An act of moral courage

By Rod Haxton, editor

Donald Trump likes to consider himself as a prescient individual capable of seeing things before they actually happen such as Brexit, immigration turmoil in Sweden and the arrival of the Easter bunny.

Trump’s gut instinct failed to predict that Obama could spy on him through his microwave. The gut, as we’ve learned, isn’t infallible.

But, not even Nostratrumpus could have predicted what’s happened in Kansas over the last eight months.

For those unfamiliar with Kansas politics, we once had a three-party system of Democrats, moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans.

For more than 20 years, Democrats and moderates were able to piece together legislation that adequately funded our schools, maintained a first-rate highway system, cared for our needy and still balanced our state budget.

Sometimes, moderates would side with the more conservative members of their party, but on the big issues affecting our state it seemed that moderate Republicans and Democrats could quite often find common ground.

The balance that had existed for years between the three political factions was disrupted by the emergence of the Tea Party. The election of Gov. Sam Brownback, followed by the purge of moderate Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Steve Morris (Hugoton) pushed Kansas to the far right on the political spectrum.

The result has been a legislature and governor that have taken extreme positions on tax policy, efforts to eliminate an independent Supreme Court, opposition to due process for teachers, and much more.

The ultraconservative wing of the party has been responsible for the disintegration of funding for our infrastructure, public education, early childhood programs and higher education while leaving us with a massive budget deficit that is stealing from future generations of Kansans.

On more than one occasion, moderate Republicans have been critical of the Koch-funded Tea Party faction for abandoning the values that have served Kansas for most of our 156-year history.

Last fall, during the primary and general elections, Kansas voters finally said they’d had enough by giving many ultraconservative legislators their pink slips. Reflecting on the November results, House Majority Leader Don Hineman (R-Dighton) said, “The election was a shift back to the center, which is where Kansas has traditionally governed from.”

The moderate faction of the legislature took a small step to assert itself during the current session by passing a bill to once again restore due process for K-12 teachers.

Moderate Republicans and Democrats began flexing their muscle a little more when they passed a bill to increase income taxes in order to close the huge budget deficit. The governor vetoed the effort to end his “march to zero.”

The House successfully overrode the veto, but it narrowly survived in the Senate. Nonetheless, the 85-40 vote in the House was evidence that Brownback and his ultraconservative faction were dealing with a monster that was no longer intimidated by the governor, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Policy Institute or the threat of “dark money” from the Koch brothers.

Oh, but the “new” Republicans in the House weren’t done.

 

They pulled off a huge political surprise by approving Medicaid expansion on an 81-44 vote even after President Trump and Congressional Republicans had declared it was their top priority to repeal and replace Obamacare. As if that wasn’t a gut punch to the governor and his small band of ultraconservative misfits, the Kansas Senate also approved Medicaid expansion by a 25-14 margin.

As expected, the governor wasted no time vetoing the expansion bill. It is once again up to the legislature to get enough votes to override the veto.

Regardless of the outcome, this is still a stunning turn of events in Kansas.

It would have been easy for Republicans to throw their hands in the air and do nothing with the excuse that a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican President would make Medicaid expansion irrelevant.

It’s not just the $70 million in additional health care dollars the Kansas Hospital Association says will flow into the state with Medicaid expansion - though that’s not a number to be easily dismissed when the state budget is bleeding red ink.

Moderate Republicans and Democrats were driven by moral courage rather than political expediency. They did the right thing for an estimated 300,000 Kansans who will qualify for health coverage under expansion.

Our moral compass is finally pointing us in the direction of doing what’s best for the majority of Kansans rather than the wealthy few. We are moving to the political center described by Rep. Hineman, where common sense and common decency are also found.

That’s where decisions are made that lead to a better education system, stronger infrastructure and a more compassionate environment for those in need.

For the past six years we’ve allowed a powerful faction with a very narrow agenda to steer Kansans away from the values and principles that are at the core of who we are. That faction isn’t going away. They may have lost a battle or two, but they’re in this war for the long haul.

It will be a difficult fight, but the moral high ground is always worth fighting for.

We can take satisfaction in knowing that, for the present time, we’re getting back to where we belong. Hopefully, it’s where we’ll stay.

Rod Haxton can be reached at editor@screcord.com

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