It’s become common to refer to the current political climate as the “new normal.”
We saw how much this new normal has tilted us off our political axis when former Gov. Mike Hayden endorsed Laura Kelly, a Democrat, for governor. In normal times that would have been the final sign of the approaching Armageddon.
The second example of our new reality was the claim by Republican gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach that the same Mike Hayden was a liberal.
All of this happened without Kansas being swallowed up by a cataclysmic earthquake or being cratered by a huge meteor leaving behind the new Ogallala Sea, which created valuable beach-front property in Omaha and Oklahoma City.
Don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet.
Kansas is also sending to Congress a new representative who is a mixed martial arts fighter and a member of the LGBTQ community.
That makes it official. This is the new normal.
That’s good for new 3rd District Rep. Sharice Davids.
It’s not so good for Gov.-elect Kelly who faces a very foreboding electoral map that magnifies the extent of the political divide in our state. She faces the challenge of building support for policy ideas with a Legislature in which only nine counties gave her more votes than Kobach.
It’s an electoral map far more lopsided than anything we’ve seen in recent history.
While it may be hard to imagine, there was a time when Kansans didn’t see their politics and politicians in such stark red and blue terms.
When Democrat Gov. John Carlin was elected to the first of his two terms in 1978, he carried 43 counties, including 19 west of Salina.
Former Democrat Gov. Kathleen Sebelius won 56 counties, including 20 west of Salina, when elected to her first term in 2003.
Kelly carried no counties west of Salina.
So what has happened and why?
One candidate for governor rode in parades on the back of a Jeep with a machine gun, made outlandish claims of voter fraud, said millions of people were voting illegally without evidence and promised to create a $2 billion windfall in the state’s budget with imaginary numbers scratched on the back of an envelope.
This was the candidate who carried the majority of the vote in 96 counties.
The other candidate, our next governor, emphasized that, “I did not campaign on partisan issues. I campaigned on family issues. Instead of being distracted by political fights, my team focused on schools and jobs, as well as the cost of health care, food and child care.”
Admittedly, that’s pretty radical stuff. Sounds like it came straight from the teaching of Mao or Ghandi or even that great socialist FDR.
Is it any surprise she only carried nine counties?
“I’ve never met any voters, regardless of party, who prefer their leaders yell, insult and demean one another instead of getting things done,” added Kelly.
This only further reinforces the fact she represents a fringe element in Kansas. Is Kelly not aware that this is the same state which supported Trump by more than 20 percentage points over Hillary Clinton, a margin which increases significantly as one travels west to the Colorado state line?
All of which still leaves unanswered what happened and why?
It’s not the Democratic Party in Kansas that has changed. The issues of school funding, better highways and caring for the least among us were just as great during the Carlin and Sebelius administrations as they are today.
It’s the Republican Party that has changed. It’s the Republican Party that has become less tolerant of minorities, less understanding of what it means to be impoverished and less compassionate for those who lack access to health care.
This is a party who’s anger and frustration with a changing world is fed daily by President Trump and Fox News. The result has been an unhealthy diet of distrust with government and partisan politics, which makes it difficult to work toward solutions that affect people across the political spectrum.
Instead of tackling solutions as Kansans, we draw battle lines between Democrats and Republicans or between conservatives and moderates.
For example, when talking about future water policy in our state and the need to fund this critical objective, Rep. Doug Blex (R-Independence) hedged his support for a slight increase in the state sales tax by saying, “I’m a strong conservative, but . . .”
The clear implication of his words was, “I support a tax increase, but don’t mistake me for being a liberal Democrat.”
It would have been just as easy to say, “I’m a Kansan who believes in the need to secure water resources for the future of our state.” Period.
That, unfortunately, gets to the heart of the great political chasm. We can’t simply approach issues as Americans, as Kansans or even as members of the human race. It’s red versus blue, urban versus rural, liberal versus conservative.
Those who benefit from this “new normal” aren’t interested in the well-being of our state. We must decide whether we want to return to a normal, which represents who we should be, and once were, as Kansans.