Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University, wrote a commentary that caught my eye (April 12 Opinion). He claims that an east-west political divide in the Legislature is harming the interest of western Kansas. He provided demographic statistics to bolster his claim, but ended up with a woefully flawed conclusion.
As a professor of Kansas history at Kansas State University, I know of times in the past when folks in the western half of the state have seriously thought about seceding. But what is going on now does not resemble those situations. Rather, a radical Republican Legislature is harming the public good in western Kansas.
Rackaway correctly pointed out that Senate Bill 7, the implementation of block-grant state funding, is detrimental to public school systems in western Kansas. What does not hold up is his argument that SB 7 is symptomatic of the eastern half of Kansas wanting “the western half to go away.”
Consider that the scant 28 remaining Democrats in the House live east of I-135, yet all voted against SB 7. The same voting pattern held true for the eight remaining Democrats in the Senate.
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Clearly, Republicans are responsible for SB 7. The margin for SB 7 was seven votes in the House and 11 in the Senate. Of the nine Republican senators who could be said to represent districts largely west of I-135, seven voted for the bill. In the House, 11 Republicans from districts largely west of I-135 voted for SB 7. Change four “yes” votes to “no,” and SB 7 would not have passed. Four Democratic candidates running for the House in 2014 could have made all the difference had they won.
Rackaway placed blame on those seemingly insensitive people in the eastern part of the state as the ones responsible for the woes in western Kansas. But a closer look does not reveal an east-west divide in Kansas politics. Rather, there is a failure of voters to recognize which candidate will actually protect their interests, in this case their public schools. The real problem lies with electing radical Republicans in western Kansas – or anywhere in the state – who vote against the public good of their own districts.
Jim Sherow is a professor of Kansas history at KSU and was a Democratic candidate for Congress in 2014.