Topeka Tamara Werth, one of the co-founders of a grass-roots organization that has arisen in opposition to the agenda of Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, said many Kansans are upset with the political direction of the state.
“What people do seem to fall back on is the quality of life — that Kansas has such a strong history of education, social services, trust-building and neighbor helping neighbor, and that is being diminished and marginalized as a consequence of decisions being made in Topeka,” Werth said.
Werth and Crystal McComas, also of Lawrence, have formed Kansans United in Voice and Spirit, which helped put together a rally last week that drew several hundred people to protest outside Kobach’s office and then Brownback’s office in the Statehouse. It was the group’s second rally in Topeka. The first one in September drew a similar-sized crowd and was directed mostly at Brownback concerning his cuts to school funding and administration of the social services agency.
But the list of grievances has expanded since then.
At last week’s rally, people spoke against Brownback’s proposals to overhaul the tax code, school finance formula and public pension system, and further changes to social services.
And protesters have also turned their attention to Kobach.
The group criticized Kobach for his work nationally on cracking down on illegal immigrants and in Kansas for pushing through a law that requires photo ID to vote and proof of citizenship for new voter registrations.
“We want a secretary of state that works for us,” said Sulma Arias, executive director of the Wichita-based Sunflower Community Action.
Kobach’s critics say the voting requirements will create obstacles to voting, while Kobach says the measures will prevent fraud at the ballot box. On illegal immigration, Kobach says his enforcement measures are causing undocumented workers to “self-deport.” But immigration advocates say Kobach’s proposals are causing hardships and tearing families apart.
Another focus of Kansans United in Voice and Spirit, Werth said, is the influence that the Washington, D.C.-based American Legislative Exchange Council has on the Kansas Legislature.
ALEC is a corporate-funded group that describes its mission as promoting free markets, limited government, federalism and individual freedom. Each year, bills based on ALEC “model legislation” are introduced and passed by legislatures across the nation, including in Kansas.
Art Laffer, who as a $75,000 paid consultant helped craft Brownback’s proposed tax overhaul, serves as a member of ALEC’s Board of Scholars.
ALEC has also pushed for the Health Care Freedom Act, which is aimed at blocking federal health reform and was signed into law by Brownback. ALEC has also advocated for replacing the public employee pension system with 401(k)-type plans, which Brownback has supported.
“ALEC’s agenda seems to be the backdrop for a number of changes we are seeing in Kansas,” Werth said.
Werth said the main goal of Kansans United is to organize concerned citizens to support valuable state services and programs. At this point, the nonpartisan group doesn’t have a future event scheduled, but she said it will continue working with one of its goals being to increase voter turnout.
“We are about mobilizing the people and giving people a voice,” she said.