and Kobach. Secondly, Kobach ran what Republicans, Democrats and political observers all agreed was a dreadful race.

In 2018 and 2022, however, the party has skipped the process of figuring out whether it could learn anything from the actual Kansas electorate. Our state’s voters might prefer moderate candidates. Kobach and Schmidt might have been profoundly flawed in ways we still don’t comprehend. But leaders won’t find answers if they don’t look for them.

They should learn from the Trumpiest candidate in Kansas, one who actually won his race Nov. 8.

That would be Kobach, who kept trying after others might have withdrawn from the public sphere in embarrassment. He ran for attorney general, and I’d be darned if he didn’t appear to have figured something out along the way.

Kris Kobach speaks at a Kansas Chamber event. He won the statewide race to become Kansas’ next attorney general. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Party bigwigs didn’t want Kobach as AG nominee. He was supposedly damaged goods after losing the governor’s race and a U.S. Senate primary. But he forged ahead anyway, dispatching Republican opponents Kellie Warren and Tony Mattivi in an unusually crowded primary. Then he ran — wait for it — a moderate and restrained race.

Wait, what?

No one should believe that Kobach instantly became a Republican in Name Only, or RINO. (Sure, he was an Overland Park city councilman at one point, but let’s put that aside for now.) He kept his rock-ribbed conservative bonafides, along with a lusty desire to sue the Biden administration. But he went about his campaign in a restrained manner, making his case in a non-threatening way. He chatted about his goals for the office and avoided spinning tales of vengeance.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, Kobach decided to try sanity instead.

“I do have a record,” Kobach said at a TV debate last month. “And one thing that Republicans and Democrats agree about on me is that I do exactly what I say I’m going to do.”

Note that he didn’t bloviate, grandstand or run from his record. He embraced it, while simultaneously sounding fairly human.

Don’t misunderstand me. Kansans have every reason to expect the upcoming Kobach attorney general term to feature copious shenanigans. He will harm the state he professes to love. But if you want to govern, however poorly, you have to win first. Kobach figured out what the public wanted, and he gave it to them. He even earned more votes than Kelly.

Throughout the past seven years, since Trump descended that gold escalator, we’ve watched the same tired routine. The mad king of Mar-a-Lago has no interest in adapting to circumstances or running a different kind of campaign. From the sound of Tuesday night’s announcement, we’re in for more of the same. Insults. Lies. A self-destructive focus on revenge. But Trump, like the Kansas Republican Party, could stand to watch and listen to Kobach.

They might learn something about appealing to voters.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Kansas voters delivered a thundering midterm message

One piece of advice for the Kansas GOP springs to mind after this year’s elections: Don’t underestimate women.

Be it Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the women who ran the campaign to preserve abortion rights, or Kansas voters who turned out to cast their ballots, women defined our state’s balance of power in 2022. Heck, even on the Republican side, moderate Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt earned the most statewide votes of any candidate.

In the old boys’ club that is the Kansas Statehouse, “women’s issues” have been dismissed or written off for years. So have women themselves. Courts finally forced legislators to fully fund schools. Abortion rights were repeatedly restricted. Medicaid expansion was blocked. LGBTQ children faced legislative bullying.

The women who ran, and the women who voted, can’t be ignored.

Gov. Laura Kelly, flanked by family and Lt. Gov. David Toland, left, addresses supporters late Tuesday at her watch party in downtown Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Kelly the conqueror

Kelly was underestimated in 2018, when she ran for governor the first time. Shortly after her inauguration, Republicans scoffed that she didn’t have a true mandate (translated: She wasn’t a man). She was underestimated as she served her first term, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and adversarial relations with a GOP Legislature. She was underestimated in her reelection campaign.

No one should underestimate her anymore, not after her defeat of Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

Schmidt, to the surprise of many, ran as an empty suit stuffed with crude culture war slogans. You would scarcely know he had served a dozen years as attorney general and in the state Senate before that. You would scarcely know he worked for beloved Kansas moderate Republican U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum. But you would know, based on the campaign’s messaging, that he was very concerned about people dressing in drag.

Meanwhile, Kelly stuck with a disciplined message about funding education, cutting the food sales tax and growing the state’s economy. It surely didn’t hurt that Panasonic announced plans over the summer to open a $4 billion electric battery facility in De Soto, along with 4,000 new jobs. And wouldn’t you know it? Kelly and fellow leaders broke ground for the plant a mere six days before the fall election.

The governor angered progressives along the way. She signed a Republican-driven bill banning “sanctuary cities” and showed health secretary Lee Norman the door after his outspoken public health message became a COVID-19 era political liability.

The question for Democrats across Kansas always was: Sure, that might be disappointing, but will you really vote for Schmidt instead?

Repeatedly, last year and this, I wrote about Kelly’s political smarts. Watching her closely over the months, I became convinced that she was able to execute big plays when needed and consistently conveyed fundamental decency. She wasn’t loud or outspoken or authoritarian, which happens to be how GOP men show their dominance. Perhaps that’s why they couldn’t imagine that she would beat their nominee again.

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the 3rd District Democrat, speaks in June to newly acquired constituents in Franklin County. The district was gerrymandered by Republicans to undermine her reelection prospects. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Davids the dominator

Davids also was underestimated this year, with the state Legislature rigging maps to ensure her defeat at the hands of a Republican candidate. Davids instead powered ahead to a conclusive win against Amanda Adkins.

For Republicans in Kansas, Democrats winning national office grates. It sets their dentures on edge. That’s why former Senate President Susan Wagle declared in 2020 that Republicans needed a Statehouse supermajority to drive Davids out of her 3rd District seat. The general public, advocates and reporters endured a sham process during which Republican legislative leaders rolled their eyes and checked their phones while claiming to solicit input on drawing new maps.

They broke Wyandotte County in two, hoping to dilute the 3rd District’s Democratic lean. The shoved progressive Lawrence into the rural 1st District, making U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner’s 2nd District less swingy. That second move appears to have worked, even though Democrat Patrick Schmidt cleared 40% of the vote.

In the 3rd District, however, Republicans’ raw display of political gamesmanship blew up in their faces like a stick of dynamite held by Wile E. Coyote.

In 2020, Davids had defeated Adkins by 10 percentage points. She widened the margin to 12 percentage points this year, with a supposedly more conservative district.

The incumbent seized on Kansans’ earlier vote against abortion restrictions, as well as their lingering dislike of former Gov. Sam Brownback. Adkins, a former state GOP official with a record of outspoken anti-choice positions, was the perfect foil. And what’s this? She previously served as Brownback’s campaign manager? You couldn’t create a better opponent for Davids in a lab.

Ashley All, spokeswoman for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, gives a speech Aug. 2, 2022, at a watch party in Overland Park after primary results verified Kansans voted to preserve abortion rights. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas the outspoken

State voters planted the seeds for these wins back in August, when they defeated a state constitutional amendment that would have allowed for an abortion ban by nearly 20 points.

The women who won that campaign — among them Kansans for Constitutional Freedom’s Rachel Sweet and Ashley All — understood their state better than the Republicans who schemed to put fundamental rights on the ballot. They understood that personal freedoms and commonsense governing win elections. Extremism doesn’t.

The results on Tuesday could have been better in other regards.

Attorney General-elect Kris Kobach has committed to using his office as a political office against President Joe Biden. Republican supermajorities in the Statehouse will likely continued their frenzied pursuit of transgender people.

Late last month, I argued that Kansas Democrats could have highlighted abortion rights more in their fall campaigns. And the results suggest that a sizable number of would-be voters sat on the sidelines.

Roughly 60,000 fewer Kansans turned out to vote Nov. 8 than showed up four years ago, when Kelly and Davids won the first time.

Those folks, and their voices, could have added emphasis to the already clear message sent by the elections of Kelly and Davids. They could have made the difference in stopping Kobach and ending the GOP supermajorities in Topeka. They could have tightened margins in congressional races and shown U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran that he couldn’t take his reelection for granted.

For whatever reason, tens of thousands stayed away on Tuesday. As longtime political observers understand, however, no single vote resolves an issue or enshrines democracy for all time. Maintenance of our state and country requires continued effort.

The Kansas GOP underestimated women — female politicians, activists and voters. These women devoted themselves to making a difference. They succeeded. Let’s not ignore or forget that example.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

'The Donald Trump endorsement' and five more of the most ridiculous 2022 Kansas campaign ads

We can nearly see the finish line, folks.

On Tuesday, voters will head to the polls in Kansas and across the nation to cast ballots in midterm elections. While we twiddle our thumbs (or cast advance ballots), let’s take a look at some of this season’s most notable, egregious or ridiculous campaign spots.

This roundup wouldn’t be possible without Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty, whose invaluable archive of political spots can be found at his Kansas Political Ads website. He reminded me that we’re not talking about some antique form. Political ads still matter, forcing campaigns to spend and engage with their opponents.

“The use of the 30 second ad has adapted to modern trends,” Beatty told me via email. “We don’t just see political ads on network TV, but also see them on cable, while watching a YouTube video, on Facebook, and even when online gaming.”

He noted that he plays an online puzzle called Word Whomp.

“For me to play for free, I have to watch one 30 second ad,” he said. “Lo and behold, a Kansas Values Institute anti-Schmidt ad came on!”

Here are six ads from this campaign season, some highlighted by Beatty and a few by your humble local opinion editor.

‘Police endorse Schmidt’

Republican Governors Assoc. PAC 2022 Kansas Governor TV Ad #12 "Police endorse Schmidt" Oct 17 youtu.be

We start our survey with this ad pushing the preferred public safety narrative of Republican gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Derek Schmidt. It leans heavily on distortions of incumbent Gov. Laura Kelly’s record, while another from the same group features testimonials from actual law enforcement officers.

“The use of uniformed police endorsing candidates is exponentially higher than in previous campaigns,” Beatty told me via email.

I had asked him about trends he spotted in this year’s advertising. The professor also mentioned ads going “over the line” with profanity or imagery, as well as an abundance of ads from political action committees, or PACs. Just like this one!

As a member of one of the news organizations whose coverage is cited in the ad (check us out at 15 seconds in), I would like to suggest everyone read the news article we ran Dec. 29, 2020. Can you spot where the commission is attacking police? Instead, they were “urging lawmakers to consider changes to police officer training, a ban on no-knock warrants and increased data collection by law enforcement.”


‘Death penalty’ error

Kris Kobach 2022 TV Ad #2 with Tiger Woods arrest photo - KS Attorney General "Death Penalty" 10/28 youtu.be

National news outlets picked up this Kris Kobach spot because of the mistaken inclusion of golfer Tiger Woods’ arrest in a montage about crime. Beatty characterized it and another ad mishap from treasurer candidate Steven Johnson as “sloppy mistakes!” You can read Kansas Reflector senior reporter Tim Carpenter’s take on the situation here.

I want to focus on two other points. First, the first part of the video revives the racialized imagery around the murderous Carr brothers that was previously used by Gov. Sam Brownback in his 2014 reelection campaign against Democrat Paul Davis. The ad approach hasn’t even changed that much.

I will say the same about this ad as I did about Schmidt’s race-baiting campaign: We should expect better from candidates in Kansas.

Secondly, while the campaign said the use of Woods’ image was an ad agency mistake, spokeswoman Danedri Herbert also called the incident a “happy accident.” The reason? Because national news outlets picked up an outrageous story about a Kansas race. Let the implications there sink in for a moment.

‘Middle of the road’

Laura Kelly 2022 TV Ad #2 - Kansas Governor General Election - "Middle of the Road" - April 25, 2022 youtu.be

Kelly’s campaign this season has been distinguished by discipline. She has a message — economic development and competent management — and sticks too it no matter the circumstances. That goes for her commercials, too.

“Laura Kelly’s ads stick out because they make up a narrative, as if she’s telling you a story from beginning to end,” Beatty wrote. “Her second ad she was on a road, and then she goes on to talk to voters” in a variety of locations in follow-up ads. He adds: “Rare for a campaign to have the discipline to keep to a campaign narrative without being distracted.”

That being said, Kelly’s words here deserve scrutiny.

“Amazing what you can do when you govern from the middle,” she says.

To which I would ask: What else would a Democratic governor in a state with a Republican legislative supermajority do? If Kelly wants to sign any bills into law, she has to work with Republicans. She doesn’t have any choice in the matter.

Donald Trump endorsement

Donald Trump video telling people to vote for Derek Schmidt for Kansas Governor October 23, 2022 youtu.be

Donald Trump’s endorsement of Schmidt looks like a celebrity video that you pay $150 for online to wish your uncle a happy birthday. I mean, it’s cool to hear from David Hasselhoff and all, but he mispronounces Uncle Boris’ last name and seems to nod off at the end.

In a similar fashion, this endorsement could literally be for any political figure in any state.

“He’s going to fight taxes as soon as he gets elected, to do you know what he wants to do,” Trump says of Schmidt, the words streaming out yet not amounting to much. “And he will be absolutely fantastic in doing it. He’s going to be a governor like few others. He’s tough. He’s smart, and he’s got a big heart.”

Immune to secondhand embarrassment, the Schmidt campaign actually shared this video via social media.

At least the former president didn’t couple this video with an endorsement of Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Victor Orban. He already did that back in January.

‘Hidin’ Biden’

Amanda Adkins 2022 TV Ad #4 Kansas 3rd District Congress September 20 - "Hidin' Biden" Song! youtu.be

Speaking of unpopular presidents, Joe Biden takes the floor for this banger from 3rd District congressional candidate Amanda Adkins.

“ ’Hidin’ Biden’ is another instant classic,” Beatty wrote. “So old school — a campaign jingle! I loved it, and all my students loved it.”

I had asked the professor about notable ads from this cycle. He also mentioned those from state treasurer candidate Steven Johnson, calling them “instant classics.” Both those spots and this one share a sense of humor, which can be difficult to find during hot and heavy campaign seasons.

My piece of advice for other campaigns looking to employ this technique? Make sure you find a singer who can pronounce the name of your target while carrying the tune. The first few mentions of “Biden” in the ad scarcely register.

Rogers’ kitchen table

Lynn Rogers for Kansas Treasurer Kitchen Table Video Series #4 "Ben and Wendy" Oct 27, 2022 youtu.be

Finally in our lineup of ads, I want to share this video from Democratic state treasurer candidate Lynn Rogers. His campaign created a series of these “Kitchen Table Talks,” featuring their man talking with everyday folks about the issues of the day: toxic politics, health care costs, LGBTQ issues and so on.

On the negative side, Rogers could use some studio styling. At least give us a couple of ferns!

On the positive, how often do you see this kind of engagement in ostensible campaign ads? Rogers appears genuinely interested and engaged in the conversations and his guests. Apparently he has the money to spend.

I had one last question for Beatty. We know that political ads show up on multiple platforms these days. But does old-fashioned television advertising still make a difference in politics?

“People still watch ‘network TV,’ ” Beatty wrote. “More specifically, people still watch the local news. In the last few years the number of local news shows has gone up. Topeka is a great example. Not just the morning news, but a 9 a.m. show, then 4:30, 5, 6, an hour at 9, then the 10 p.m. news. So while newspapers have suffered, local TV news is doing well.”

He pointed out that in the recent Kansas Speaks survey, the No. 1 source of news for respondents was local TV broadcasts.

So watch away, folks! We’re nearly there.

Kansas GOP candidate Derek Schmidt plays the race card

I don’t believe Attorney General Derek Schmidt is racist.

But he’s staking his campaign for governor on the belief that Kansans are.

Twice within recent days, the Republican’s lagging campaign has deployed racially fraught ads and rhetoric, all with the apparent goal of scaring voters. It has distorted good work by honorable Kansans and played on despicable smears. Schmidt should renounce these attacks immediately and pledge to represent everyone in the state, no matter their skin color or background.

Just last week, Kansas Reflector’s Tim Carpenter reported that the campaign released ads attacking incumbent Gov. Laura Kelly’s Commission on Racial Equality and Justice.

“The commercials seek to portray Schmidt as an unblinking supporter of law enforcement, while questioning Kelly’s commitment to public safety,” Carpenter wrote. “Specifically, the attorney general’s ads one month ahead of the Nov. 8 election asserted the Democratic governor ‘called Kansas cops racist’ and ‘appointed a woke commission that pushed for anti-policing laws.’ ”

Never mind that Schmidt himself told the commission that: “Obviously, it does exist,” when talking about racism in the state’s law enforcement agencies. Whoops.

Never mind that the commission itself included the Wichita police chief, Wyandotte County district attorney and a multitude of other accomplished Kansans. Never mind that you can read all about their carefully considered recommendations in a series of Kansas Reflector columns.

Schmidt’s campaign is playing the race card. It believes white Kansans will be scared of Black people. It believes that repeating buzzwords about “wokeness” and “backing the blue” will gain the candidate power.

The Governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice, which met every other week, was charged with making recommendations to the governor, Legislature and local governments. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

But Schmidt’s folks haven’t just targeted those working for racial justice.

Note this remarkable word salad from the candidate on the topic of fentanyl, delivered on the first stop of a GOP bus tour Oct. 5.

“Most of that stuff is manufactured somewhere in China by a branch of the Chinese Communist Party,” Schmidt said, according to Kansas Reflector reporter Rachel Mipro. “It is shipped to Mexico, where it’s mixed up and put together by the drug cartels. It is smuggled over the border, and it is distributed in our communities. We cannot stop it without securing the border. And my friends, not only has Joe Biden failed on that, Laura Kelly hasn’t even tried.”

The candidate has added some other targets for Kansans’ fear and disdain. If you’re not afraid enough of Black people, then what about Chinese people? How about brown people? And drugs are terrifying too, right?

The Kansas GOP has tried this before, and successfully.

Back in 2014, incumbent GOP Gov. Sam Brownback was facing defeat at the hands of Democrat Paul Davis. Brownback’s campaign decided to tie Davis to a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court that overturned the death sentences for two convicted murderers.

Yes, Jonathan and Reginald Carr just happened to be Black. As journalist Barbara Shelly wrote for the Pitch in 2016, the subsequent advertising barrage was brutal.

“ ‘Paul Davis, endangering the safety of your family,’ a mailer from the Kansas Republican Party blared. It included graphic details of the murders in Wichita and accused Davis of ‘voting to protect judges who are handing down such dangerous rulings.’ ”

GOP pollster Pat McFerron sent a memo to Brownback’s campaign manager at the time, writing that: “Our polling shows that, when voters are informed of Davis’ relationship with the Supreme Court justices and reminded of that court’s decision to overthrow the conviction and sentencing of the Carr brothers, they break against Davis by a better than 5 to 1 ratio.”

According to Shelly, he claimed a matching TV ad “will cause great consternation and gnashing of teeth in the Davis camp.”

Nationally, the GOP has taken the same approach this election cycle. Politico reports the Democrats across the country have been hammered on “public safety” issues, which is handy distraction from abortion bans and Donald Trump’s continuing malign influence.

– Clay Wirestone

Brownback managed to squeak out a win against Davis, riding that victory to becoming the second least-popular governor in the United States. More importantly than that, the GOP saw that racially tinged ads worked. When all else was failing, they could break the glass and exploit good old-fashioned discrimination.

Nationally, the GOP has taken the same approach this election cycle. Politico reports the Democrats across the country have been hammered on “public safety” issues, which is handy distraction from abortion bans and Donald Trump’s continuing malign influence.

Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, speaking in Nevada over the weekend, went even further. He accused Democrats outright of being “pro-crime” and said “they want crime because they want to take over what you got. They want to control what you have. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that.”

He’s not quite using slurs in public, but he’s close.

Schmidt and his campaign owe Kansas and its voters a more thoughtful and humane campaign than we’re seeing across the country. They owe us a more thoughtful and humane campaign than they themselves have run so far.

Like his campaign’s attacks on transgender children, Schmidt’s rhetoric here goes beyond expediency. It risks real-world consequences for those targeted. It identifies an other — racial and ethnic minorities, those of different sexual orientation or gender expression — and paints that other as a dire threat.

We may disagree with one another over policy and ideology. But the real threat this campaign season comes from encouraging the darker parts of one another’s psyches.

Schmidt still has time to disinfect his campaign and appeal to the better angels of our nature. Does he want to?

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Dem governor jeered for discussing civility at Kansas State Fair

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and her challenger, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, showed up for two different debates Saturday morning at the Kansas State Fair.

The 90-minute exchange was an opportunity for Kelly to lean into her four-year record as governor. A longtime state legislator, she dug into the opportunity to explain her accomplishments and deep policy knowledge. Schmidt, while serving more than 10 years as A.G., took the opportunity to present a hardnosed conservative case. While taking the occasional dig at Kelly, he framed the election as a referendum on President Joe Biden.

Schmidt began his opening statement by talking about his family roots in Kansas but quickly pivoted, accusing Kelly of spending $6 billion more of “your money” over the past four years.

Kelly’s opener focused on the positive.

“We recruited some of the largest employers in the country to come to Kansas,” she said, then noted several tax cuts she signed into law.

She also claimed that “we have restored a sense of civility” in state government, which may have gone better if the Schmidt cheering section at the Peoples Bank and Trust Arena didn’t immediately jeer her.

On the other hand, Schmidt’s first mention of “big government socialism” drew overwhelming laughter from Kelly’s supporters.

He repeated the phrase at least two more times

That was how most of the debate went. Schmidt deployed focus-tested red meat to his conservative audience. His crowd, in turn, chanted “lockdown Laura” whenever appropriate (and sometimes when it wasn’t). State Rep. Patrick Penn, beyond animated, led much of the cheering and added commentary on his own.

An animated state Rep. Patrick Penn, R-Wichita, fires up the crowd during the Kansas State Fair debate Saturday in Hutchinson. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Kelly, for her part, was reserved and poised. Perched on a box to appear the same height as her towering opponent, she praised the work of state agencies working on children’s wellbeing. Responding to COVID-19 criticism, she said: “I will never apologize for protecting the lives of our children.” Her supporters appeared more numerous and animated than Schmidt’s, perhaps making up for their candidate’s reserve.

Schmidt needled his opponent with mentions of Biden and inflation, delivered in an exaggerated country-boy drawl. But Kelly ignored the bait over and over, either returning to the question being asked or her record on jobs and rebuilding state government.

The key point of the debate, to this watcher, came after a pointed exchange over KanCare.

Kelly accused the GOP-controlled Legislature of blocking expansion, while Schmidt repeated some stale bromides about government-run health care and accused her of being “an ineffective leader who can’t get things done.”

That finally turned up Kelly’s cool internal thermostat. She listed various bipartisan achievements and then leveled an exasperated, devastating blow: “I’ve got to ask you, Derek, do you really think we were better off under Sam Brownback?”

Gov. Laura Kelly delivers her closing remarks during the Kansas State Fair debate Saturday in Hutchinson. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The debate shifted at that point. The former governor, he of the devastating income tax “experiment,” was one of the least popular politicians in the country before leaving office. Kelly’s campaign has gone out of its way to tie Schmidt to Brownback, and the attack landed hard. The attorney general didn’t even respond.

While Schmidt continued his sharp rhetoric, the governor kept scoring points, both in an abortion exchange and in a vivid closing statement.

Schmidt, on the other hand, repeated the “big government socialism” line and mentioned both Biden and former President Barack Obama during his summation. Don’t worry, though: For those who might be unsettled by the harsh tone, Schmidt assured them that he was a “ Bob Dole Republican.”

I doubt this debate changed many minds. That’s not what debates do, not usually.

But it did clarify the candidates and their strategies as we head into the fall. Schmidt sees his most important task as tearing down Kelly’s claims as a bipartisan, effective, low-key leader. Kelly believes she needs to sell the notable successes of her term — education funding, the Panasonic megaproject — and promise more of the same.

Meanwhile, the Kansas State Fair gathered steam outside the arena. Passers-by peeked inside curiously while waiting for corn dogs and funnel cakes.

“What’s going on here?” one child asked his mother.

“Oh, it’s going to be a speech,” she said. And they kept walking.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

'An earthquake': Kansas abortion-rights victory shakes the political landscape

It was an earthquake.

That quake rumbled across the U.S. political landscape, surprising onlookers who had expected a tight contest or outright victory for anti-choice forces. All of a sudden, the rough political consensus that had formed since the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade crumbled.

No one really cares about “social issues” like abortion with inflation soaring and a sour public mood, right? Nope. Kansans ended up valuing their constitutional rights a great deal.

OK then, but a deep-red state like Kansas would surely pass the deceptively named “Value Them Both” amendment, right? Nope. Instead, the amendment was still down by double digits as of 10:30 p.m.

Fine. But surely state Republicans could craft an incomprehensible ballot question, count on millions of dollars of church funding and choose a sleepy primary day in August for the vote. These professionals could stack the deck to get what they wanted, right? Nope. Instead, an unprecedented wave of voters turned out to decisively protect their rights.

Maybe, just maybe, these results show that reproductive rights matter.

Not just to folks in liberal cities on the East Coast. They matter to Kansans, in tiny towns and sparsely populated counties.

If you followed the results as they came in Tuesday evening, you could see amendment support flagging in the most conservative areas. You could see gigantic margins grow in more populous regions. Regardless of where you were, more Kansans than anyone dreamed turned out to defeat the amendment.

You could see the political winds shift almost immediately. U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids put out a press release after the amendment defeat that was striking in its directness.

“This is a win for Kansans, our families, and our rights. We rejected extremism and chose a path forward that protects all Kansans’ ability to make their own choices, without government interference,” it read.

Maybe, just maybe, tackling the issue head on has benefits.

Maybe, just maybe, broadly accepted constitutional rights are actually popular.

A small group of protestors picket near the Dickinson County courthouse in Abilene to oppose a constitutional amendment on abortion. The gathering led the county to issue a news release saying they would be arrested if they get within 250 feet of the courthouse. (Mary Grant)

Just politics — or something more

Too often, we dismiss elections like Tuesday’s as mere beauty pageants. It’s just politics, we say to one another after an especially brutal election. What more can you expect from a system like ours? It doesn’t mean anything.

The anti-abortion amendment was about more than politics, though. This election was about fundamental rights, about what we owe one another, about our shared vision for the state. That’s why the amendment failed.

That’s why the earthquake happened.

It can be difficult to explain such stakes to people — mainly straight, white, male people — who live in a country and state tailored to their needs. These men, who so often serve as legislators and top political minds, can go to a doctor whenever they need one. They don’t have to worry about going hungry or otherwise providing for their families. They see accumulation of power and wealth as a game.

To them, the abortion amendment was about consolidating political capital. It was about checking boxes for their constituencies. If their wives or daughters or grandchildren needed an abortion, they could always arrange travel to another state. They could always make an exception for the people they knew.

After all, they would tell you, it’s just politics.

To their credit, Kansans didn’t accept that. The news media stepped up to tell the truth about what pro-amendment forces planned — as Kansas Reflector editor Sherman Smith reported, it was a total ban on the procedure — and the public paid attention.

They understood the stakes. And they voted accordingly.

In the weeks since Roe was overturned, I’ve been hesitant to make predictions. Journalists love to suggest they know what comes next, and we usually do so by applying some template from the past to a current event. Nothing in the past prepared me, or anyone else, to know what would happen after Roe.

Now, thanks to the voters of Kansas, we have an idea. The earthquake shook the state from top to bottom. Personal rights and freedoms matter. Bodily autonomy matters. Lies and deception from political hacks will be punished.

I still won’t predict the future. But I feel more optimistic about it.



Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Kansas Republican's bullying of county health officials is the height of self-regarding delusion

Kansas Sen. Mark Steffen acts as though he’s the hero in his own story. In reality, he’s a single state legislator drunk on imagined power.

The Hutchinson anesthesiologist’s high-on-his-own-supply tendencies have been apparent for a while now, but his latest posturing deserves special note. He decided to send a letter to the Reno County health department, declaring that its work vaccinating young children against COVID-19 was a threat.

“While I take no pleasure in sending this letter, the citizens of Reno County can no longer endure a health department that blindly and thoughtlessly follows the politicized CDC and FDA,” Steffen wrote in the email calling for county commissioners to fire their own health officials. “Your failure to reason the way through the virus response has led to needless suffering and even death.”

“I strongly encourage you to leave immediately on your own terms as soon as possible,” he added.

Who does this man think he is?

Steffen is a Republican state senator who was investigated by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts for prescribing ineffective, potentially harmful remedies during the worst pandemic of the past century. He previously used Senate letterhead to threaten hundreds of health care providers across the state for not using ivermectin. He is most certainly not a public health official, nor does he have the temperament or intellect to order around anyone other than a pet ferret. And that ferret is currently wondering if it can find a more responsible owner among the state’s grade schoolers.

Steffen has damaged the state, Legislature and his constituents. His bullying has left fear and bewilderment in its wake, for no good reason.

The man deserves to be stripped of his license to practice medicine, removed from his elected office and employed in a position better suited to his apparent skill set: selling dubious warranties for electronics in a big-box store. At least a two-year repair plan for the latest video game console won’t infect you with a novel virus.

The only person in this situation whose behavior may have led to “needless suffering and death” is Steffen himself. Spreading doubt about vaccines and effective treatments for COVID-19 has likely cost lives and encouraged the spread of infection.

While many may behave as though the pandemic has ended, too many in our state walk around unprotected. Only 55.4% of Kansans have received both of their initial vaccinations against the virus, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Less than a million state residents have received a booster shot. Those boosters play a critical role in protecting against severe illness and death as more variants circulate.

Consider what would have happened if Steffen took a different path.

Consider what would have happened if he promoted vaccines and science-based treatments. In central Kansas, he could have been a leader in softening the blow of the pandemic. He could have saved lives. He could have been a profile in courage during the darkest days of 2020 and 2021. He could have joined the honorable example of Salina Rep. Steven Howe, who publicly advocated for vaccination and shared his path away from skepticism.

Steffen made a different choice. He embraced conspiracy theories and political expediency.

July of 2022 is not July of 2021 or 2020. The vaccines against COVID-19 have proven themselves safe and effective. Roughly 260 million people in the United States have been vaccinated, and they haven’t mutated into werewolves or become magnetic or received radio broadcasts inside their heads from the Illuminati. They have been protected against a virus.

We also can employ effective treatments now, such as the antiviral Paxlovid. Doctors know more about the disease and don’t have to grapple in the dark to understand what’s happening. We don’t have to panic. We can keep ourselves and our families safe.

We can give up the horse paste and laying on of hands.

We can give up bullying and anti-science tirades.

But can Mark Steffen?

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

End of Roe v. Wade ushers in a new Dark Age for Kansas

Welcome to the new Dark Age.

With the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the 49-year-old precedent of Roe v. Wade, Americans and Kansans can no longer depend on our government safeguarding our individual and inalienable rights. We can no longer depend on a commonly agreed upon public policy that respects the rights of women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.

For that matter, we can no longer depend on presidential candidates admitting defeat in a fair and free election. As a majority of Supreme Court justices strip the longstanding guarantee that folks can make up their own minds about terminating a pregnancy, the Jan. 6 committee hearings show that our entire government only survived the 2020 elections by the brave action of a handful of principled government officials.

Our state and nation has entered a dark time, and one with no guaranteed end.

Kansas Republican officials have refused to say whether they plan to support a full, statewide ban on abortion. They are focused instead, they told the Topeka Capital-Journal’s Jason Tidd, on the Aug. 2 constitutional amendment vote that will decide whether they can pass such legislation.

That gives the game away. As I wrote in April, if the amendment passes, these very same officials will support and pass a ban on all abortion in Kansas. There will not be exemptions for rape or incest. The rights of women and others who can get pregnant will be extinguished for the rights of an unborn fetus.

Once children are born, of course, these Republicans will make sure to restrict access to medical insurance and food assistance. If they’re like our U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, they will threaten to cut off school lunch aid unless schools are able to discriminate against transgender students. And everyone will have unfettered access to high-powered firearms.

The right to life extends only to fetuses and the children of Republicans who express their gender identity in acceptable ways.

But the Dark Ages needn’t be the end, not for our state or residents.

Historians actually believe that the original Dark Ages weren’t as bad as the name implies. Earlier chroniclers believed the Roman Empire was so great and mighty that anything following must have been chaotic and disorderly. Instead, various rulers rose to prominence, along with the church. Monasteries became centers of learning and arts.

In this way, we have our work cut out for us in the years and decades ahead. We won’t be able to depend on officials from Washington, D.C., to safeguard our rights. We will have to safeguard them ourselves, as individuals and communities. Acts of resistance against unjust laws will grow in importance, as those requiring abortion services contend with states that ban them. We will have to look out for one another like never before.

Exactly what that means for each one of us will be different. Some will be called upon to make public stands. Others will do their work more quietly. Still others may believe that they can no longer live and flourish in a Kansas that treats them so shabbily.

We will all have to decide on how best to navigate these changing times.

Our rights, you see, have nothing to do with a court in Washington, D.C. Women and others who can become pregnant have always had the right to choose. They have exercised that right throughout history. People of color have the same rights as everyone else. They have demanded equality since the founding of our country. Gay people and gender noncomforming folks have likewise been here since the beginning, and have always had the same rights as their friends and neighbors.

As the Declaration of Independence states, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Governments have recognized those rights at times. During other periods, they have actively fought those who claim and exercise them. Our nation went to war with itself over the ability of one race to enslave another. Yet as laws have changed and policies have shifted, the rights have remained.

Roe v. Wade is no more. A new Dark Age has arrived. But we can continue to flourish and thrive, lighting the path for one another along the way.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

A Kansas community confronts generations of trauma by marking 129-year-old lynching

Time doesn’t heal all wounds.
Some wounds fester and spread, inflaming and weakening surrounding tissues. Over time, some of these wounds prove fatal.

On Saturday afternoon in Salina, under a sweltering sun, more than 100 community members gathered to bind and disinfect a very old wound. On April 20, 1893, a Black man named Dana Adams was lynched there, one of at least 23 Black Kansans lynched between 1865 and 1950. His father later sued the city and received two dollars. A plaque detailing the lynching was being unveiled to remember him, to remind Salina of a past that all must understand to overcome.

“We all need to be part of this healing process. We don’t have one soul to spare, not one,” said Sandy Beverly, one of the three women whose vision and dedication made the marker — located in Robert Caldwell Plaza, between the public library and city-county building — a reality.

Or as Salina Mayor Trent Davis put it during his welcome to the crowd: “This marker commemorates a very sad, horrendous event. It is a reminder of the biblical sinking sand foundation of slavery and resentment upon which this country was built. As a historical marker, it should be an uncomfortable place to stand and ponder. … Yet as a historical marker, it can serve as the second cornerstone as this little piece of America seeks to rebuild its foundation.”

Folks gathered in the late June heat listened quietly. They had just enjoyed a barbecue lunch from North Salina Community Development, and the most powerful words of the afternoon were still to come.

Following community efforts

I drove to Salina on Saturday to follow up on my column from October (my predecessor, C.J. Janovy, had written our first piece on the subject back in 2020).

The soil collection ceremony held then by The Dana Adams Project 1893 and the Equal Justice Initiative was an example, I wrote, of how a small city in the center of Kansas could grapple honestly with its history – as the rest of the nation tore itself apart.

This marker dedication was no less an example, but as the speeches proceeded, it also challenged the audience. In a passionate and exceptional central speech by Sheryl Wilson, director of the Newton-based Kansas Institute For Peace and Conflict Resolution. She talked about how trauma can be handed down through generations, how the death of one man in Salina scarred his family and wove tendrils of fear and sadness throughout the community.

“The trauma affiliated with how we transcend beyond what some other group of people might think we’re worth is something that we constantly have had to negotiate or renegotiate throughout the generations,” she said. “The trauma people deal with today is rooted in the knowledge of their perceived worth. That, on some scale, still is, as I said, something we’re having to deal with today.”

Yes, the marker shows a community coming to grips with its past. But the person-to-person work of rooting out entrenched bias and atoning for past wrongs remains. Columnist Mark McCormick wrote Sunday in Kansas Reflector about the economic damage done to Black communities by discrimination.

The emotional damage has been no less extreme.

“People want to know that they’re treated fairly and equitably in their communities,” Wilson said. “And so when we think about how that at that time, justice was absent, terror rained. And it’s exactly what Black people experienced in this community — a reign of terror. The assets of justice meant that anxiety is the norm for people who don’t have that luxury of feeling safe, and even expressing the norm of calm.”

I spoke with Wilson after the unveiling and asked what it meant to her to be invited to speak.

“It meant everything,” she said, connecting the story of Adams to critical work in restorative justice.

She had explained the concept earlier to the crowd.

“What restorative justice teaches us in this instance, is to look at the ways we can seek to repair the historical harm that has happened here, thinking about how we can reveal a story that was suppressed,” Wilson said. Ultimately, Saturday was a way “that we would work toward healing a community of people who have suffered generationally. That we would offer to give space to people to have meaningful, productive dialogue on how the community can come together, looking at ways to make all boats rise.”


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Living with dissonance

Wilson’s remarks challenged those in attendance to go further than condemning a long-ago act of violence. They also needed work to make change in the present. She told me that in some towns, residents knew the perpetrators of long-ago racial violence but kept quiet.

“Communities live with that dissonance,” she said.

It’s not just communities, of course. States and nations do as well.

As I drove home that evening, I pondered the event. Beverly, along with the Rev. Delores “Dee” Williamston and the Rev. Martha Murchison, had created a profound moment for Salina, along with a lasting memorial. When the covering was taken off the marker, the crowd pressed forward, looking at the text on both sides and taking picture after picture. I hoped it would be remembered and commemorated the way they intended, a story long told and inspiring change for decades to come.

I also kept thinking about generational trauma. I turned the concept over in my mind, considering it from multiple angles. If we accept that Black communities have suffered long-lasting, entrenched damage done to them by a racist society, what about the harms that we inflict on people today?

What about the Black students and teachers, educators and learners across the board, targeted by bogus claims of critical race theory and ideological indoctrination? Think about how many years that pain and shame will linger, simply because white politicians sought to use racism to score political points.

What about LGBTQ folks across society, now being slandered by so-called activists and facing death threats for expressing their pride in themselves? What about transgender students navigating schools in which their very identity has become a political lightning rod? Think about the trauma caused for them, for the same shameful political ends.

In 100 years or more, imagine the descendants of these politicians and activists gathering on a sunny day in a green park to atone for the shame their ancestors brought our state and its communities.

Imagine their words of apology to those who suffered through decades of trauma caused by others attacking the color of their skin, who they loved, how they dressed and identified.

We shouldn’t have to wait a century. I shook my head.

Yet I thought back to the hard-won optimism of Beverly.

“I know that our work is not done,” she told the crowd that afternoon, a day before Juneteenth. “We have more work to do. But if those of us collectively here can join our power, our strength and our positivity together, we can get things done.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Report on legislators in ‘far-right’ Facebook groups doesn’t tell real story of Kansas extremism

By any measure, the Kansas Legislature has a problem with right-wing extremism.

Sen. Mark Steffen, a Hutchinson physician, introduced legislation that would give him an exemption for prescribing ivermectin to COVID-19 patients. Sen. Mike Thompson shared in the viral skepticism, while also agitating against wind power. And Rep. Cheryl Helmer spewed a torrent of lies and hate when pressed about transgender rights.

None of these politicians, however, is included in a report tracking legislators in all 50 states who joined far-right Facebook groups. And that demonstrates the challenges facing voters heading into another election season.

The report in question, titled “Breaching the Mainstream,” was issued last month by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. As the introduction says, it makes a valiant effort at “bringing much-needed context to the national discussion” by identifying 875 legislators across the nation who followed 789 groups online. Twenty of those lawmakers hail from Kansas.

“As someone who’s tracked far-right activity for three decades now, I thought I couldn’t be shocked anymore,” said Devin Burghart, executive director at the institute. “But our entire research team was stunned by the breadth of the problem — both the massive number of state legislators and the different types of far-right groups joined.”

I was surprised too, but in a different way. As I looked through the data from Kansas I found myself puzzled by some legislators who were included, and the way a fairly mainstream conservative group was characterized as “far right.”

It didn’t depict the state I knew, or that Kansas Reflector has covered since 2020.

Any such effort requires judgment calls. Burghart and his team have identified a pressing issue for our body politic. The Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and continuing hold on power by former President Donald Trump suggest a violent streak has been growing underneath our noses for years.

But as I thought about the report and considered what I’ve seen in state politics, I decided to go a little deeper.

Last month, I reached out to those 20 Republicans. I wanted to hear what they had to say and how they saw their presence in the report, which has been reported in local and national media. I spent time on Facebook myself, looking at the profiles of legislators who weren’t on the list. And I contacted Burghart, curious about his group’s experience.

Legislators on the spot

Of those 20 Kansas legislators — 16 representatives and four senators — eight responded to me.

I asked them two simple questions. Did they have any response to being included in IREHR’s report? And did they see the groups they were involved in as part of the “far right”? I wasn’t interested in letting them define the term, but I wanted to see how it resonated with legislators who are part of a deep-red supermajority.

The responses came in two general flavors. The first was short and snappy. They got bonus points for mentioning the “far left.”

Sen. Renee Erickson (listed as a member of Open Up Kansas!, ReOpenKS and Americans for Prosperity-Kansas), R-Wichita, asked me questions: “Just curious, have you questioned any legislators about membership in what an organization defines as far-left Facebook groups? Does such a report exist? If not, why not?”

Rep. David French (listed as a member of Open Up Kansas!, Stop CRT & National Civics Standards in K-12 Schools, and STOP THE STEAL #Election2020), R-Lansing, vented a bit: “What the Far-Left believes to be Far-Right is just Americans standing up for their constitutional rights, which the Marxist(s) want to destroy.”

In these cases, the legislators appear to be avoiding the questions, changing the subject or justifying their approach by gesturing in another direction. While left-wing extremists certainly exist, they don’t pose the same systemic risk as those on the right.

One side tried to violently overthrow the government. The other didn’t.

On the other hand, Rep. Samantha Poetter Parshall (listed as a member of Open Up Kansas!), R-Paola, took a different approach with her pithy response.

“I’ll let my pro-freedom voting record, including voting for sports wagering, medical marijuana, and keeping our state open, speak for itself,” she wrote.

This encapsulates the biggest concern I had when looking through the IREHR report. Groups defined as being part of the “far-right” in Kansas included some that have played mainstream roles in our state’s politics. Those joining them on Facebook don’t necessarily represent the most extreme voices in the Kansas GOP.

Burghart says his organization has been collecting data on these groups for several years as part of “ongoing research into far-right activity,” and the paper describes them in detail. For instance, some have roots in the Tea Party, while others are based in COVID denial or election conspiracies.

This brings us to the second flavor of legislator responses. These folks wrote longer, thoughtful email messages that seriously engaged. I wish I could quote from more of them, but even online space is limited.

Rep. Nick Hoheisel, R-Wichita, was the member of a single Facebook group listed on the report, Americans for Prosperity-Kansas. The Reflector highlighted his support of a bill increasing special education funding earlier this year. He argued in his response that the Koch-funded group was far from the far right.

While AFP’s economic policies and free market principles may not be the left’s favorite avenue to prosperity for all, there are many other areas where AFP works across party lines on mainstream issues, including criminal justice reform,” Hoheisel wrote. “AFP pushed … successfully to ban the box in Kansas, fights civil asset forfeiture, testified in favor of suspended driver license reform, and introduced the First Step Act on the federal level. AFP-Kansas’ biggest priority in the 2021 session was HB 2066, which reformed Kansas’ licensure laws. This legislation passed both chambers with an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority and was signed into law by our Democratic governor.”

Hoheisel wrote further that “we do a great disservice to our state if we fail to engage and work together on areas where we agree,” just because we may disagree on some others.

Voters deserve that from their leaders, during election season and beyond. Everyone does.

The loudest voices in the room

A quick trawl through Kansas Reflector’s coverage of the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions reveals certain notorious names, over and over.

As mentioned at the very beginning of this story, Steffen blazed a trail with his anti-vaccine advocacy. After the revelation of a Kansas Board of Healing Arts inquiry into his prescription of off-label drugs for COVID-19, he pushed a bill that would shield himself from liability. He even sent a letter to health care providers across Kansas implying that his bill had the force of law when it in fact had only passed one chamber.

Steffen doesn’t appear in the list of legislators who joined “far-right” groups. Yet his Facebook page reveals that he followsConvention of States” and “Kansas Family Voice,” both of which back rock-ribbed conservative causes.

Thompson joined Steffen in his COVID-19 disinformation crusade, and he also tried to ban wind power throughout the state this session. He offered three bills that, taken as a whole, would have essentially ended the industry in Kansas — an industry that climate activists see as essential to ending our dependence on fossil fuels.

He’s also not listed in the “Breaching the Mainstream” report. His Facebook page shows that he follows “Kansans for Constitutional Integrity,” “Kansas Family Voice” and “Watch Kansas.”

Finally, Helmer gained plentiful negative reporting toward the end of 2022’s session for her email to a University of Kansas graduate student in which she said she didn’t like using the restroom with one of her colleagues, a “huge transgender female,” while repeating debunked claims about trans people sexually assaulting children. She had sponsored House Bill 2210, which criminalized gender reassignment surgery and hormone replacement for minors.

She followed that coverage by insisting on her Facebook page that reporters should cover “all the plane loads of Mexico Illegal Immigrants that have arrived in the last few days.” None of that landed her on the national report.

On the other hand, Helmer’s Facebook page presents a remarkably bipartisan picture. She follows a number of Democrats, including Gov. Laura Kelly and Lt. Gov. David Toland. She’s also keeping up with the latest doings of U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Burghart acknowledged the scale of the task tackled by his organization. Unlisted legislators can be more extreme and problematic than those listed. Some may be members of the most benign social media groups possible while spewing hate in real life. And while the report lists hundreds of “anti-human rights bills” sponsored by identified legislators, Steffen, Thompson and Helmer’s efforts aren’t among them.

“There is a tremendous search for accurate information about what’s happening at the state level,” Burghart said. “We’re hoping to secure funding to make this an ongoing project. We think it would be particularly helpful to be able to look at this type of data longitudinally over time. Given the ever-changing nature of the social media ecosystem, we are also exploring ways to do similar work on other platforms like Telegram, Gab, Parler, Truth Social, and others.”

Those sound like worthwhile ideas, ones that could produce a more nuanced and meaningful product.

The meaning of ‘far right’

What does this all add up to? A confused and confusing picture. A fair number of legislators in Kansas would no doubt be delighted to be classified as followers of “far-right” groups. Kansas voters would no doubt like to know who these extremist legislators are.

Sadly, they aren’t necessarily listed in the report.

The 789 groups highlighted by IREHR also raised questions for me. Americans for Prosperity chapters in Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Utah and Kansas City were included — but not AFP chapters from other states. I asked Burghart about that.

“We didn’t single out any groups, we were limited by available data,” he told me. “Americans for Prosperity is a great example of a national group that does not maintain a national Facebook group. Instead, there are a handful of state chapters that have state-level groups on the platform, like the ones listed in the report. All of the groups we could identify on Facebook were added to the dataset, and all of the legislators whose Facebook profile URLs indicated membership were included in the report.”

What do you think?

Do you see political extremism as a problem in the Kansas Legislature? What do you think all of us should do about it? Write cwirestone@kansasreflector.com with your thoughts for a follow-up column.

A quick search on Facebook also shows AFP groups for Arizona, Florida and Wisconsin, to name just three presidential swing states. Perhaps their membership rolls were unavailable.

While you can question individual pieces of the report, the biggest roadblock is all that the term “far right” implies. It suggests extremism, which few people want to be associated with, and could alienate legislators who might be otherwise inclined to work across the aisle.

Let’s imagine a young Kansas representative. She comes from a more rural area and thus runs as a Republican. However, she wants to make friends with folks from both parties and build bridges. This is the way politics should work, she tells herself.

One day, this representative joins the AFP-Kansas group on Facebook.

A few months later, she hears from a reporter. She learns that she’s been listed as one of nearly 900 legislators who joined far-right groups. Maybe she responds to the journalist, maybe she doesn’t.

But a seed of doubt is planted that day. Do Democrats or progressives really want to work together? she wonders. Or are they more interested in painting those across the aisle as extremists? After all, she supports Medicaid expansion and rural development projects. Did that count for nothing?

Over time, that representative listens less to differing opinions. She insulates herself in a cocoon of right-wing agitprop, stuffed with watered-down white nationalism and unrestrained adulation for Trump. When the time comes to stand for or against a fascist takeover of government, she doesn’t hesitate. She’s with the authoritarians.

In some places, this might seem like a ridiculous fantasy. In Kansas, it’s a legitimate concern.

Our government won’t function without reasonable, rational Republicans. Activists and voters throughout the state should find ways to recruit and support trustworthy, solid people, while reserving scorn for those who have truly earned it.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

A grim prediction for Kansas: Abortion banned within a year if voters don’t show up

Within the next year, the Kansas Legislature will pass a full ban on abortion, without exceptions for rape or incest. Gov. Derek Schmidt will delightedly sign it and rhapsodize about our state’s culture of life. A safe and common women’s health procedure and those performing it, along with the women themselves, will be criminalized.

This will happen unless Kansas voters across the political spectrum grasp the gravity of this situation and act.

Look south to Oklahoma. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a full ban on abortion on Tuesday of last week.

“We want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state in the country. We want to outlaw abortion in the state of Oklahoma,” he said, according to CNN.

Look east to Kentucky. A GOP-controlled legislature overturned a democratic governor’s veto on Wednesday to effectively end abortion access, immediately.

The bill was “likely unconstitutional,” said Gov. Andy Beshear, but lawmakers with an eye on a U.S. Supreme Court likely to overturn Roe v. Wade acted anyway.

Look southeast to Florida. On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill outlawing abortion after 15 weeks.

“This will represent the most significant protections for life that have been enacted in this state in a generation,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

This new batch of laws comes after Mississippi and Texas made similar moves. Supreme Court justices are mulling the Mississippi legislation and may use it as the vehicle to eviscerate abortion rights in the United States. If the court takes that step, abortion will likely become illegal in 26 states, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute.

Where does Kansas fit into all of this? In August — four months from now — voters will decide on an amendment to the Kansas constitution to determine whether our constitution protects women’s right to access the procedure. The amendment itself doesn’t say whether health care providers in the state can offer abortions.

But it will allow the Legislature to pass a ban.

Remember the scenario outlined at the beginning of this column? Only a few pieces need to fall into place to make it a reality.

First, the amendment passes with a majority of the vote. While opponents including Planned Parenthood have dug in for battle, aiming to educate Kansans about what’s at stake, no one should underestimate the difficulty. Abortion opponents went all out to place the amendment on the primary ballot, which usually sees a lower turnout and more ideologically extreme voters.

Second, Derek Schmidt will need to win the gubernatorial election in November. While his victory isn’t assured, as the Republican candidate in bright-red Kansas, he certainly has a decent chance. His campaign website notes that he supports “protecting traditional values like religious freedom, the rule of law, life, freedom to speak openly, and the Second Amendment.”

Finally, the House and Senate will need to pass some sort of abortion ban. Without Laura Kelly in office wielding a veto, Republicans will need a simple majority in both chambers to make that happen. Does anyone seriously think they wouldn’t hit that mark in a post-Roe environment?

This year is looking like a banner one for Republicans across the nation. With gas prices up and inflation surging, President Joe Biden has seen dire polling as he grapples with global turmoil.

That suggests that Kansans, irritated by a lingering pandemic and persistent economic strain, will want to punish Democrats. Kelly and the handful of Democrats in Kansas government may well pay a high price for their national party’s failings.

In other words, these three conditions are connected.

The amendment passing, Schmidt winning and the Legislature passing a ban could all be enabled by a sour public, unaware of the forces they’re putting into motion. And Republicans have no motivation to make clear what’s happening, either: A 2018 Fox News survey showed that 86% of Kansans don’t believe the procedure should be totally illegal.

Yet the anti-abortion movement in Kansas has built power over the decades. Legislators know what’s expected of them. If Roe is overturned and activists want a ban, it will happen.

We can see the movement in other states.

We can see where this is going in ours.

Women who need the procedure either will be forced to travel long distances outside of Kansas or obtain back-alley abortions at grave threat to their health and wellbeing. Doctors who perform a safe medical procedure will be driven out of business.

As I wrote back in September, this isn’t a drill. The signs have only grown more ominous, the stakes have only heightened. Votes in August and November will determine the trajectory of reproductive health in Kansas for decades to come. Depending on the outcomes, a full abortion ban will be in place before you know it.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Kansas progressives face a moment of truth

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly kicked progressive advocates in the teeth by signing a rightwing political stunt masquerading as legislation on Tuesday.

The law supposedly bans “sanctuary cities” in the state. What it really does is target undocumented Kansans and those who worked patiently to pass an ordinance protecting them in Wyandotte County. The bill was introduced by Kelly’s gubernatorial rival, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, and pushed through in the last days of the legislative session.

No doubt Kelly saw the writing on the wall. A veto would tar her as insufficiently tough on border issues (never mind that Kansas’ actual border issue is businesses moving to Kansas City, Missouri). The Legislature had enough votes to override a veto anyway.

The cold, calculating decision? Sign the bill, blame the U.S. Congress, and move on to a pleasant photo op designating the Sandhill plum as the official state fruit.

“Both Republicans and Democrats in Washington have failed to address immigration issues for decades. We need a national solution and we need it now,” Kelly said, conveniently blaming both parties and removing herself from the equation altogether.

Kelly’s political course should be clear to everyone at this point. She’s working to make sure as little daylight exists between her and Schmidt as possible. Where distinctions exist, she angles to make them as advantageous as possible.

– Clay Wirestone

For instance, the governor consistently called for a full repeal of the state’s sales tax on groceries. Schmidt has supported cutting the tax, but not necessarily to zero. While Republicans in the Legislature grumble about critical race theory and attempt to pass parents’ bill of rights legislation, Kelly will tout her commitment to fully funding public schools without gimmicks.

Progressive advocates don’t appear to have other options. Are they going to vote for Schmidt instead? And are there enough of them to be decisive in a statewide vote for governor? Kelly has dared them, in essence, to stay home on Election Day and suffer the consequences.

I expect that when November rolls around, most of these advocates will turn out and vote for Kelly. They might grit their teeth and curse, but they will vote.

Politics works on two fundamental principles: power and fear. Those in the political sphere work to accumulate the first. Their relationships with others are determined by the second. Politicians who have gained power fear the folks who can legitimately put their electoral prospects or legislative majorities at risk. That’s why folks take the Kansas Chamber’s calls.

Kelly rightly fears what national and state Republicans could do to her reelection bid if she vetoed the sanctuary city bill. She didn’t fear what national and state progressives would do. Indeed, for many conservative voters, the spectacle of her kicking liberals in the teeth might earn their grudging respect. It shows she’s not like the rest of those silly, pie-in-the-sky Democrats.

This was, as I wrote last week, a bill that no one wanted. Precious few voters called for it. But the fact that it passed by wide margins and was signed by Kelly shows vividly who holds power in Kansas politics.

I don’t have pleasant answers or easy solutions for this situation. Ambitious progressives are often told to go build power at the local level. Beyond that, they are often told to participate in the committee process at the Statehouse through testimony.

Well, progressives did both for the Safe and Welcoming ordinance. They created a local groundswell of support in Wyandotte County and then defended the measure as best they could in Topeka. They did everything right, and look at what it got them.

A mouthful of bloody, broken teeth.

Building progressive political power in Kansas will take serious investment from those inside and outside the state. It will take a commitment of years, if not decades, to build institutions with enough clout to instill fear in politicians of both parties. Most importantly, it will recognize that simply electing a Democratic governor doesn’t mean that liberals suddenly seized political power. It means a canny politician figured out how to win a specific race.

Kelly will do what she thinks she needs to win. I’ve pointed out before that she’s uncommonly agile as a candidate. She may well earn another term. Perhaps she will even use that term to do good for undocumented folks.

That’s cold comfort in the moment, however, to Kansans targeted in Wyandotte County.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Believe it or not, sanity has broken out among these three Kansas Republicans

For those who look at Kansas politics and despair, I’m here with good news. We’re seeing distinct signs of sanity on the conservative side of the aisle, and not a bit too late.
Within the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen three high-profile Republicans buck the trends and speak up for the truth. They have refused to entertain the ideological fictions spun by too many members of their party. And while I may not agree with many of their positions, their ability to state that a fact is a fact and what’s real is what’s real should be praised.

We can call them the Sanity Caucus.

Kansas Attorney General and likely Republican gubernatorial nominee Derek Schmidt can be counted first among equals here. Admittedly, his sanity came during a meet and greet with voters in Harper County, rather than a news conference. But he nonetheless held the line when questioned about election security and some of the preposterous claims made by outside “experts.”

“Here’s kind of my perspective on it,” Schmidt said, according to a recording from the event. “I think, on the whole, Kansas elections are solid. I really believe that. I’m not saying there’s no problems. I’m saying we don’t have the types of widespread institutional problems — at least I’ve never seen the evidence — that I think some other states do.”

See, how tough was that?

The wild part, of course, is the newsworthiness of this statement. Of course Kansas elections are solid. Schmidt unfortunately hedges his bets as the quote continues, because apparently you can’t challenge partisan nuttery too forcefully. Nationwide elections are solid too. Schmidt knows this.

So, for that matter, does Secretary of State Scott Schwab. Fending off a primary challenge from the right, the Republican last month made a compelling case for the safety and security of the state’s elections.

Both Schmidt and Schwab have played footsie with the murkier elements in their party. I haven’t been shy about calling them to account, either. Yet when they stand up for the truth, with all the potential political cost, we should acknowledge it. Praise it, even.

– Clay Wirestone

He went head-to-head with Douglas Frank, a Mike “My Pillow” Lindell crony and math teacher from Ohio, who had testified at an earlier hearing.

“I want to be clear, Dr. Frank did not accuse any fraud in Kansas last week,” Schwab said during testimony to the House Elections Committee. “He said, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,’ but there was no smoke because we did over 300 post-election audits. If there was smoke, it would have showed up in the audit, and that’s a hand count, on paper, audit. … He’s not a Kansas election expert. He’s a mathematician, but it doesn’t add up.”

Both Schmidt and Schwab have played footsie with the murkier elements in their party. I haven’t been shy about calling them to account, either. Yet when they stand up for the truth, with all the potential political cost, we should acknowledge it. Praise it, even.

Good job, guys.

That’s not all. On an entirely different level we have Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wagmego, who has tirelessly worked to create a major water management reform bill. With aquifer levels declining, agriculture and rural communities in Kansas face major challenges.

“I don’t like to use the word ‘crisis,’ but our situation in our state is serious,” Highland said.

Unfortunately, all the far-reaching proposals in the world hit a wall Tuesday, when the carefully assembled bill was ruthlessly gutted. House Water Committee leaders believed the state’s powerful agriculture lobby was behind the move.

“They’ve decided to fight any change at all, and I think the future, unfortunately … we’re having urban vs. rural discussions,” Highland said.

He added: “I’m not the loser; I think the state of Kansas is the loser today.”

Like safe and secure elections, protecting our state’s water supply goes beyond petty politics. It goes beyond what a Democrat or Republican might believe. It’s about making sure that all of us, regular people and politicians alike, live in a shared and sane reality.

Look, the political reality in Kansas is the political reality in Kansas. In most parts of the state, you have to have that “R” after your name on the ballot. Otherwise, you not only won’t be elected, but you’ll probably be laughed out of town.

Just because state officials and lawmakers are Republican doesn’t mean they’re required to believe untrue things. It doesn’t mean they’re required to ignore clear and convincing evidence in front of their faces. It doesn’t require becoming a card-carrying member of the anti-vaccine death cult or former President Donald Trump’s Big Lie-promoting forces.

They can simply speak the truth. The Sanity Caucus could always use a few more members.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.