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Will was clear on arts

  • Published Wednesday, August 24, 2011, at 5:21 a.m.

Gov. Sam Brownback defended his signing of anti-abortion laws that are now tied up in the courts, saying last week that “it was the will of the Legislature and the people of the state of Kansas.”

It’s questionable whether the public wanted the state to defund Planned Parenthood (65 percent of Americans favor continued funding for Planned Parenthood, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll) or to impose unrealistic licensing requirements on abortion clinics. But voters did elect the state lawmakers who passed these bills — so Brownback has a point.

But using that same rationale, why did Brownback ignore the will of the Legislature and the public by vetoing funding for the Kansas Arts Commission?

Brownback issued an executive reorganization order in January to abolish the state arts agency, but a clear, bipartisan majority of the Kansas Senate blocked the order. The full Legislature then approved continued funding this fiscal year for the commission.

The public also made its will known with e-mails, letters and phone calls supporting the commission. State Rep. JoAnn Pottorff, R-Wichita, said she received more citizen feedback on this issue than any other in her 14 terms in the Legislature.

Those Brownback said he was trying to help — Kansas artists and arts groups — also made clear that they opposed his plan to privatize funding.

Yet despite the clear will of lawmakers , the public and the arts community, Brownback vetoed the commission’s funding and laid off all its staff.

Throughout this debate, arts officials warned that eliminating public funding for the commission would endanger about $1.2 million in funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mid-America Arts Alliance. But Brownback insisted that Kansas could still get the funding.

Then last week the NEA informed Kansas that, sure enough, it would not receive federal matching funds. The regional alliance is expected to decide likewise.

“It’s just been the biggest fiasco ever,” said Peggy Cummings, executive director of the Bourbon County Arts Council, which has had to close its office because of the loss of funding.

The Wichita Black Arts Festival announced it is canceling its annual Labor Day weekend festival this year in part because the loss of Kansas Arts Commission funding.

Brownback now says he is confident that enough private money can be raised to replace the loss of both state and federal funding. Though that has yet to happen, and the newly formed Kansas Arts Foundation appears to be floundering, it’s possible that some of Brownback’s wealthy boosters will bail him out by donating money — at least this year.

Still, for a governor so concerned about the will of the public on abortion — whether or not it truly exists — Brownback has treated the public’s will on the arts with remarkable disdain.

— For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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