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Arrogant Republican leaders think they know better than everyday Kansans


Arrogant Republican leaders think they know better than everyday Kansans

Apr 17, 2024 | 4:33 am ET
By Clay Wirestone
Arrogant Republican leaders think they know better than everyday Kansans
Kansas Republican Chairman Mike Brown claimed in a recent newsletter that Kansans didn't want or need Medicaid expansion or medical marijuana. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The men steering Republican Party policy in Kansas believe they know better than you.

These Grand Old Party leaders share a peculiar, cramped view of the world that caters to the cravings of wealthy donors and ideological squeaky wheels while leaving the rest of us out to dry. Sure, they might ask for our precious votes on Election Day. But all those other days? We might as well pound sand.

I’ve often written about the fundamental brokenness of the Kansas Legislature. How on earth, I’ve wondered time and again, can dozens of smart and compassionate folks converge on Topeka only to disgorge poisonous sludge?

The answer can be contained in one word.


No reader in good faith could classify recent screeds from state party chairman Mike Brown and legislative leadership as anything else. These three men, all of whom wield immense power over the state party and its priorities, explicitly deny and denigrate the people they supposedly represent.

Brown’s weekly newsletter, by and for Kansas Republicans, led off with a shocking column April 12. I’m going to reproduce it in full below, dripping with contempt, misspellings and odd capitalization choices. Kansans need to know what one of the two major political parties thinks of them and their priorities.

The party chairman claims of Medicaid expansion (which would benefit 152,000 of his fellow residents): “This is a long-settled issue and KANSANS DO NOT WANT MEDICAID EXPANSION no matter how many times the progressive liberal loons drag it back up. Period.”

Of medical marijuana, he goes full “Reefer Madness“: “Wrecked lives, death, organized crime, gangs, child trafficking, prostitution, and myriad other bad things come with marijuana.”

I thought Republicans were the party of personal responsibility, not enthusiastic proponents of the nanny state.

Republicans Stand Fully Opposed to Legalized Marijuana, Medicaid Expansion

Apparently the old adage of “nothing ever dies completely in Topeka” holds true.

Two Kansas Senators have resurrected two distinct bills from a committee to be considered when they return to Topeka.

One “Lazarus” bill, raised from the dead and resurrected by former Republican-turned-liberal-loon-Demorat, Dinah Sikes. This ultra-liberal mess of a Senator wants to try, again, to force Medicaid Expansion on Kansans against their will. This is a long-settled issue and KANSANS DO NOT WANT MEDICAID EXPANSION no matter how many times the progressive liberal loons drag it back up. Period.

The other “Lazarus” bill is being brought forward is by conservative Republican Senator, Rob Olsen, of Olathe. This bad bill pushes for the legalization of medicinal marijuana.

There are two problems with this;

1. Medicinal marijuana leads to recreational marijuana. It is demonstrable in state after state and our neighbor to the south, Oklahoma, has seen the very real downside of legalized marijuana and is now working to reel it back in. Wrecked lives, death, organized crime, gangs, child trafficking, prostitution, and myriad other bad things come with marijuana. All of these points make marijuana a “no-go” for the vast majority of Republicans.

2. The part of marijuana that is “medicinal” is called CBD. This extract can be purchased without the other parts of marijuana and CBD is already legal in Kansas. The marijuana ofntodayboant the same weed as we all knew about in the 1960’s-early 1990’s. It is MUCH more potent… And dangerous. The bottom line is this: there is no need for any legalization of marijuana in Kansas.

The Kansas Republican Party calls on all Kansans to locate and contact their state legislators and tell them;

No Medicaid Expansion.

No Medicinal Marijuana.

No Way.

— Mike Brown, “Conservatively Speaking”

This must come as a surprise to all the Kansas Republicans who wholeheartedly support both policies.

Yet we have more. Senate President Ty Masterson and House Speaker Dan Hawkins both want Kansans to know just how dandy their latest tax bill is. Sure, sure, previous versions of the plan crashed and burned when lawmakers understood how wealthy Kansans stood to benefit the most. On Monday, the leaders insisted they finally had it right.

“It’s truly significant that we’re signing this compromise tax relief bill, that is backed by notably strong bipartisan support, on Tax Day,” the dynamic duo wrote. “All Kansans are now just one signature away from relief from the burden of high property, income, Social Security, and food sales tax. Kansas has a burgeoning budget surplus and it’s time to deliver that money back to Kansas taxpayers where it belongs. We call on the governor to sign this tax relief bill right away.”

Nice of them to use Gov. Laura Kelly’s name. Oh wait, they didn’t. At least Kansas tax experiments always work out for the best, right?


Arrogant Republican leaders think they know better than everyday Kansans
Senate President Ty Masterson (right) and Speaker of the House Dan Hawkins outline the Republican legislative agenda on Jan. 10, 2023. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

What Kansans believe

We don’t have to wonder what Kansans actually think about these issues. We’re fortunate that one of our major four-year universities — Fort Hays State — conducts a yearly poll asking Kansans about the issues important to them.

The Kansas Speaks survey has shown over and over again the people of our state support Medicaid expansion by a wide margin. In 2023, the number sat at 69.6%. The survey also shows that Kansans support marijuana legalization by a wide margin. That came in at 67.2%, for full recreational use.

The most recent poll didn’t ask about income taxes, but the 2021 version did. And while you might imagine that no one would ever tell a pollster they wanted to pay taxes, you would be incorrect when it came to Kansans. An actual majority of Kansans — 51.3% — wanted to fork over more or the same amount of taxes. Yes, it surprised me too.

We know what Kansans want. They want expanded Medicaid, legal weed and the current tax burden.

Apparently state Republican leaders just don’t give a damn.

There are two big reasons why this happens. One is the Republican leaders simply think they know better. In the not-so-complimentary words of former Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, they present a “strongman daddy figure.” The other is that state politics have evolved structurally to protect lawmakers from the usual incentives. That is, what their own constituents overwhelmingly want.

We know that many seats in the Legislature don’t see real competition between parties. In 2022, that meant general election voters didn’t have a choice for half of House seats. Even in contested races, the GOP’s statewide registration advantage gives Republicans a clear edge.

Much of the say, then, goes to the tiny number of folks who show up for primary elections.

Secretary of State Scott Schwab’s office shows that of 1,861,264 registered voters in 2020, only 34.2% turned out for primary election. Of 2.9 million total Kansans, 636,034 of the most devoted partisans picked the standard-bearers for everyone.

Lawmakers then, regardless of their values and aspirations, find themselves at the mercy of a tiny minority of voters. They also have have to assuage rapacious special interests that can make or break campaigns with glossy mailers. Good luck proposing or passing policy meant to benefit every Kansan.

A spirited handful of motivated groups want to break this logjam. The Kansans First educational organization has been working to restore moderate Republican voices. Kelly’s Middle of the Road PAC wants to do the same for members of both parties. No one involved believes that the path toward a more representative Kansas government will be simple or easy. Brown, Masterson and Hawkins have burrowed too deeply underneath the skin of the state party for painless extraction.

Yet a healthy and responsive state government depends on giving constituents what they actually want.

Not spitting on them and demanding they say thank you.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.