The recent bill that would allow teachers to carry guns has brought new attention to the conservative policies in the state of Kansas. Ever since Thomas Frank’s iconic book, What’s the Matter With Kansas? was released, people have trying to figure out precisely what’s up with this ultra conservative state.
As someone who grew up in Kansas (though admittedly in a lone blue “spiritually dark” district, which current Governor Sam Brownback (R) once asked the rest of the state to pray for, I feel uniquely qualified to answer this question. What’s the matter with Kansas? I'll tell you what's the matter with Kansas.
The bill allowing teachers to be armed is nothing new. Kansas’ gun control laws are structured around the rights of the owner, and often challenge federal gun laws. Kansas is always up to challenge federal law, and has recently drafted a bill that would block the allowance of doctors to ask patients if they own a gun, part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
At this point, virtually everyone is familiar with the Westboro Baptist Church, native Kansans known for their protests of military funerals, LGBT people, and pretty much everything under the sun. Their iconic “God Hates Fags” posters have shocked the nation for years and provided photo ops for liberal Kansans for years, as pictured above. (Hi Dad, you’re internet famous!) Less known but just as homophobic is the work of the Kansas legislature, which forgoes violent rhetoric for equally violent policy. Right now, Kansas legislator Tim Heulskamp (R) is working to pass the Military Religious Freedom Protection Act, which would keep LGBT couples from marrying on military installations and protect anti-gay service members.
3. Pro-Life movement
The much publicized shooting of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, who ran the only abortion clinic of its kind in Kansas, is indicative of the pro-life fervor that characterizes most of the state. A bill just made it to the House floor that would “tax abortions, establish life beginning at fertilization, require doctors to say [falsely] that abortion causes breast cancer and prohibit state employees from performing abortions during the workday.” This bill only advanced after a committee removed a clause that would keep abortion clinic workers from volunteering at their children’s elementary school.
From 1999-2007, an embarrassing era, the Kansas Board of Education overturned the state’s education standards five times in order to challenge the teaching of evolution. This flurry of creationist activity culminated in a 2005 vote that redefined science as a discipline to include explanations for phenomenon beyond the natural. And the battle’s not over yet: the board continues to define standards of science and some board members have expressed “concerns” about science curricula. The Onion addresses these ludicrous policies best with its article “Kansas Legislature Outlaws Evolution.”
5. Tax cuts
Governor Brownback is a conservative heartthrob, and he has used Kansas as a conservative “playground” for experiments in austerity and economic redistribution that favor the wealthy. Most detrimental was his significant cuts to income tax rates. As NPR reported, the cuts cost the state more than $850 million annually — with the bulk of them going to higher-income earners. The citizens of Kansas have yet to see the revenue return.
6. Climate change
In defiance of the standards of most scientists, a debate continues to be waged in the Kansas legislature, where bills that keep state money from being spent on “sustainability” and require schools to teach “both sides” of the climate change debate (sound familiar?), abound.
7. Restrictions on judicial review
Kansas doesn’t mind arming teachers, but it’s not as excited about paying them: the Kansas Senate just passed a bill that explicitly makes school funding the domain of the legislative branch, which also happens to be held by Republicans almost 3-1. “Reining in” judges has always been a major concern of the Kansas legislature, especially when it comes to public funding decisions.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has methods of infringing upon the rights of immigrants in Kansas that are well-known. He was even drafted to help Arizona lawmakers do the same, helping to craft the notorious SB 1070, requiring all Arizona residents to carry ID at all times. Closer to home, Kobach is advocating for state legislatures to “crack down” on the rights of undocumented immigrants by passing bills that include exclusion from public benefits.
This last one’s is just a fear: the University of Kansas, is ranked nationally in NCAA college basketball (Rock Chalk!). However, recently the state legislature has introduced a bill that would require Kansas to play non-conference opponent Wichita State University each year. KU and Wichita State last played each other in 1993 when KU beating the Shockers by 103-54. Enough said.
Perhaps the saddest part of Kansas’ extreme conservative takeover is that it doesn’t have to be this way: Kansas was founded by lefties, and was a bastion of abolitionists and progressives during the Civil War. Even in the last decade we had Kathleen Sebelius, Obama’s Health and Human Services Secretary, a two term Democratic governor popular with Democrats and Republicans alike. Until someone can find a way to breach the conservative stronghold on Kansas’ politics, some things are going to be wrong with Kansas for quite a while.