Kris Kobach will not be the next governor of Kansas.
Collectively, we should all be breathing a sigh of relief. But that’s not true across most of the state.
In fact, Kobach carried 96 of the state’s 105 counties. Laura Kelly, somewhat remarkably, carried nine counties by a large enough margin to be elected governor.
That says two things.
First of all, it’s a reminder of how much political clout is packed into a handful of urban areas in Kansas.
Secondly, it signals that something is terribly amiss in rural America, not just Kansas. As election returns were coming in Tuesday night across the country it has become increasingly evident that the Republican stronghold is in aging, largely white rural America and the strength for Democrats can be found in urban areas.
The reason for this split is as illogical as a look at a Kansas map that shows nine blue counties in which Kelly had more than 50 percent of the vote.
When did the interests of rural Kansas become so much different from those of urban Kansas?
Does the need for health care not extend beyond the Shawnee County line? Do people outside Johnson County have no need for their young people to get a quality education? Don’t people outside Wyandotte County want good highways?
These are not urban or rural concerns. These are concerns that should be shared by all Kansans.
Kris Kobach didn’t promise to deliver on any of those issues. Nor did he express a desire to make an investment of any kind in the future of Kansas. Kobach rode around the state on a one-trick tax cut pony borrowed from Sam Brownback.
Apparently, that was good enough for more than 440,000 Kansans.
Kobach won every county west of Salina with more than 50 percent of the vote except Ellis (49), Reno (47) and Finney (45). In most of those counties, Kobach received at least 55 percent of the vote and in many cases much more, such as Wallace County (76 percent), Wichita County (74 percent) and Scott County (67 percent).
These are counties, like every other in the state, that were forced to deal with school funding cuts that cost them millions of dollars in state aid. These counties and many of the cities within them have had to increase property tax mill levies to offset the loss of state revenue.
The resistance to expand Medicaid has resulted in lost revenue to the hospitals in these counties. And Medicaid reimbursement cuts have cost local nursing homes hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Yet, the majority of voters in these counties and more than 90 others across the state said they preferred a governor who not only refused to offer a solution to those issues, but advocated policies that would make the situation worse.
The state’s reluctance to expand Medicaid contributed to the closing of the hospital in Independence in 2015. Kobach received 63 percent of the votes in Montgomery County.
Earlier this year, the hospital in Fort Scott announced plans to close by the end of the year. Kobach received 60 percent of the votes in Bourbon County.
Kobach had no intention of supporting efforts to expand Medicaid. He offered no plan to assist those communities that are losing their hospitals or that face the risk of losing their hospitals.
This isn’t a problem in Kansas City, Topeka or Wichita, but they supported Kelly.
It should be a major concern for many of the rural hospitals that voted overwhelmingly for Kobach.
Kelly didn’t offer urban Kansas some pie-in-the-sky promises of lower taxes, more industry, more jobs, a three-day-work week and free health care. And she didn’t make grand promises that would be paid for on the backs of rural Kansas.
So why the divide? Why are the issues that affect all of us viewed one way in rural Kansas and another way in urban Kansas?
As much as we’d like to think there is some complex answer that will take years of research and countless studies to digest, the answer isn’t nearly that complicated. It’s as simple as the letter that follows the name on the election ballot.
If Laura Kelly had been riding in parades behind a machine gun, or fantasized that more than 3 million people voted illegally for a presidential candidate or offered a plan to save $2 billion in the state’s Medicaid program with numbers pulled from thin air, she would have been laughed out of the state.
She sure wouldn’t be making plans to move into Cedar Crest.
But when Kobach did the outlandish and made absurd claims, more than 60 percent of the voters in rural Kansas were willing to look the other way because he is, after all, a Republican.
If the DNA that’s ingrained in so many voters makes it impossible for them to vote for an individual on the merits of their ideas then something is seriously wrong.
“What’s the matter with Kansas?” Thomas Frank dared to ask.
We know the answer. We obviously aren’t ready to deal with the solution.
Rod Haxton is publisher of The Scott County Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.