Who’s the greater risk to ‘safety’?

By Rod Haxton, editor

To hear Sam Brownback and other Republican governors hitting the panic button these days, Syrian refugees are the biggest threat to America’s safety and well-being since the . . . well, since the horde of rapists and drug dealers began crossing the Rio Grande.

It’s a pretty simple approach to governing. Stoke the level of fear to DEF CON 7 (DEF CON 5 just isn’t enough when you’re talking about terrorists) and suddenly those tax cuts that are wrecking the state’s economy fade into the background.

Of course, Republicans would never want to raise the specter of fear for the sake of fear alone.

“My first priority as governor is the safety of all Kansans,” assures Brownback.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, also a Republican, said in response to stopping Syrian refugees from settling in his state, he would “not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way.”

That might just beg the bigger question: Who represents the greater threat to the safety of Kansans - Syrian refugees or Brownback and our Republican lawmakers?

It’s much easier to put safety into the context of a terrorist threat. That’s something people can understand even if you have a greater likelihood of winning the Lotto jackpot than being confronted with a Syrian refugee wearing a bomb vest at the local Kwik Trip.

Okay, you want to talk safety. We’re fine with that, but let’s do so in a much broader context. When we do that, we’ll find many of our safety-minded governors are failing their responsibility.

Alabama, for example, has not expanded Medicaid coverage, leaving 389,000 of its citizens without health coverage, but that apparently doesn’t meet Gov. Bentley’s definition of “harm’s way.” The same is true of Brownback and the GOP-controlled legislature which has left 77,000 of its citizens in harm’s way by their refusal to expand Medicaid coverage.

Isn’t access to health care a safety issue?

These people aren’t employed in jobs that offer health benefits. If a minor health issue turns into a major health issue, not only do they risk losing their job, but they then become a greater burden on the local health care system and local taxpayers. That takes human and financial resources away from areas where they would otherwise be used.

And what about the safety and well-being of children?

As Brownback and lawmakers scramble to fill a $124 million budget gap of their own creation they have been taking money away from programs that benefit our poorest and most vulnerable children and their families.

As a result of the state “sweeping” funds from various departments in order to pay its bills, Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children (KAC), says the Kansas Endowment for Youth is “completely bankrupt.” Cotsoradis says the Children’s Initiatives Fund (CIF), which has been financed by tobacco settlement payments since 1998, has been raided by the legislature of more than $210 million since its inception. This is money that was supposed to go towards programs to benefit children.

We’re talking about their health and safety.

Ask any teacher and they’ll reaffirm that the earlier a child can acquire the skills to learn the better they will do throughout their years in school and, ultimately, they stand a much better chance of becoming productive adults in society.

The same is true of programs that impact a child’s health and social development.


It’s well-documented that early childhood programs lead to fewer young adults in prison, fewer people requiring mental health services and less demand on social welfare programs. That means a safer society and less burden on taxpayers.

Stealing money away from programs that can provide immediate benefit to young people is very short-sighted considering the long-term ramifications. Yet that is exactly what the Brownback Administration is doing and what state lawmakers are encouraging in order to cover up for their own ineptitude.

So what of the health and safety of our most vulnerable? Don’t they count?

The biggest threat to our society and to the welfare of its people doesn’t always come from those who are of a different color, or nationality or who speak differently than we do. The biggest threat to our long-term social well-being and security can come from people who claim that our “safety” is their number one priority.

Governor Brownback and about 30 of his colleagues in statehouses across the country will argue that the biggest threat to our way of life is outside our borders and wanting into this country.

They’re wrong. A bigger threat to this nation is the 4.3 million uninsured Americans who are being denied access to Medicaid and the millions of Americans living below the poverty level while tax cuts continue to benefit the wealthiest among us.

How safe and secure can we honestly be when 77,000 Kansans don’t have access to the health care they need or when we take money from programs that benefit children?

The prospect of Syrian refugees isn’t the real danger. It’s the misguided policies of Brownback and ultraconservative lawmakers in our state.

Rod Haxton can be reached at editor@screcord.com

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