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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rally at Capitol protests Brownback's policies

BY BRENT D. WISTROM
The Wichita Eagle

TOPEKA — More than 200 people, including 40-plus Wichitans, rallied on the steps of the Capitol on Friday morning, calling on Kansans to unify against many of Gov. Sam Brownback's initiatives.

Asked why she came to the rally, Carol Cummings of Wichita simply said: "We don't like Brownback."

Her primary concern, shared by many at the rally, was Brownback's decision to eliminate the Kansas Arts Commission.

The rally was organized by the newly-formed Kansans United in Voice & Spirit, which advocates for the protection of state services. The group says it wants to educate people about the "consequences of regressive policy making and ideological mandates."

It attracted a crowd with a variety of concerns, which included criticism of the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that writes model legislation for states; disgust with office closures and funding cuts to the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services; predictions of what cuts to education could mean; and a petition protesting Brownback's decision to reject a $31.5 million federal grant intended to set up a health care exchange.

Billie Knighton, a clinical social worker from Wichita, raised a stack of petitions wrapped in red ribbon above her head and told the crowd she had 3,039 signatures she planned to deliver to Brownback's office protesting the return of the federal health care exchange grant.

Asked what she expects in response from the governor's office, she said: "I think a secretary will smile and say thank you and that's it."

Meanwhile, other petitions circulated the crowd and people held up signs in support of their opinions.

"Jobs not cuts," one sign said. Another said "No more ALEC. Think for yourself." And another read "You have the right to remain silent but I don't recommend it."

Asked for a response to sentiments voiced at the rally, Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag, issued the following statement: "In the past eight months, Kansas has added more than 13,000 private sector jobs and turned a budget deficit into a $100 million surplus, but there's still a lot of work to do."

Judy Castor, a 66-year-old who rode to the Capitol on a bus with about 40 others from the Wichita area, said it was the first political rally of her life.

She said she feels that Brownback's administration is sending a message that everyone should fend for themselves.

"In a perfect world, that'd be fine," she said. "But we don't live in a perfect world."

Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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