Absence of jail funding makes one-time opponents now support Proposition 1

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Justice Matters co-chairman Ted Mosher speaks from a lectern in front of the Douglas County Courthouse as he and other activists kick off their campaign against the proposed expansion of the Douglas County Jail on Saturday, March 3, 2018.

Douglas County Commissioner Michelle Derusseau has taken a different approach to Proposition 1 than she did for a similar ballot question last spring.

Derusseau has not scheduled informational meetings for the current ballot question as she did for the first Proposition 1, which was defeated in May. There’s little need to provide information because county voters are familiar with the issues involved, she said.

“I haven’t had anyone request I give a presentation,” she said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people one-on-one. The people I’ve talked to felt the proposal was pretty close to what we presented in the spring, so they felt pretty comfortable about voting for it.”

The question that appears on the Nov. 6 general election ballot as Proposition 1 asks voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax to fund behavioral health initiatives. If approved, the $4.9 million that the tax would raise annually would provide $750,000 a year to pay off 20-year bonds to build a behavioral health campus, as well as $4.15 million a year for behavioral health programming.

Gone from the ballot question that voters defeated last spring is funding for a $44 million jail expansion. That absence has erased opposition from three organizations that joined a Vote No coalition to campaign against the first Proposition 1. Now, spokespeople for the faith-based activist group Justice Matters, the social justice advocacy group Kansas Appleseed and the taxpayer watchdog group Lawrence Sunset Alliance say they support the latest Proposition 1.

“Our budget doesn’t allow for yard signs this time, but we are doing a lot of things to get out the vote,” said Ben MacConnell, lead organizer for Justice Matters.

Justice Matters’ activities include operating a pro-Proposition 1 phone bank, sending emails urging a yes vote, 57 small-group discussion meetings and a community problems assembly at which the 300 attending were urged to vote for the ballot question and to encourage other county voters to do the same, MacConnell said.

Benet Magnuson, executive director of Kansas Appleseed, said his organization has sent emails and posted social media messages in support of Proposition 1. It has been a low-key effort compared with the group’s active role last spring.

“I think, only because it seems like the public support for it is so overwhelming, it doesn’t call for us to do a lot,” he said.

The Lawrence Sunset Alliance put aside its opposition to sales taxes to support the second Proposition 1, said member Patrick Wilbur. The group thinks the County Commission made a good compromise by advancing ballot language without a jail expansion, he said.


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