Opinion Columns & Blogs

John Carlin: Be willing to change

The following is an excerpt from the Kansas Day speech delivered Friday at Washburn University in Topeka by John Carlin, who was Kansas governor from 1979 until 1987:

After I left office, I was a visiting professor at Wichita State University. One of the books I used at the time was "In Search of Excellence." It proposed a simple "one, two, three" system to succeed: Establish your values, adhere to those values, and be willing to change everything else to succeed.

Too often we confuse tradition, the way we have done things in the past, with values. This confusion interferes with our ability to see and act on necessary changes to our detriment. We certainly don't have to change everything, but we must be willing to make the changes needed to progress and enable our children and grandchildren to compete in the new world reality.

In the past, Kansans were ready for that challenge. Will we be ready as we move into our next 150 years?

As always, the foundation for progress will be the attitude of the people and our leaders. With that as a given, I'd like to discuss some areas that I believe, on balance, are core to the future of this great state.

First, long-term vision, not short-term fixes. We must be willing to make investments that allow us to progress and compete. The reality is that we no longer just compete with Missouri or Illinois; our main competition today is China, India and the rest of the global markets.

Yes, these investments require use of tax dollars. And I know today cutting taxes is a popular and common political theme. But take a moment and look back at our history.

Where would we be if our earlier leaders had failed to invest in our infrastructure and education? I remember assisting in the successful recruitment of an out-of-state company's move to Kansas, and one of the primary issues was finding a location that offered a strong special education program. Business does not always locate to the area with the lowest taxes. The reality is that most businesses just want to be taxed fairly, recognizing the need for supporting education and infrastructure.

Next, education. The importance of education cannot be overemphasized. That has always been the case, but today it is true more than ever. Our children, grandchildren and future generations do not and will not just compete within this state or nation. They are and will continue to be engaged in an intense worldwide competition. An excellent educational system is paramount to their success.

Just as important, if not more so, is the role of education in the viability of our democracy. Strong democracy relies on an educated electorate. A public education that empowers our children and grandchildren with the skills of critical thinking will strengthen our nation for generations to come.

Third, collaboration and partnerships. A cooperative relationship between all levels of government is essential. Blasting Washington has become a popular battle cry, but it simply does not make good sense. Kansas does not have a sufficient tax base, particularly with infrastructure, to financially do the job by itself.

In addition, the competition around the world is investing heavily in research. The fact is that this country's need for more basic research is at a crisis stage, and depending on state-by-state initiatives or corporate funding will not meet the need. A partnership between Kansas and the federal government has benefited and will continue to benefit the state economically and strengthen the nation on many fronts.

Finally, the current political climate. All of us — politicians and citizens alike — need to lower the volume and be willing to have a positive exchange of information and sincerely listen to the other side.

Without question, we as a state are facing very complex challenges in an even more complex political environment. But I have faith in Kansas and its people.

Let us take our place among other generations of Kansans who made decisions not just for today, but for tomorrow. And not just for ourselves but for all Kansans.