Opinion: A wish list for the people of Kansas

Christmas is a tough season for a political columnist. We are a grumpy bunch who find a lot to grouse about. This season, however, should bring good cheer and well wishes for our fellow humans. Herewith an effort to put a little cheer into a meager Kansas political Christmas.

With the 2016 election over and the jockeying well underway for position and power, we are being treated to various Kansas politicians from the governor on down seemingly determined to dampen our holiday spirits by focusing on the annual convocation of the Legislature and the various revenue and policy messes with which it must deal. In an effort to maintain some happiness and good humor in this season it seems appropriate to send Santa a last minute wish list for the good people of Kansas.

First, for the Statehouse press corps, a year’s supply of Gorilla Glue in the handy insta-spray applicator. This will help capture the cartoon balloons of rhetoric from the governor and his spinners concerning the great importance he attaches to not providing any substantive proposals for reducing expenditures now, and possibly forever more, to fit the state’s purposely diminished revenues. With these new applicators, journalists will be able to retain and analyze the “substance” of these statements in their recently acquired “truth-o-meters.”

Second, for Sen. Anthony Hensley, the Kansas Senate minority leader, a fashionable new Kevlar and Teflon suit. This is no “ugly sweater” gift offered as a practical joke. This new garment will protect Kansas’ longest serving, and perhaps longest suffering, legislator from blunt force injuries and mud slung his way by the Republican administration. An educator by trade, the good senator keeps annoying people by suggesting that the governor should be applying better critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Third, for Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wassail Cup of wisdom with a side order of tempered ambition. This will be a most trying legislative session. After years of experience at speaking tough conservative rhetoric to her allies in Wichita’s famed Pachyderm Club, while managing efforts at the doable and expedient during legislative sessions, she will have a new set of circumstances to confront this year. She has signaled her displeasure with some hard-right attitudes. Once an eager and active participant in the Koch sponsored, politically conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Sen. Wagle has become more centrist. In the last legislative session she executed a tart and tough dismissal of one social conservative senator from a committee chair’s position and had some pointed criticism for the governor as well. This term there are enough moderate Republicans in the senate that policy majorities, built jointly with the nine Democrats Senator Hensley leads, could stop the governor’s “glidepath to zero” tax reduction program, reverse the 2012 tax cuts and constructively deal with school finance and Medicaid expansion.

Finally, for the Kansas House of Representatives, peace and goodwill. The voters made a clear statement favoring significant changes in public policies as to the state’s services and how to pay for them. The house is full of new, inexperienced members. The moderate Republicans and Democrats could come together and accomplish a good bit to fix the revenue shortage and address the policy issues, but it will take hard work and intelligence, coupled with a sharp reduction in aggressive partisanship. That will be a tall order in a body where many are strangers to one another and alpha personalities abound. Peace and goodwill may sound Pollyannish, but broad observation provides plenty of illustrations of what goes wrong when these qualities are absent.

— Dr. Mark Peterson teaches political science at the college level in Topeka.