Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In Defense of Sam Brownback: You Play to Win the Game

On Tuesday, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, by a vote of 65-31, was confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services by the United States Senate. Despite widespread conservative opposition, including the rather substantial 31 votes against her, both Kansas Senators, Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback, voted for her.

Roberts and Brownback, both pro-life, were criticized in press releases and statements by conservative pro-life organizations, including Operation Rescue and Kansans for Life. Many conservative individuals will criticize them both -- particularly Brownback -- for a lack of principles, and threaten not to support him for Governor.

While their frustration with Senators Bronwback and Roberts is understandable, we believe that these individuals should take a step back and look at the big picture here.

Certainly, a vote against confirming Sebelius would have been acceptable. She has an atrocious record on life and health care issues. She has been commander-in-chief of the opposition to pro-life legislation and the pro-life movement in Kansas. Not to mention, she has stood in the way of reform on a number of other issues, whether it be on energy, taxes, or the size of government. She is no friend and certainly a no vote is justifiable.

However, it is for those very reasons that a yes vote was also justfiable -- particularly when all the other political AND policy factors are taken into consideration -- such as the fact it gets Sebelius out of Kansas, for one; and two, it ensure that the winner of the Tiahrt/Moran Senate primary will be facing a much weaker Democrat than the substantial and real political force that is Kathleen Sebelius.

Now, some may be aghast at such a statement -- "you're putting politics before principle!!" There is another argument, however. First of all -- there are actual principled policy reasons for removing Sebelius from the Governorship; and second of all, the fact is what we're talking about here IS politics -- there is no getting around it. Most dedicated principled conservatives compete in politics not for the political game but for the end results of such victories. However, in order to get there -- you have to win. In the famous words of former Chiefs Coach Herman Edwards, "You Play to Win the Game."

Now, does that mean you throw aside all principles for the sake of political victory? Of course note. Any effective principled politician must weigh both sides of those two words -- both the
"principled" and the "politician".

In this case, if a vote against Kathleen Sebelius would have meant we'd have a chance at a pro-life HHS Secretary, a no vote would be the only vote, even if there were political and policy consequences in Kansas.

However, everyone knows that that is not the case here. We have a very pro-abortion President in President Obama, who was going to nominate a pro-abortion HHS Secretary under ANY circumstance. Therefore, in this instance, the choices were as follows:

- Vote No (which from media reports, in both Roberts' and Brownback's cases, would have derailed her nomination) and she can't be HHS and conservatives are happy. However, she stays in Kansas as Governor, meaning she is not only a huge legislative roadblock but is a likely foe in the 2010 Senate race to succeed Brownback, and serves as a turnout force for Democrats in general in a year where conservatives have a chance to make substantial gains in Kansas. Not only that, Obama appoints another pro-abort.

- Vote Yes, which ensures her confirmation. She leaves Kansas and though she is a liberal HHS Secretary and conservatives are mad, she is no longer a legislative roadblock and less of a political force than before, and the deck is largely cleared for either Tiahrt or Moran to hold the Senate seat, and Democrats have no motivational force to drive turnout in 2010.

So, essentially, we have two terrible choices and it is up to every Senator to make an individual decision about what is the best one. For a conservative Senator outside Kansas, a no vote might make sense. There was no risk in doing so. However, for a conservative Senator from Kansas, whose vote could derail the nomination, the choice was huge. Do you vote to keep her as Governor and thus keep her as a legislative roadblock and political force that could potentially take over the very Senate seat you are leaving, putting in danger any hopes of major Republican gains...or....do you vote to send her to HHS, thus making conservatives mad and also putting this very pro-abort woman as head of this important cabinet department?

In this case, one could make a strong case that given the circumstances, particularly the certainty Obama would have appointed someone pro-abortion anyway, and given both the political and the policy consequences associated with keeping her as Governor,that the right political AND principled vote was to vote to confirm Kathleen Sebelius.

In the world of politics and policy, in order to achieve the right policy, you have to play politics. Sam Brownback played to win the game.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Turning the Tea Parties into a Movement

April 15, 2009 was an interesting day in American politics. Across the nation, tens of thousands of Americans, fed up with high taxes, out of control spending, billions of dollars in bailouts, and a rather dramatic shift in the role of government took to the streets in a good old-fashioned display of First Amendment speech.

Liberals in the media blasted and made fun of these events. Some criticized them as unpatriotic or even racist. In a failure to grasp what they were about, some even said that the party-goers didn't even understand what a tea party meant, calling them "not historically accurate" -- as if all tea parties had to be for the same reason, rather than a symbol of government excess and legislators not doing the right thing. There was a clear disconnect between the outrage of the party goers and those who criticized them. You often wonder how they could be living in the same country.

From our perspective here at Kaw & Border, the Tea Parties were a refreshing display of activism from not only "conservatives", but Americans in general -- particularly after years of asking the question "where's the outrage?" Outrage at the fact that in this economy, we're not talking about massive tax cuts but rather massive tax increases. Outrage at the fact that we've let the federal government essentially take control of such large segements of the economy. As we covered two weeks ago following the pathetically low turnout in local elections, one often wonders if people truly care anymore -- and even if they do, if they will ever find out the true facts about what is going on in politics. So from that perspective, the hundreds of thousands of people speaking up was a very, very good thing.

But, like all political protests, if nothing of substance results from those loud and numerous voices -- the events were nothing more than a bunch of people holding up signs complaining -- but not doing anything action-oriented to right the wrongs they are upset about.

Anyone involved in the grassroots of politics (particularly Kansas politics) can testify to the frustration of the lack of participation in elections. Not simply voting, as a lot of folks do that, but actual participation -- getting involved in campaigns, donating to candidates, organizing precincts, or simply educating one's neighbor -- the true characertistics of not only a successful campaign but of a real movement. The definition of a poltiical movement is one where one passionate and engaged portion of the electorate (as the tea party goers are) moves another interested, but less passionate portion (the public at large) to action as well. A successful political movement is shown in election results -- when a state or the country shifts dramatically in one direction.

Sometimes these movements are slow, as with the Reagan Revolution, which basically started in the mid 60's but did not really take off completely until 1980 with Reagan's election and then again in 1994 with the takeover of Congress. In today's internet age, where information travels so quickly, movements have a chance to grow much quicker, as we saw with this year's tea parties, which were rather spontaneous and true displays of grassroots participation.

The question for the tea parties is whether they will simply be one display in reaction to current events, or a sustained movement -- something that truly moves voters and moves a nation.

It's been said in politics that 1% of the people do the organizing, and then those 1% hope 5% do the work, and then those 5% hope to get the other 94% to just show up. In the case of the tea parties, the 5% have shown up -- the question is whether they will do the long term ground work to get the 94% to one, follow their direction, and two, vote.

As we discussed in our most recent piece covering the controversy at JCCC surrounding Ben Hodge, we found it quite ironic that a tea party being held at JCCC had 10,000 people, yet so many of those very folks didn't know, until Ben Hodge told them, that the very types of things they were protesting were going on at the very school they were holding a rally at. Yet how many of those people voted in the Spring election? Not many, which is why Hodge lost.

Simiarily, how many of those people -- or the tens or even hundreds of thousands that showed up at tea parties nationwide -- will get behind candidates in the next election? Will they donate even $5 to a favorite candidate? Will they even put a a yard sign, or walk door to door, or survey their neighborhood? Think if all 10,000 people at the JCCC rally gave just $5 to favorable candidates running for city council or the state legislature in Johnson County. That would be $50,000 -- more than enough to make a difference between victory and defeat for any candidate who is campaigning on the principles the party goers are striving for.

One potentially troubling thing to us was how many of the tea party goers seemed to hate politicians in general. While that anger indeed may be with good reason, one danger in that is that they will shun all politicians -- even the good ones who are trying their best to stop the outrageous policies they are protesting -- and that in the end, will crush any hopes of achieving the kind of real impact the tea party goers are striving for.

So, what's our message to the tea party-going masses? First, research the candidates and find the ones who talk about principles, not just politics. Second, get involved with their campaigns -- donate to them, walk with them, and talk to your neighbors about them. Third, realize that the problems you are protesting about don't only occur at the federal level -- but at the state and local level as well -- so get involved there too, where your action can make a significant difference.

The Tea Parties have every potential to be the next great revolution in American politics. The consequences of failure are dire -- for if after all these protests, nothing changes in 2010 -- it will be a virtual unrestricted license for Obama's vision of government, and those who oppose it will be further relegated to political obscurity.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Blight in Lenexa: The Great City Center Folly

"If you build it, he will come."

This famous line from one of the greatest movies of all time, Field of Dreams, inspired Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) to build a baseball field in the middle of nowhere - and has been a cultural cliche since 1989, when the movie was in theaters. Whenever a stadium is built in a city in hopes of drawing a franchise, the line is repeated.

Here in Johnson County, one could say the famous utterance from that mysterious voice in the clouds has become the county motto, as nothing says "Johnson County" more than the many monuments to overbuilding, overpromising, and overreaching by city councils joined at the hip to developers spread throughout JoCo. Whether you are talking about old or new, "For Lease" or "Future site of" is the most frequently seen sign in town.

City officials, eager to make their municipalities host to the next lifestyle center or fancy new development, and undeterred by any effective check or balance, ran roughshod through both common sense and private property rights, granting a smorgasbord of TIFs, tax abatements, and other favorable treatment to both developers and corporations. We've all seen the cheesy and overused names -- the funny yet sad part is that terms "Pointe", "Town Center", and "Village" have come to mean "Ghost Town", "Mud Pit" and in some cases, "Pillage", for the poor peoples' homes which were destroyed in the process, all for the sake of progress. Right.

The proof is in the pudding -- one need only get in the car and take a tour through Johnson County:

Start in the northern part of the county, where a journey along Johnson Drive reveals a mess in Merriam and Mission, including, as Mike Hendricks describes in this article, "Half-empty strip malls. Giant vacant lots, like the one in nearby Mission, with signs promising that development is coming soon, only it doesn’t."

Drive a little further south to 67th Street and I-35, and you see the "Merriam Village" project, a similar area of vacant land where city officials once vowed would be home to a similar lifestyle center.

Go even further south and you hit the 95th Street Corridor, which is a mix of graveyards and neglect. Metcalf South, a fond memory for those who grew up in the 60's, 70's, and 80's, serves as a virtual time machine with an eerie mix of still-standing 80's storefronts from the mall's heyday, functioning fountains, and super-shiny floors. Rather than using creativity or simple face lift to this former county jewel, we saw fancy plans drawn up for yet another "lifestyle center" -- yet, like so many of the others, those fell through. Cherokee South (yes, 95th street was once South) sits half torn part after three years of a sign saying "development coming soon" and small tenants booted to the door. Valley View sits unimproved, ugly, and yet, refreshingly reminiscent of 15 years ago before the developers went bonkers.

Go further south to 119th and Nall and you find the Sprint Campus, which sits as a former symbol of promise and prosperity, but now sits as residue of ridiculous risk. Now, as Sprint tries to survive, the campus of dreams is now a prison of potential nightmares before our eyes should Sprint be sold or go belly up. Yet, there was no stopping it 10 years ago when again, there was no check or balance to counter the insanity.

Drive west on 119th Street to Olathe and you find a combination of several empty restaurants, newly built yet mostly empty strip malls, large fenced off areas at Olathe Pointe, and flat plats of mud around the vicinity of the Bass Pro Shop. And don't dare go southwest to the Great Failure that is the Great Mall of the Great Plains.

We could go on -- and on -- and on.

However, there is no other place in the county that is more of a symbol to civic silliness than the area around 87th Street and Renner Boulevard in western Lenexa -- otherwise known as the future "City Center" (which is hilarious since it's basically in the middle of nowhere) where the motto should actually be "if you half-build it, they surely won't come".

Yes, unlike in other parts of JoCo where you either see buildings completely built and vacant or not built at all, Lenexa takes the cake with three half built buildings: One is the Lifetime Fitness Center, which built it's concrete structure and has been stopped for weeks. A second building has sat about 80% built for well over a year, but is apparently finally near completion -- but a recent article in the Johnson County Sun revealed it only had two tenants. At least it will have graduated into "built but empty" status. The third, and the worst, is the building that may be 1/8 built and appears to be a parking garage, which you can still view in it's basic current form via the photo gallery at http://www.lenexacitycenter.com/.

One could make a strong argument that these long half-built buildings are "blighted" -- half built buildings surrounded by acres of dirt certainly meet the definition to a casual observer. What is ironic, as discussed here by Americans for Prosperity's Alan Cobb is that Lenexa was one of the cities, just last year, lobbying for a back door to eminent domain laws by asking for the authority to claim private property that they deemed as "blighted" -- a word oppressive local governments often like to use when they want to take private property for their own visions -- which included turning the land over to developers to build more "lifestyle centers" like Lenexa City Center.

The sad part? These three buildings are only a small fraction of the overall planned development. Indeed, this mother of all development dreams is so big and so grand it actually involves redoing traffic patterns and development projects on four different corners of 87th and Renner -- yes, Lenexa City Center actually has siblings -- Lenexa City Center East, Lenexa City Center North Village, Lenexa City Center Northeast, and one day, apparently, Village Green at City Center, whatever that is. All amounting to 200 acres and 4.5 million square feet of development. All for a town of 43,000.

So, what's the story here? Two decades ago, when the late Rich Becker was mayor, they turned Renner Road into "Renner Boulevard", a four lane thoroughfare stretching from 87th all the way to the Olathe city limit. They even labeled it "the next College Boulevard", if that shows you how far back their dreams go -- given that College Boulevard is a largely forgotten road, being replaced by 119th and then 135th and now 151st and 159th. But, aside from a few office buldings popping up over the years, it mainly served as a "mini highway" for people wanting to travel north or south in a big hurry with few stoplights or traffic.

In the meantime, little Lenexa, eager to catch up to its quickly-developing big brothers of Olathe, Shawnee, and Overland Park and even little brother Merriam -- got a little dreamy a few years ago and came up with "Vision 2020". Now, civic planning is not a bad thing in itself -- every city does it and looking towards the future is a noble activity. The problem for Mayor Mike Boehm and other Lenexa officials is that core to "Vision 2020", as described in this article, was and is Lenexa City Center, a real-life "field of dreams" for developers, traffic planners, and elite city officials nationwide. Unfortunately for Lenexa, all that is out there, with the exception of the aforementioned mounds of concrete and a few luxury apartment buildings, is just that -- fields.

Actually, that's not quite true. In true adherence to the "if you build it, they will come" motto, Lenexa transformed the easy-to-travel Renner into what is quite possibly the most annoying half-mile stretch of road anywhere in the country, let alone the county.

Rather than waiting for their grand visions to come to fruition, Lenexa decide to inconvenience drivers and waste millions of taxpayer dollars by ripping out what was a perfectly fine and speedy 45 mph stretch of divided throughfare and putting in its place not one, not two, not three, but FOUR "roundabouts" -- apparently in anticipation of the vast retail development just around the corner and the thousands of cars that would be coming with it -- at well, some time in the next twenty years.

Hey, at least they got a head start, right? In the meantime, Lenexa might consider contacting the DMV and using it as a Drivers' Ed Course.

What's even more silly is that they not only re-did the road, they adorned it with street lamps with little blue lights at the top of them that illuminate the road at night like it is some kind of alien landing zone.

Hey, that's an idea --perhaps Lenexa could be the new Roswell. Forget crop circles, we've got clearly-marked concrete "roundabouts" for our extraterrestial friends to land their spacecraft on. Looking for a close encounter of the third kind? Come to City Center. It could be big, folks.

In all seriousness and, for those in Lenexa, sadness, those lights represent a "flashing blue light special" to a mayor, city council, and developers who got too excited and committed a city, its land, and its tax money to a development blueprint that was at the best, too good to be true, and at worst, pure fantasy that wasted way too much of that town's precious time and treasure.

A subtle yet telling sign of how slow the development is going is that they actually renamed "Vision 2020" to "Vision 2030". The good news is that if you have a newborn, they might finally get to enjoy the glorious, complete, "City Center" by the time they graduate from college. Oh, if it weren't so pathetic it would be funny -- because by the time the whole thing is done, some of the "new" buildings will be old, and some of the "leaders" putting us on this path will be living in Sunrise Assisted Living at 87th and Lackman.

Of course, Lenexa Chamber President Blake Schreck and Mayor Mike Boehm, who understandably want to defend their project, will point to the economy as the reason for the project's snail-like pace. While that may indeed be part of the problem now, what they won't tell you is that the first parts of the project -- particularly Lenexa City Center East -- were originally supposed to start in 2005 and 2006, back when the stock market was soaring and the economy was strong. One could understand a building slowdown -- but there was nothing to slow down from, despite many quoted assurances to the contrary.

Make no mistake -- we are not saying development is bad. At first glance, the development plan and lofty visions are exciting. It would be nice to have a few more dining, entertainment and retail options in a city that is lacking in comparison to its neighbors. But, we should always be cautious of grand designs by artists - there is a 200-acres wide middle ground between doing nothing and the fantasy designs that Lenexa city and chamber officials have committed their city to.

Rather than putting in streets to nowhere, redoing major roads, and committing the city's land, time and treasure to the invention of a "city center" whose completion isn't envisioned until 20 years from now, perhaps the city might have been better to adopt a measured approach, building only when the economy -- and, most of all -- demand, called for it.

For the sake of Lenexa and the community as a whole, we hope City Center ends up being a rousing success. But, given the fact that city leaders openly admit that it won't even be completed for 20 years, even if built it seems a little unwieldy -- particularly coming from professional city planners.

Of course, this is what happens when you have government trying to force the free market economy. You end up with projects that can't be completed -- or even started -- because the demand (and therefore the cash) -- isn't there.

Furthemore, because of basic human nature, when you're so far down the road of community commitment as Lenexa is, it's hard to turn back, no matter how bleak the picture. Indeed, the brave leaders of the Lenexa Chamber of Commerce and City Government plod along with . Mayor Mike Boehm, much like Ray Kinsella, apparently can see things the rest of us can't see -- in this case, Lenexa as something akin to the Country Club Plaza. Indeed, in that same March article from the Johnson County Sun entitled "Lenexa officials hopeful about City Center", he actually said this:

“Renner’s hot right now. I-435 is a good place to be,” Boehm said. “If you look back at College Boulevard 30 years ago … Renner may be prime for that kind of development. It may not be Corporate Woods, and people get mad when I compare City Center to the Plaza, but it’s such a great project. From a blooming perspective, how College Boulevard has developed over the last 30 years, it is similar. I think with all the activity, Renner and the K-10 corridor are prime to be the next hot spot in Johnson County."

The Mayor's optimism is admirable -- he clearly believes in his project, and that's noble -- but he's doing it while spending a great deal of city time and resources, not to mention to the inconvenince of citizens. 

Don't look for it soon, though, apparently, says the Mayor:

“The Lifetime Fitness facility is creating the tax increment that will allow us to issue the bonds to do all the grading. That doesn’t mean next week we have a project coming out of the ground. It may sit for a little while yet, and that’s OK. We’re still working on some anchor tenants to really kick off the project.”

Wow. The sun must never set at City Hall. May sit for a "little while"?! They've been working on anchor tenants to "kick off the project" for 5 years! Oh, but wait - one half-built building is allowing us to use government bonds (i.e., taxpayer responsibility) to prepare us for MORE half built buildings! What relief!

Apparently optimism reigns at the Chamber, too, as Chamber President Blake Schreck continues to put on a rosy spin on the status of things:

“For 2009, it’s a matter of hanging on for the ride,” Schreck said. “This too shall pass. I believe when things turn back around, they will turn back hard, and we will be ready.”

For the sake of the city, we hope he's right -- because for now, their field of dreams remains just that. It seems that no matter what, to borrow another line from that immortal voice, city and chamber officials appear ready to "go the distance" on this project, regardless of the consequences to the city and its reputation.



No wonder Obama got elected...

If this isn't enough to scare you about the future of our country, nothing will:

According to Rasmussen Reports, only a slim majority of Americans (53%) prefer capitalism over socialism. While only 20% favor and 27% are not sure.

The real frightening stat, however, was this:

For adults under 30, just 37% preferred capitalism vs. 33% for socialism and the rest (30%) weren't sure.

Now, among Republicans, the result was 11-1 for capitalism. And for those who claim the Democratic party isn't turning socialist in its principles, here's a telling line from the article:
Democrats are much more closely divided: Just 39% say capitalism is better while 30% prefer socialism.
Now, does ever Democrat favor socialism? No. But, take a look at the base of their party, the direction their national leaders are taking us, and a frightening portrait is painted.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Local Control: Government by the few, for the few

If an election day passes and no one votes, did it really happen?

That’s the question many people might be asking in the wake of Tuesday’s results from the Spring General Election here in Kansas. It’s a scenario we have seen before – despite historically high turnouts in the recent November election and a relatively consistent solid block of voters in August primaries, most Kansans seem to ignore or are simply unaware of the fact very important elections follow just a few months later on the first Tuesday in April.

The numbers are staggering. In Johnson County alone, approximately 285,000 people voted in the 2008 November election. That number falls dramatically for the 2008 August primary, when approximately 77,000 people voted. What’s truly staggering is that less than half that number – 32,000 – voted in Spring General Election on Tuesday. That means around 80% of the people who voted in November did not vote in April.

For political consultants and campaign managers, extremely low turnout is a simple math game, and can either be a recipe for success or a road to consistent losses. However, for those concerned more about the policy consequences of elections than the mere political scoreboard, it can be a road over the ideological cliff.

What’s ironic about these tiny numbers is that they seem to fly in the face of the constant barrage we hear from Topeka each legislative session about the overriding need for local control -- we consistently hear how important is that we leave as much authority as possible to city councils and local school boards. While this principle of “the locals know best” may indeed be sound in theory, when only 9% of the people vote, it can also be potentially precarious in terms of accurately representing the views of the community as a whole. When only 32,000 turnout in a county with a voting population 10x that, one segment of the voting populace can easily be disproportionately represented, skewing public policy in a direction inconsistent with the actual opinions of the public as a whole. Add to that the fact that these local elections are non-partisan, allowing candidates to hide their party label, and we essentially end up with government by the few, for the few.

This very scenario occurred just this past Tuesday in Johnson County, Kansas.. In two different cases, we saw a specific segment of the voting population – liberal elites – oust candidates that in most elections, would have normally been victorious had turnout been at an August or November level.

The first case was for the Olathe School Board, where the most hotly contested race was between conservative incumbent Jim Churchman and liberal Democrat challenger Amy Martin. Churchman was endorsed by a myriad of conservative elected officials who have no problem getting elected in Olathe in August and November, including Kay O’Connor, who had been in six separate elections, won large majorities of Olathe voters. Martin, on the other hand, was endorsed by a range of liberal groups and individuals such as the NEA and Ron Wimmer, who had just a few months before lost 55-45 against Senator Julia Lynn – and actually sent out a campaign piece attacking Churchman because of the fact Kay O’Connor – again, a six time winner, endorsed him. Olathe is known for being a conservative community and in August or November, Churchman would have defeated Martin.

Yet, in this case, Martin defeated Churchman 53-47. Why? Because only 8,000 people voted, and the liberal public school lobby and its supporters, while just a decent sized minority in most elections, make up a much larger chunk of the electorate in the low turnout April elections, when conservative voters do not have a history of turning out.

The second case was the race for the Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees. Voters could vote for up to four candidates out of the ten on the ballot. Conservative Benjamin Hodge was one of the incumbents, and had served as State Representative from Olathe from 2007-2008. Though all of Johnson County is not as conservative as Hodge, one would think that Hodge would at least finish in the Top 4.

Yet, Hodge finished 6th, narrowly behind 5th place but 2,700 votes behind the 4th place finisher. What’s interesting is that the four winners were the four candidates Sun Publications columnist Steve Rose, a well known liberal, endorsed in a column several weeks before the election. It’s also notable that in the same column in which he endorsed the four winners, he also specifically said to vote for anyone but Hodge. Again, just like in Olathe, because moderate to liberal voters in Johnson County represented such a large segment of the 32,000 people who voted Tuesday, Steve Rose’s column served as a voter guide for those voters, and the results reflect that reality.

The first question some will ask is, how did Churchman and Hodge get on their respective boards in the first place? The reason is because in April 2005, the marriage amendment was on the ballot, and thousands of people who do not otherwise vote in Spring elections did, and those voters, more conservative by nature, voted for Hodge and Churchman as well. In fact, 99,000 people voted in Johnson County that election, more than three times what they did Tuesday. In Olathe specifically, 16,000 people voted in 2005 versus just about 8,000 this year.

In their specific cases – in 2005, Hodge actually finished first in the April balloting with about 45,000 votes. This year, he only had about 8,000 votes. For Churchman, the result was flipped – he won with 53% of the vote in 2005.

The moral of this story is that voters’ decisions not to vote in April have a dramatic impact on the outcome of those elections, thus severely impacting policy decisions. The Olathe School Board is now dominated by liberal elites who were funded and elected by those with stances on issues well to the left of Olathe on both social and fiscal issues. The Johnson County Community College board is now completely governed by individuals who brazenly disregarded open meetings statutes and insulted a fellow board member – Hodge – who blew the whistle on their shenanigans. Furthermore, from a political standpoint, the domination of local boards and councils by liberals gives them a large bench on which to groom candidates for higher office.

In the case of conservative voters, who typically are recognized for their propensity to vote, it is a mystery to some why they choose not to vote in local elections, when so many critical issues – tax rates, fiscal policy, education policy, even social policy – are decided on city councils and school boards. In fact, one could make an argument that these local units of government have a much more direct effect on our daily lives, as they decide everything from what books our child can read to how many pets we can have in our homes.

The reasons are a combination of political history, media coverage, and timing. The conservative movement in Kansas, as an entity, has only existed for about 20-30 years, and has largely focused on federal and state elections, not organizing or fielding candidates for most local elections. As a result, the average conservative voter isn’t voting in the spring, essentially ceding those elections to moderates and liberals. Secondly, when compared to the more high profile state and federal elections, the amount of coverage given to local issues is small, often no more than an article recapping a board or council meeting. As such, most voters, including conservatives, are simply unaware of what is going on. Finally, spring elections are held just on the heels of usually quite intense November elections, and when you combine that with the legislative session in Topeka, the conservative movement is not paying attention to local races through a combination of exhaustion and distraction.

What is the solution to this problem?

One approach might be a legislative one – moving spring elections to fall, to coincide with state and federal elections. The argument here would be that it is going to be very difficult to spur any vast increase in turnout for April elections. While a concentrated effort may increase it a bit in a given election, it is only likely to boost it by 5-10%, while moving the elections to the fall would dramatically increase participation automatically – and would also reduce the cost of holding elections. The counter to this would be that city and school board elections might get washed away in the sea of coverage for state and federal elections.

If that does not occur, the only other way turnout will increase is a long term, comprehensive approach to spring elections by conservatives, much like has been done for August and November elections. This includes more alternative media outlets such as blogs and other online news sources, as well as increased candidate recruitment, and, most importantly, a long term grassroots strategy to inform voters who typically do not vote in spring elections why they should – and then motivating them to actually vote.

In order for either of these solutions to come to fruition, it is going to take action by leaders who, after one November election is over, do not immediately move on to the next November election – but rather decide to take local elections seriously, recognizing the profound impact city councils, school boards, and other elected governing boards have on our lives, our children’s lives, and our pocketbooks – not to mention our culture as a community.

Our nation is a system of checks and balances – and the most important check of all is the informed and participating voter. When that check is removed, the usually good and noble principle of local control can quickly become dangerous and corrupting. No matter what level of government, it is essential that elected officials have a fear of the voter. Currently, in Johnson County, that fear does not exist, and the practical consequence has been to cede control of our schools and cities to individuals with a very much different worldview than the people they are supposed to represent.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Liberals Resurrect Bogeyman -- and woman -- in Olathe

At Kaw & Border, one of our favorite pieces of all times is Rush Limbaugh's "35 Undeniable Truths of Life". A collection of political and cultural certainties, it has long been a guide for conservatives who want some basic guidance -- and humor -- when reviewing the world around them.

In recent months, it has come to our attention here in the Kansas City area that perhaps we should create a local version of El Rushbo's famous truths. The reason it is because liberals are some of the most predictable people among us -- and this truth continually reveals itself in their behavior come election time.

If we were to pick a "35 Undeniable Truths of Kansas City Area Politics", #1 would be that if a liberal candidate is running against a conservative candidate in Johnson County, the liberal candidate, when all else is failing, that candidate's backers will resurrect their favorite bogeyman in former Attorney General and District Attorney Phill Kline.

As we discussed in our August 1 piece entitled "KTRM: Kansans Trashing Republican Mailboxes", we brought to light the liberal KTRM's efforts to tie Phill Kline to now Senator Mary Pilcher Cook in the Republican primary against their chosen candidate, liberal Sue Gamble. Of course, this effort was embarrassingly unsuccessful, as Mary Pilcher Cook demolished both Gamble in the primary as well as Pete Roman in the General Election.

Funny that the theme of that KTRM piece was "Have you had enough?", because apparently, the liberals haven't. Now, several months later, they have apparently borrowed the KTRM playbook in invoking Phill Kline's name in a SCHOOL BOARD RACE in Olathe on behalf of Amy Martin, the liberal candidate challenging conservative incumbent Jim Churchman.

Not only that, they apparently had another old playbook sitting around -- that of former State Representative Rob Boyer, who attempted to defeat Kay O'Connor in the 2004 Republican Primary by trashing her in hit piece after hit piece yet fell painfully short despite spending $80K plus of his own money on the trash pieces tearing apart Senator O'Connor. Yet, Amy Martin's minions have apparently decided to resurrect Kay O'Connor by linking her to Churchman as well.

Well, guess what the brilliant talent in the liberal Amy Martin/Olathe Schools First campaign team did? Oh, they were creative -- they put both Kline and O'Connor in the same hit piece against Churchman:



Now, if you can't read up close -- this piece says that "Kay O'Connor endorsed Jim Churchman" and that Jim Churchman at one point endorsed Phill Kline.

That's seriously what they are arguing? Kay O'Connor, a TWO-TERM State Senator and FOUR-TERM State Representative who never lost a local election in Olathe, is somehow a bad endorsement? And Jim Churchman -- a Republican -- gasp -- endorsed Phill Kline -- a Republican? Wow, that's groundbreaking.

What's even more hilarious is that on the flip side of this piece, they say "trust the professionals, not the politicians" -- yet right next to that statement, they list that Amy Martin has the endorsement of several politicians -- namely Ron Wimmer (Democrat who lost to Julia Lynn), who was REJECTED by Olathe voters in the last election by a 55-45% margin. Also included on the list is Sue Storm (Democrat former State Rep from northern Overland Park, State School Board Member) and three former school board members.

Apparently, to Olathe Schools First, you're only a professional if you're a LIBERAL elected politician. Remember, folks, these are the same people who are joined at the hip with the NEA, which is an open proponent of abortion on demand, unbridled education spending, and an open opponent of the kind of Olathe values reflected in its elected officials.

To make it clear -- in the liberal world, it's better to be endorsed by a politician rejected soundly by Olathe voters than it is to be endorsed by one who was elected six times by Olathe voters. Hmmm....

Notably, nowhere on the piece is there any defense of Amy Martin, any outline of her ideas, her proposals, or her values. It simply bashes some successful politicians (O'Connor, and the several elected officials who have endorsed Churchman) while propping up one who was rejected by Olathe voters.

Of course, the gamble that Olathe Schools First is taking is that the huge waves of conservative voters that normally vote in August and November elections (as well as the April 2005 election) will not turn out in this relatively low-profile spring election in 2009, reducing electorate to teachers unions and their supporters.

The good news for Olathe voters and for those who believe in sound education policy everywhere is that Jim Churchman has been campaigning hard and unlike Martin, has a detailed description of his work on the board on his website, http://www.jimchurchman.com/.

Hopefully, much like Mary Pilcher Cook, Churchman will again demonstrate that pieces like the one above are ineffective and silly, let alone politically devoid of common sense. If so, perhaps in the next election that comes down the road, the liberal candidate will actually promote themselves and their principles, and we can actually have a real debate over ideas.

Sadly for liberals, that would mean that they would have to retire their favorite bogeyman, Phill Kline -- and we all know that they will be unable to resist that overwhelming temptation.