Opinion: Kansans should reclaim power

March 19, 2014


It was reported this week that during a hearing on a proposed bill to ban judicial lobbying, Craig Gabel, from Kansans for Liberty, said that he was testifying on behalf of the “common citizens” of Kansas. When I read this, I immediately began to wonder about how the “common citizen” of Kansas actually gets heard in the Legislature. Indeed, I began to wonder whether the views of the ordinary Kansan are heard in Topeka anymore.

On one level, of course, ordinary citizens’ views are heard through their elected officials or, at least, that’s the theory. In recent years, however, voter turnout in many parts of Kansas has been abysmally low. I have, in the past, questioned whether some of the bills introduced in this legislative session have really represented the beliefs of ordinary Kansans. To my mind, the problem with our current system in which so few Kansans go to the polls is that elected officials often represent the views of a vocal minority of voters who are motivated to vote because of specific “hot button” issues. The majority of Kansans often don’t vote in elections so to say that elected officials represent the “common citizen” is really not accurate at all. These legislators often represent minority views allowed to prevail by general voter apathy.

It is certainly true that the average citizen, if motivated enough to take the time and effort, can testify before the Legislature on various issues. I have done it and it’s a great deal of work, but well worth it to be heard by those in the corridors of power. But I wonder how many Kansans actually do this. My sense is that very few ordinary Kansans actually testify before our Legislature. On the other hand, anyone who visits the Capitol during the time when the Legislature is in session knows that the building is filled to the brim with lawyers and lobbyists often representing groups with patriotic and inspirational names that, in reality, represent small, special interest groups.  I really cannot think of very many lobbyists who really represent the ordinary Kansan.

Then there are the polls and the so-called “objective studies.” We seem to be overrun by these. But, here again, one has to ask whether these are truly objective. The very fact that most of these polls and studies seem to reflect the political and economic views of the groups that pay for them suggest that they are not truly objective at all.

I’m afraid that I have to conclude that we don’t really know what the ordinary Kansan thinks about most issues that come before the Legislature. Indeed, I suspect that the ordinary Kansan knows little about most of the bills that go through the Legislature each year. And that’s a pity. It’s a pity because I believe that the ordinary Kansan is a decent person who cares about his neighbors and about the state and those views need to be heard in Topeka. Unfortunately, the ordinary Kansan doesn’t care enough to vote regularly or to take the time to tell his representative what is important to him or to actually come to Topeka to tell the Legislature directly what he thinks.

I think that those Kansans who are unhappy about legislative actions should stop complaining in private unless they are willing to take action themselves. Ours is a state with a proud history of populism. We the people are not powerless. We can speak and we can tell our leaders what we want and what we value. But there is only one way that ordinary Kansans will be heard in Topeka: through the ballot box and through personal involvement. There was a common slogan in the 1960’s that I think Kansans need to remember: “power to the people.” It is time for ordinary Kansans to speak out and to act. Only then will we really know what the “common citizen” believes.

— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 1 month ago

"But there is only one way that ordinary Kansans will be heard in Topeka: through the ballot box and through personal involvement."

That is very true, and is the very foundation of Democracy. Democracy as we know it today is very old, stretching back for centuries. Neglecting the notable examples of ancient Greece and Rome from 2,000 and more years ago, among others, our modern origins of Democracy stem from British Common Law, which had its earliest beginnings in the Magna Carta (Latin for Great Charter), which was signed in June, 1215.

At the rate we're going, we may lose it in much less time than it took to develop it, considering that it took us almost 800 years to get to where we are now.

The democracy of the Weimar Republic in Germany, established at the conclusion of World War I, in 1918, was lost to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (Nazi party) in the 1930s.

It's interesting that Adolf Hitler never received more than 30% of any popular vote. But after being appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg, he was able to invoke whatever laws he wanted by using political power to make law that was supposed to be reserved for use only during war. But he became wildly popular because he solved the economic problems by putting the entire country on a war footing. And, after successfully invading a couple countries, his hold on power became absolute. Then it was too late.

Sound familiar? It should.

It took Adolf Hitler only about 20 years to completely take over Germany, and it was done by using entirely legal means.

If the citizens in the United States do not pay more attention to what is happening in their state and federal government, I don't think they should be at all surprised if a similar disaster were to happen here.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 1 month ago

Here's other ways the anti American right wing is taking over Kansas and the USA.

ALEC Right Wing Party is posing as the republican party which is fraudulent representation of the GOP as in Kansas.

Rather than serve the public interest, ALEC champions the agenda of corporations which are willing to pay for access to legislators and the opportunity to write their very own legislation.

It helps surrogates and lobbyists for corporations to draft and promote state bills which:

  • wages war on women

• gut environmental laws

• create a regressive tax system

• eliminate workers’ rights = lower wages

• undermine universal and affordable health care

• privatize public education

• chip away at voting rights.


United States of ALEC http://www.democracynow.org/2012/9/27/the_united_states_of_alec_bill

People For The American Way Say’s Dump Doma http://site.pfaw.org/site/PageServer?pagename=dump_doma&autologin=true

More on People For The American Way http://www.pfaw.org

Richard Heckler 4 years, 1 month ago

ALEC at this point represents several state legislatures. Koch boys ,Waltons and associates are donating to campaigns throughout the USA.

The Washington D.C. GOP delegation also receives their "agenda" and talking points by way of ALEC. ALEC has a new partner named Aegis Strategic

The firm, named Aegis Strategic, is run by a former top executive at Charles and David Koch's flagship advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, and it was founded with the blessing of the brothers' political advisers, three Republican operatives tell Mother Jones.

Aegis says it can manage every aspect of a campaign, including advertising, direct mail, social media, and fundraising.

The consulting firm Aegis Strategic plans to handpick local, state, and federal candidates who share the Kochs' politics.


Lynn R. Smith 4 years, 1 month ago

Check out Mr. Gabel and his issues in Wichita as an ordinary citizen and almost getting into trouble over campaign donations.

And this comments in a neighborhood newspaper about making threats.

James Nelson 4 years, 1 month ago

I agree ordinary Kansans need to reclaim the state. The sheer numbers say there is no way the poor and middle class in Kansas would wish to pick up the slack in state revenues because the rich no longer pay state income tax. How did the governor get the poor and middle classes in Kansas to go into the voting booth and vote into office those who have gone on to slit the poor and middle class citizens' throats? They have done this by promising to end state income taxes for everyone, its just that they started with the rich. Everyone else will continue to pay and pay. Now it is looking like the governor greatly miscalculated how much he could strip out of the state budget to offset reduced income tax revenue. The poor and middle classes look to schools to provide a springboard for their children to get ahead. Funding for schools, including state universities, has been whacked hard and test scores in some areas have dropped. Recent news stated Kansas teachers salaries are near the bottom of the list.

I guess the rich are doing pretty good.

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