It’s dangerous to extrapolate from small sample sizes, and one springtime election in one Kansas city certainly qualifies as small.
But the growing number of Kansans who are alarmed about our politics’ lurch to the far right and the motives of the people behind it could, if they looked, find in last week’s Wichita vote some glimmer of hope.
The hope arises not because of who won but, perversely, because of who did not win. And why, maybe, that might, or just possibly could, create hope. And after six years of elections in which Kansas and the Wichita area moved inexorably further right, the “maybes” and “mights” and “probablys” are as much as one could expect.
This isn’t about a resurgence of the left, for Kansas doesn’t have a left wing. In four decades here, I have met only a handful of actual liberals and not a single living, breathing socialist. The Kansas tradition of moderation has been redefined as leftist, not because the moderates have changed but because conservatives have shifted so radically away from them.
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Rather, this is about the hope and need to begin to move away from a cold and pinched governing mindset characterized by incivility and lack of concern for all but the well-off and well-connected.
It’s a place that Kansans have put themselves with their votes – or failure to vote: Barely 1 in 4 (24.9 percent) of eligible Kansas voters, for instance, re-elected Gov. Sam Brownback.
It’s too late to avoid some of the damage that the wave of immoderate officeholders are doing under Brownback’s leadership and inspiration. But the stark new Kansas reality they are creating could be awakening moderates who have allowed themselves to be muscled aside and marginalized by the far right’s money and ideological ferocity.
Absent extensive surveying, it’s impossible to know why Wichitans voted as they did last week. But the outcomes – the list of who did not win this time – suggest that some changes may be percolating. It’s not too late for some of the radical right’s malfeasance to be undone in future elections by a resurgence of moderation, a phrase that would sound oxymoronic outside of today’s extreme, one-dimensional ideological construct but, sadly, makes sense within it.
Among the glimmers of hope:
Charles Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, which casts its shadow over every local and state officeholder’s votes and routinely threatens to “hold accountable” the ones who don’t hew to its line, backed Sam Williams for mayor of Wichita. AFP did not win.
The Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce political action committee did likewise. It did not win.
Williams ran a classic negative campaign full of false and distorted claims about Jeff Longwell’s record as a City Council member. Williams also said that what Kansas needs is four more years of Gov. Sam Brownback. He did not win.
Along with Longwell being elected mayor, two sitting City Council and two school board members were re-elected, plus a park board member was moved up to City Council. The government-is-always-bad-and-wasteful-and-must-die crowd did not win.
The referendum to ease marijuana-possession penalties passed, driven by high percentages of approval in urban areas whose residents are the people most severely damaged by existing city ordinances. Irrationality and fear did not win.
Hardly a revolution at the polls, but we could be hearing a faint drumbeat off in the distance.
Davis Merritt, a Wichita journalist and author, can be reached at email@example.com.