“Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle’s decision to remove reporters from the Senate chamber Wednesday was unconstitutional and unnecessary.”

Those words came from the Kansas City Star editorial board last week following Wagle’s decision to remove everyone from the Senate chamber at the Capitol. The chamber was cleared in response to disruptive protests targeting Wagle and Senate leadership over their refusal to allow a straight vote on a bill passed by the House of Representatives that would have expanded KanCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

The protesters could have simply been arrested and escorted out, and then the Senate could have resumed its business. But Wagle wanted to prevent the press on hand from reporting on the protest.

According to the Star, a Wagle staff member said journalists were giving the protesters “an audience.”

That’s garbage. Reporting is what journalists do. We are the eyes and ears of the public, and keeping an eye on government is a responsibility that was written into the United States Constitution. Any kind of disruption that halts the business of the Senate or the House is newsworthy, and reporting that news is not an endorsement of either side in the KanCare debate.

But Sen. Wagle did not want you to know about this interruption. She’s feeling a bit sensitive over the heat she and other Senate leaders have undertaken to prevent passage of KanCare expansion – an expansion that has enough votes to pass the Senate, by the way, if a vote were allowed.

Her efforts were to keep you, the public, from knowing what happened. It’s a move that backfired.

I find the timing of these events very interesting. Thirty years ago this week, the Chinese government rolled into Tiananmen Square with tanks and guns, brutally suppressing pro-democracy demonstrations that had gone on for weeks, and had spread from Beijing outward to many parts of that vast nation.

An accurate death toll was never compiled. Hundreds most surely died, and it is more likely that thousands of Chinese citizens perished at the hands of their own government. They were shot, beaten, and even run over by those tanks.

Many of the protestors were college students, just like I was at the time. Many gave their lives, not defending freedom, but simply trying to acquire just a little bit of it.

It was a tipping point for China. Coming in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the failure of the Soviet Union, the world’s last major communist state looked like it might take an historic turn toward democracy. Instead, murder followed and Chinese citizens have been feeling the impact since then.

The news of the horrendous events of June 3-4, 1989, have now been suppressed by the Chinese government for three decades. Many young Chinese have no knowledge of what happened. To this day, most Chinese who are old enough to remember are too afraid to speak for fear of retribution.

The effort to erase Tiananmen Square from Chinese history continues. Online information is censored. There are no mentions in history books or state-controlled media.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that what happened in China 30 years ago and what happened last week in Topeka are the same. Reporters immediately began sharing details of events. The story got out, even if there weren’t photos or video of the arrests. Those reporters are not in danger of going to prison or otherwise disappearing, simply for doing their jobs.

I suppose Wagle’s attempt to suppress the truth last week could simply be a reaction to stress. If so, maybe she should seek a job that won’t be so taxing. But if the Senator is willing to silence the press over a small handful of protesters, what else might she try to hide us? 

One of the most enduring images from 30 years ago was “Tank Man,” an unknown citizen who put himself in front of a line of tanks in a show of defiance that was seen around the world. It is considered one of the most powerful images of the 20th Century. With that scene in mind, there is something about last week’s events in Topeka that struck me as uncomfortable and even a bit ominous.

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