Does the conservative majority on the Kansas Board of Education truly represent the voters of the state?
With a full slate of candidates already committed to run in four state school board races in November, Kansas will have a real opportunity to answer that question.
In relatively liberal Douglas County, influenced greatly by Kansas University, much criticism has been leveled at the board for its controversial decisions to de-emphasize the teaching of evolution in Kansas schools and to require parents to give signed permission for their children to be included in sex education classes. But what about the rest of the state, which tends to be more conservative on many issues?
We now know that at least a few Kansans take exception to the actions of their elected representatives on the state board. That is illustrated by the fact that all four conservative members of the board facing re-election this year already have announced challengers. Janet Waugh, a Kansas City Democrat, is unopposed so far.
One of the conservatives, Iris Van Meter of Thayer, has decided not to run again, but two Republicans and a Democrat already have filed for her seat. The other three conservative board members - John Bacon of Olathe, Connie Morris of St. Francis and Ken Willard of Hutchinson, all Republicans - have opposition in the Aug. 1 primary races, as well as announced Democratic candidates waiting to challenge the primary winners in the general election.
The level of interest in the races suggests that the board members' constituents aren't entirely satisfied with their elected representatives, but time will tell. Cindy Duckett, a conservative advocate in Wichita welcomed the competition saying, "Quite frankly, I think it's a good thing. I think it's healthy. Let's get the opinions out there, let's let the people speak, let's see what happens."
Absolutely. That's what democracy is all about. Many Kansans have expressed dissatisfaction with the current board, but will that dissatisfaction drive moderate and liberal voters to go to the polls in sufficient numbers to counter the turnout of the state's highly motivated conservative base, which may become even more energized by the increased effort to oust conservative board members? And, even if moderates and liberals are motivated enough to alter the membership of the state board this year, will they be able to sustain that level of interest in future years, or will their interest wane, allowing conservative voters to reign again two years from now?
Are Kansans as conservative as the State Board of Education that represents them? A high voter turnout in races that offer clear philosophical choices should help answer that question this year.