Floridians, silly and serious, are drawing inspiration from a Lawrence publishing company's new state-rankings book on education.
The book of state-by-state rankings on education quality published in September by Kathleen and Scott Morgan of Morgan Quitno Press has been at the center of the gubernatorial campaign there and has caught the attention of syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry of the Miami Herald.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer takes aim at Morgan Quitno Press' analysis in his weekly column..
Barry takes offense at Florida's ranking as the 47th "smartest" state and offers new criteria for ranking those at the bottom of the pile.
"So which state, when we weigh all these factors, is the stupidest?" Barry wrote. "This question has no easy answer. No, wait, it does: Kansas."
Barry's reason: Kansas is home to Morgan Quitno Press.
"This is pretty funny," said Scott Morgan, the company's editor and the current Lawrence school board president.
He said Barry's writing had long been a source of amusement, but he had never imagined Morgan Quitno Press would become fodder for one of Barry's columns.
"It proves that our universe makes no sense," Scott Morgan said. "I guess we're doing our small part to bring fame and glory to Lawrence."
Barry takes Kansas to task in the column, in part for making a large ball of twine a tourist attraction in Cawker City.
"I feel bad for the good folks of Cawker City," said Kathleen Morgan, the company's publisher. "They don't need to be trashed."
Research in "Education State Rankings 2002-2003" is also the basis of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill McBride's ongoing television ad campaign against Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
McBride's ads running statewide claim the Republican governor is responsible for Florida's slip to 47th in the nation, based on the Morgan Quitno Press rankings.
Scott Morgan said the book also had become an issue in the Connecticut race for governor. Connecticut earned "smartest state" honors in terms of education in the 2002-2003 edition. New Mexico ranked dead last, while Kansas was rated 14th.
"We want people to take it seriously," he said. "But numbers tell part of a story. They don't tell the whole story. We put these things out and it's interesting how they get used."
The publishing company also prints annual state ranking books on crime, livability and health. The books are generally bought by reference libraries and government agencies.