Last night’s election sent me to bed with a tremor of despair and a dull ache in my head and heart. Once again, the people of my beloved state, my chosen home, voted against their own interests for reasons beyond my comprehension. My people have once again elected someone ruling by an ideology that excludes many if not most of us. Our governor, in his last term, slashed spending for public education, diminished teachers’ rights, destroyed the arts commission (shutting it down, essentially, in the middle of the night when it was still funded), cut funding severely to social services, and in every direction, dampened down public support for our most vulnerable populations.
I know and accept that Kansas has a long history as a Republican state, and I have many beloved friends and family members who identify as Republican, so I’m not, in any way, attacking the Republican party here or what I understand as some of the deeper values that might separate Republicans and Democrats. What hurts is how one Republican has pretty flagrantly disregarded due process, transparency, and democracy to put in place his goals. I share two such examples.
One of the governor’s first initiatives, when last elected, was to shut down the Kansas Neurological Institute, a state facility where people with severe disabilities live in family units, often with staff who have worked alongside them for dozens of years. Many of the people there are blind, deaf, on feeding tubes, in custom-made wheelchairs, and living with extensive developmental disabilities. In light of no comparable support in the community for many of the residents (and over the last decade, all who could be moved into community facilities were moved), the main option would be nursing homes, which aren’t (in most cases) set up to handle such care. Without such care, many residents wouldn’t survive.
Funding this institution is a drop in the ocean of the state budget, but the governor tried, without process, to close the doors in short term. Luckily, the families of the people living there, the legislature, and many citizens spoke up.
Another example is the now-defunct Kansas Arts Commission. Within a month of taking office in January, the governor issued an executive order to shut down KAC. Cooler heads in the legislature prevailed, and the legislature even went on to fund KAC for the upcoming fiscal year. All of KAC’s funding was matched 150% (from federal and regional arts funding), which, in turn, fueled tiny arts centers throughout Kansas, music and visual arts programs for teens and elders, community arts events in many towns, and small fellowships for artists. Within four months of taking office, the governor shut down KAC on a dime even though there was funding to keep the small staff going for several more months and more funding granted by the legislature beyond that. Then, to make sure KAC didn’t start again with the new fiscal year, on a Saturday morning after the legislature had finished its session, the governor vetoed the funding for the next fiscal year without time for the legislature to re-assemble to consider overturning the veto.
Now, because of public support, we have a new arts commission, but in the meantime, we lost several years of federal, regional and state arts support, many smaller arts centers in rural areas closed, projects collapsed, programming diminished, and all for no good reason.
Multiply this examples across public schools, universities, social services, health care, environmental protection, renewal energy potential, and many other areas — all with case studies we could share of what’s gone wrong.
Meanwhile, there are thousands of good-to-the-core people in Kansas — people who would drop everything to help you fix your car, bake you a casserole in a flash, or reach out to you, even if you’re a stranger, when you most need a human touch. Meanwhile, the sun shines with all its charm, the last yellowing leaves dance in the wind, the expansive blueness of the sky holds our view, and it’s a new day. A new day, but a hard day too in a place of such beauty and sweetness, such mystery and surprises, it will take your breath away.