Monday, January 09, 2006

The Kansas Legislature: Let the Games Begin!

The Kansas Legislature is back, and it’s time to pay attention, friends.

In some ways the legislative session resembles the Olympics, not quite as graceful or half as fun, mind you, but the metaphor does work. Let me explain.

For those of us who don’t go to work under the capitol dome, it can seem like we’re nothing more than spectators of Statehouse events, just like we’re spectators of the Olympics. (Stay tuned for the Winter Olympics in February. I’m a big fan, but I do digress.)

The contestants – in this case the members of the House and Senate, the governor and other state officials – run their races, jump their hurdles, engage in wild displays of bravado (think the hot dog skiing competitions) and battle in tightly controlled combat (think judo and karate in the summer games). Most of the time it seems like they’re the ones who get the gold medals (win re-election, oust a governor, etc), while we only watch and applaud and maybe critique.

But when you’re talking about a legislative session, it’s the spectators who win the biggest medals (call those the rewards) or suffer the most severe injuries and humiliations (call those defeats).

If you live in Kansas, it’s your child’s education that’s at stake. That’s just the first issue to arise. This session will also determine whether you’ll get other services from the state, how much you’ll pay in taxes, what kind of economy you’ll face, whether the judiciary will be free and able to protect you, and whether you’ll retain your civil rights.

If you’re one of In This Moment’s many readers from the rest of the United States, consider the fact that the bull’s-eye state of Kansas is the reddest of red states. We’re the place where right-wing ideas start, mutate and grow. We’re also the place where the ideas of the right may well begin to lose their hold.

I have a feeling that Kansas may not be as red as it seems, just as the entire United States isn’t as conservative as George W’s presidential administration of disaster. If the right-wing grip on Kansas’ soul begins to loosen, you can bet that things will change in the rest of the country, not to mention the fact that the techniques developed here to fight the right may well work in other parts of the United States. If you doubt me, take a look at the fact that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebielius is a Democrat with approval ratings in the 60 percent range and what looks like a easy re-election race. The importance of that and the fact that it’s happening in Kansas led Time magazine to recently name her as one of the nation’s five top governors.

If you’re one of my readers from outside the States (Hi Malaysia, Honduras, Brazil, the UK, Canada, Belgium and Scandinavia!), then watch Kansas closely. As we go, so the nation goes. I doubt if I have to tell you how important the United States and it’s actions are to the rest of the world.

I think the biggest thing for Kansans to remember about this legislative session is that we’re not helpless. We may be sitting in the cheap, spectator seats, but we each have a chance to change things in the Statehouse. We don't even have to wait until the election in November to do it.

Because Kansas has a relatively small population, the voice of each voter is louder here than it would be in other states. It can take very few phone calls, emails and, particularly, snail mail letters to have a huge impact on how your representative and senator votes.

The first step for us Kansans?

Pay attention. Stay informed. Collect contact information on your legislators and the governor and be ready to act.

No comments: