Worn scripts

Valley Voice

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Election season has become a gruesome ordeal, one that consigns Kansas to political theater with stale acts. Tribal fever rules. Most of us are left in the back to breathe sour air.
Consider the race for governor. It features a tired Republican script infused with Trump: Join the stampede against the ghost menace of abortion, against government overreach, transgender athletes, voter fraud, school curricula, vaccine conspiracies. Fear the socialism threatening our “freedoms”; dread the immigrant hordes soiling our landscape; avenge a stolen election.
The Republican challenger, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, proposes a superhighway for southeast Kansas. This project has languished on the state wish list for more than 40 years. So have his minor tax cuts, offered long ago by a Democrat, the late Gov,. Joan Finney.
The incumbent, Democrat Laura Kelly, has restored and re-charged the many institutions wrecked by her predecessors, notably Sam Brownback. His no-income-tax, trickle-down, borrow-and-spend policies brought the state nearly to bankruptcy. Kelly has since balanced the budget, and with a surplus of roughly $1 billion. State aid for local schools is again fully funded. The state’s unemployment rate is at a record low. She incubated bipartisan support for a $4 billion battery plant at DeSoto. Other marks are for bringing state hospitals out of Brownback’s ruins, for saving the foster care program and the state’s Medicaid program, and more.
Schmidt defended Brownback throughout the dark years of deficit spending, the terrible credit ratings, the looting of highway funds to cover state overdrafts, the cozy and shady Medicaid contracts, the frontal attacks on teachers, local schools and state universities. And yet Brownback has not thanked Schmidt with an endorsement.
Kelly struggles to maintain an even, prudent course. Schmidt is marked for his tribal bidding, his loyalty to Brownback and, later, to Trump’s stolen election fantasy. Keeping hospitals open and food stamps afloat with government aid is “socialistic”. Keeping farms operating and gasoline cheap with government programs is not.
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Real issues lay open and deserted. They are from an old script as well, from a time when Democrats and Republicans collaborated in serious work. Historic school finance reforms were a product of mutual purpose 30 years ago. The Docking years (1960s-’70s), saw judicial reform and state-local revenue sharing; During the Hayden (1980s) and Graves (’90s) administrations, $25 billion in highway improvements, and mental health reform (1990s), are among many examples.
All that has changed. Collaboration has given way to culture wars, leaving those in the middle with petitions abandoned.
Among them:
– Health care, shortages of medical professionals, hospitals, clinics; Kansas is one of only a dozen states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage for the poor.
– A rising inventory of local roads, bridges, water and sewer systems that need more aggressive maintenance or repair.
– State aid to cities and counties: For decades, the state had by law transferred money to cities and counties for local property tax reduction. The transfer has been suspended for 20 years.
– Local school finance: Despite court rulings, education funding is in for a severe round of state aid scrutiny, if not cuts;
– A lack of affordable housing has stymied growth in most farm towns and cities, where even available housing is in short supply.
– Transportation in Kansas includes more than roads and highways. Air, rail and bus service need enrichment, reconstruction and promotion.
– Students and educators have campaigned since 2020 for a university campus in southwest Kansas, a satellite of Ft. Hays University. The Dodge City campus of St. Mary of the Plains, a four-year liberal arts college that closed in 1992, is mentioned as a feasible site.
– Water. More than 70 counties are parched with drought. Half of them face extreme water shortages as their supplies dwindle.
– State aid for universities and post-secondary schools has been neglected, left languid, leaving many students in the grip of crushing debt. Professors and teachers are leaving. So are the students.
– Topeka shrugs.
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There’s more but there’s the idea.
Politics and law once moved on the spiritual and cultural footings of the past. Today they are subsumed by avarice, leaders abdicating their responsibilities and throttling certain ideals on the altar of career advancement and self-preservation.
The ways of our former leaders take a beating from those who belittle the thought in the individual and glorify the thought in the mob. They reject the notion that people should be called “ordinary” and man, “common.”
We no longer know where the truth lies, but we are full of rich memories of places – history – where we had glimpsed it before the shadow of malice darkened the theater.

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