Kansas is famous.
Of course, in this Twitter era, you can become “famous” in a few hours, as retweets zip a story around the world and back. But this “fame” frequently blooms as “notoriety.”
In other words, you become famous because you did something foolish or wrong or both (think Justin Bieber). Often this failure is spectacular, which leads us directly to Kansas’ growing “fame.”
Most recently, of course, our fame came through nonstop appearances in the national media, from the New York Times, the Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report to “The Daily Show,” along with dozens of websites. To be sure, the state has produced a host of policy gaffes and nutty political pronouncements over the past few years, but the collective reactions to the bill that restricts welfare spending has raised the level of ridicule to a new level.
The basics are well-known. The Legislature passed and the governor signed a bill that drastically limits the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds, eliminating spending for everything from the mundane (movies) to the mean-spirited (swimming pool admission) to the absurd (cruises). In addition, ATM withdrawals are limited to $25 per day, thus assuring that many recipients incur substantial bank fees.
The legislation, brilliantly given the Orwellian title of the Hope, Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) Act, represents the acme of the Legislature’s 2015 buffoonery, as it avoids dealing with an $800 million shortfall in revenues.
This legislation has received its fair share of attention in the state, national and even international press, so my purpose is not to pile on as to the bill’s substance. Rather, we should worry about the range and depth of reactions to these news stories, editorials, blog posts and comedy shows.
Kansas has, once again, become famous, but in the worst possible way.
The young, hip, smart audience for Jon Stewart or John Oliver finds Kansas being mocked not just in one-liners, but in Stewart’s eight-minute barrage of sarcasm and ridicule.
Legislators may see this as unfair, representing some despicable, predictable coastal bias, but talented young entrepreneurs and prospective employees will likely cross off the possibility of ever working in Kansas.
U.S. News, scarcely a liberal publication, quoted state Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, a lead advocate for the bill: “This is about having a great life.” The magazine snapped back: “Nonsense. This is about political bullying, nothing more.”
Referring to the combination of guns and welfare legislation recently passed in Kansas, one website asked, rhetorically: “People Can Be Trusted With Guns But Not Welfare?” Of course, the welfare legislation does not restrict spending on firearms and ammo.
The slings and arrows go on and on, not just on recent legislation, but on a host of recent policies enacted with little foresight. What do we get? The HOPE Act. Billions of dollars in declining revenues and program cutbacks.
Pretty clearly the state has more problems in managing money than do the poor.
That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is the nation’s conclusion that we truly are a bunch of rubes whose elected officials continually seek out nonproblems while ignoring real ones.
To be sure, right-wing legislators have scored some political points with their constituents, but at what price? Once again Kansas is ridiculed, not respected.
Burdett Loomis is a professor of political science at the University of Kansas.