Opinion: Experience a good teacher, we hope
In education, external events sometimes create a “teachable moment” by illustrating a basic principle. On Nov. 8 Kansas voters considered six years of teachable moments as they rendered the results of the state’s general election.
We have evidence of teachable moments in the state House and Senate election results — probably 85 Republicans and 40 Democrats in the House and 31 Republicans and 9 Democrats in the Senate. However, according to the progressive “Women for Kansas” scorecard, which examined candidate positions on health care, school finance, renewable energy and revenue reconstruction, there are now at least 62 state House members and 20 state Senate members who rate at least a “B” grade. The “at least” is important, because with numbers this large, moderate Republicans and Democrats may generate cooperation and policy agreement. This could reduce the reluctance of members of both bodies for supporting efforts to re-establish the solid, fiscally responsible and moral — if not overly generous — programs and methods Kansas formerly provided to run government and meet the needs of at-risk citizens. Surely, this reflects teachable moments.
A favorite American curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken wrote, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” In November, 2010, they chose to elect Sam Brownback their governor, endorsing his promise of conservatism for Kansas — greatly reduced taxes, a skinnier school financing system, assessable school curricula, and an increase in work and a reduction in public dependency for poor adult Kansans. This was to be adrenalin to the economic heart of Kansas.
It took Brownback a little time to get going. His first legislature in 2011 saw a significant reduction in K-12 Base Student Aid numbers, tightening in workers’ compensation qualifiers and elimination of state support for the arts. The 2012 Session was most notable for the elimination of taxation on the earnings of 330,000 closely held Kansas businesses, adjustments to state income taxes that increased them for the lowest bracket, and increases in sales, cigarette and alcohol taxes. With the 2012 election, the governor and allies took the opportunity to purge the Legislature of the inconstant, insincere and unreliable Republican moderates and as many Democrats as possible. Since then there have been major ongoing efforts, with the aid of legislative conservatives, to move government and government policy in Kansas to the hard right.
By 2013 groups began to counter the policy propaganda coming from the governor’s own spinners and the Kansas Policy Institute, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, and Americans for Prosperity. The Kansas Center for Economic Growth, the Kansas Health Institute News Service, Women for Kansas, Duane Goossen’s blog, “Kansas Budget,” and in 2016 the Save Kansas Coalition consisting of four past governors and others, some of whom were those purged legislative moderates, began a steady, verifiable accounting of the effects of the administration’s policies. With assistance from editorialists, journalists and electronic media the Kansas public began to absorb the meaning of the governor’s policies. As time passed discontents grew, the economy languished and the governor’s approval ratings sank.
Some supporters of the governor have joined him to blame Obama and reversals in the oil patch and agriculture for the lack of a robust outcome to the “Kansas Experiment.” But, the August primaries and Nov. 8 general election had the greater number of voting Kansans deciding that they had grown tired of getting what they wanted “good and hard.” They say that experience is a good teacher. Perhaps we are about to see the truth of that maxim, and the results of teachable moments.
— Mark Peterson teaches political science at the college level in Topeka. He can be reached at email@example.com.