Enemy is closer than you think
By Rod Haxton, editor
With the Kansas Legislature considering proposals that include eliminating the sales tax exemption on farm machinery, increasing the property tax burden on agricultural land by nearly 500 percent, and chopping away at highway funding which is critical for rural areas - especially Western Kansas - one has to wonder what would possess legislators to think seriously of doing such things.
The obvious answer is that, through their own ineptitude, they have painted the state into a financial corner which leaves them with two choices - admit they were wrong or cut spending drastically.
We’re getting the latter.
But there are two other factors which contribute to policies coming out of Topeka which are particularly detrimental to rural Kansas - one over which we have no control and one over which we do have control.
A significant factor is our declining population in Western Kansas and the shift of legislative power to urban areas in the east. This didn’t happen overnight. Over the last 30 years we’ve seen legislative districts grow much larger as the number of legislators representing the interests of Western Kansas have declined.
That’s an unavoidable aspect of representative government. Long gone are the days when each county had a lawmaker representing their interests in Topeka.
That brings us to the second reason. It’s because we, as voters, have neglected our responsibility.
As this unavoidable shift in legislative power has occurred, we’ve argued for years that the only way for Western Kansas to protect its interests in Topeka was to elect state representatives and senators who would offer a strong and respected voice which could offset what we lack in numbers.
We have failed miserably in making that happen.
Former Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton), for example, was among those ousted from office in the 2012 debacle. His crime? He wasn’t radical enough to satisfy the ultra-conservative Tea Party interests that were financed by front groups for the Koch brothers.
Western Kansas now has the misfortune of being represented by the likes of Sen. Garrett Love (R-Montezuma), Rep. Ron Ryckman, Sr. (R-Meade), Sen. Larry Powell (R-Garden City), Sen. Mitch Holmes (R-St. John) and Rep. John Ewy (R-Jetmore) who are little more than legislative puppets whose strings are being pulled by Koch brothers-backed groups.
And if you think the interests they represent are the same as yours, then you’re exactly the uninformed voter that the Koch brothers are counting on.
That’s not to say that Western Kansas doesn’t have legislators who are trying desperately to do what’s best for their constituents. We’ve seen Reps. Don Hineman (R-Dighton), Russell Jennings (R-Lakin) and John Doll (R-Garden City) doing their best to represent the interests of Western Kansas, but they are vastly outnumbered.
In addition, the current legislative leadership will do all it can to marginalize independent-thinking legislators who refuse to toe the line.
That’s why you won’t find Sen. Holmes or Sen. Ryckman on the front line fighting to prevent a catastrophic increase in the appraised value of ag land that could dramatically shift the property tax burden in Kansas. They lack the courage to stand up to those who wield political power in Topeka these days.
Their job is to do what they are told by the Republican hierarchy (i.e., Koch brothers) and, to their credit, they are performing that job quite well.
That’s why you won’t find Sen. Love or Rep. Ewy battling to protect funding for education, Parents as Teachers or KDOT. That’s not how you get elected and re-elected in today’s political environment.
Strong-willed Republican lawmakers willing to take on their party’s leadership and do what’s right over what’s popular are an endangered breed in Kansas. It takes conviction to stand against the big-money special interests and fight for the communities they represent.
But they can only do so much.
It also takes informed voters who can recognize whether lawmakers are doing what’s best for their constituents or what’s best for themselves.
Think about that as the legislature debates tax exemptions, changes in ag land appraisals, funding cuts for your school, cuts in nutrition programs for children or budget cuts that will delay road projects in our region.
Years ago, the long-forgotten comic strip “Pogo” coined the phrase, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Kansas voters - particularly those in Western Kansas - have become our own enemy by believing in tax fantasies and electing weak-kneed leaders in our state government. Those decisions are coming back to haunt us with lawmakers who support ill-advised policies in Topeka that threaten our state’s financial stability and our way of life.
We need leadership in Topeka who will represent the interests of Western Kansas. That’s not going to change as long as Koch-funded interests are controlling the dialogue and pulling the strings.
Forty-four years later, Pogo’s words still ring true.
Rod Haxton can be reached at email@example.com
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