Monday, February 14, 2011

RINO Alert in the Kansas Senate

Today, it became apparent that this image is now the logo of the Republican leadership in the Kansas Senate:

Find out why in our RedCounty.com article entitled "32 Republicans in the Kansas Senate? Think again!" -- which you can read by clicking here.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Most Courageous Organization in Kansas

When this blog started, our goal was "telling the story behind the story of Kansas City area politics -- both of the politicians themselves as well as political operatives such as key individuals, PACs, and other groups of influence."

We've largely focused on key individuals, even governing bodies, but have not talked as much about the key organizations that play a role in both politics and policy making within the state of Kansas. There are many such groups in Kansas, on both the right and the left, from trade groups who want to lobby for their specific industry, to issue-specific groups like Kansans For Life, to broad-based organizations like the Kansas Chamber and Americans for Prosperity on the right to the National Education Association and Kansas Equality Coalition on the left.

Most of these groups have been around for many years, have a great deal of funding (or, at least, access to funding) and largely deal with issues that have a very large constituency, or are tackling issues that are high profile -- education, taxes, spending, abortion, etc.

On the conservative side of the ledger, apart from Kansans for Life, which has bravely fought on the issues of life for many, many years and is now enjoying the fruits of their labor, most of the conservative organizations have been centered around economic issues -- AFP in the last decade, the Kansas Chamber for many years, as well as groups like NFIB and even the FairTax folks.

There has been, until the last 3-4 years, a lack of attention or "organized, long-term, focus" on broader social issues. There are a couple exceptions to this -- in 2005, a coalition of individuals and groups came together to pass the Kansas Marriage Amendment, but that largely broke up after it passed with 70% of Kansans voting for it. In addition, Philip and Cathy Cosby of Olathe have been working very courageously on the issue of sexually-oriented businesses in both Kansas and Missouri.

However, when one considers that the tea party movement is largely (but not all, of course) economic-based, there has not been much attention on family "values voter" issues like marriage (not just on resisting gay marriage but promoting marriage in general), gambling, the radical gay agenda, and even alcohol, at least in long-term established way. In our opinion, particularly given the increasing reluctance of churches to engage the culture, at least at a governmental/political level and to divorce themselves from anything related to elections, this has left a giant void that threatens to leave our halls of government full of people who, aside from being pro-life, will tend to steer clear of values issues.

To help fill this void, in 2008, an organization was created -- the Kansas Family Policy Council. In our view, it is very important, for voters who do care about values and how our laws reflect on our culture, for organizations like KFPC to not only exist, but thrive. The core reason is that too often, the Kansas Family Policy Council is fighting battles on issues that other organizations will not touch. In some cases, they are actually on the opposite side of an issue from other "conservative" organizations, which makes the brave battles they engage in all the more difficult.

In our view, the Kansas Family Policy Council is the most courageous organization in Kansas. While organizations like Concerned Women of America have been around for years, they are focused nationally in many ways, and simply have not had the local focus necessary to really zero in on particularly issues like KFPC is. They are right now, or have in recent years, tackled three issues in Kansas that many will not touch:

1. Gambling. In 2007, Kansas passed the statewide casino legislation which authorized casinos in Kansas. While some opposed this simply because the state was involved, many others did because of the cultural impact. One of the requirements of the legislation was that for a casino to be built, it had to win the vote of the local electorate first. In the case of Wichita, due to the efforts of Donna Lippoldt, who heads up KFPC, the Wichita-area casino was defeated in an historic effort.

2. Liquor. This year, many grocery stores are convenience stores are pushing for legislation to allow them to sell hard liquor, which is currently restricted to liquor stores. We addressed this in our last post, "In Defense of Blue Laws". On this issue, KFPC finds itself opposite such big bats as the Kansas Chamber and AFP. As KFPC says, we can do better, because they recognize the severe harm that expanded availability of hard liquor can cause to families. Sadly, KFPC seems to be the only group saying this, leaving legislators without much of an alternative voice on this issue outside of liquor stores. Plus, if you're a conservative legislator, do you really want to oppose the Kansas Chamber and AFP, nor vote for something that seems to go against your "limited government" mindset, all in the time of family values?

3. Gay Agenda in Manhattan -- On Tuesday of this week, the Manhattan City Commission voted into law an ordinance that creates special protections for homosexual, bisexual and transgendered individuals. The Kansas Family Policy Council has been the organization resisting this effort, and is now engaged in a petition drive to overturn the new ordinance.

Let's be honest -- fighting issues like marriage, alcohol, gambling, and special rights for behavior is not a fun one. Liberals will try to find any evidence of hypocrisy in your life. Some will even go after your business -- see the radicals who threatened those who contributed to the pro-marriage proposition in California. Moderates will say you are trying to "legislate morality". Libertarians want the government out of everything, even some calling for the government to get out of the marriage business entirely. Plus, there is just the issue that on each of the above issues, each of us in the conservative know someone who is gay, enjoys frequent social drinking, has been divorced, or likes to gamble.

Increasingly, particularly given the economic focus of many in the tea party movement, many even in the conservative movement are wanting to steer clear of such issues, particularly given that some who believe in "limited government" when it comes to the economy or property extend that to the culture as well. Ron Paul supporters -- who just dominated CPAC by having their man win the straw poll -- are libertarians by nature. CPAC itself is controversial because of its inclusion of GOProud, a pro-gay rights group, as a sponsor. A trip to some prominent conservative blogs like race42012.com and others will reveal many comments from conservatives who want to not talk about these issues. Within the conservative movement, you will groups that take the opposite stance on a particular issue, like alcohol. Even Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who received wide-spread praise for his speech at CPAC, has called for a "truce" on social issues, a comment which he caught some heat for, but not enough.

So, on one hand, it's simply easier to leave these issues alone, or as Daniels says, have a "truce" and put those issues off until later, or as Daniels said, until our economic issues are resolved. In our opinion, this is a false notion simply because our economic issues never go away. The economy is too cyclical and one need to only take one look at the size of the federal budget or the tax code, or any state budget or tax code, to realize we are years from really "solving" our economic problems. Furthermore, even if they are "solved" there will always be liberals trying to "unsolve" them by increasing spending, taxes, or socialism in general.

Also, in our view, economic conservatism cannot simply exist without social conservatism. It's one thing for the shackles of government to be taken off the economy so people are not taxed to death and our government is not bankrupting itself on the backs of children and grand children. But, the future of our country and our families will not thrive if we simply have pro-growth tax policies and a smaller government. They will only thrive if our culture of thriving as well, and in our view that means we must never abandon social issues as well.

To be clear, as we stated in the post on liquor laws, this doesn't mean we only focus on the law-making sides of things. Certainly, in our opinion, our laws should reflect our values and "do no harm" to our culture nor to families. But, we also must engage with people on these issues on a personal, "hearts and minds" basis as well.

As we have found on the life issue, our cultural battles are not won simply by passing a law and having a governor sign it. They are won by engaging in the culture in a direct way and by making our arguments in a reasonable, humble, but direct way.

To reach that point, however, we simply must first be willing to engage cultural issues to begin with. To do so takes great courage and people willing to form and lead grassroots movements dedicated to doing so. In Kansas, the organization doing so is the Kansas Family Policy Council. They are quite courageous and deserve great praise, and it is our hope many Kansans will be inspired by their work.

The strength of Kansas families depends on it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In Defense of Blue Laws

Right now, in the Kansas Legislature, there is much debate about proposed legislation that would allow grocery stores like HyVee and convenience stores like QuikTrip to sell hard liquor. The proponents, largely made up of convenience stores and grocery stores, have put together a group called the "Coalition for Jobs and Consumer Choice" to advocate for this change.

The arguments that proponents are using for this bill are these:

Economic Impact. They argue that it will create 15,000 new jobs by spurring the creation of new convenience stores.

Current Law is a Monopoly for Liquor Stores. They argue it is not defensible to have a built in protection for liquor stores, and they say half of which would go out of business, according to this article.

Consumer Choice. Simply, this argument states that consumers should have the choice to purchase hard alcohol at a grocery store and not be forced to purchase it separately at a liquor store.

Blue Laws are Old Fashioned. This is an argument you often hear out of the more libertarian thinkers, who would make the argument that blue laws such as the current law are anti-liberty and anti-freedom and a relic of prohibition, and thus should be repealed. Basically, this is the "people drink anyway so why have the law" argument.

In the opinion of this blog, all of these arguments are solid and some are even true, in varying degrees. However, it is also our opinion that these arguments do not alone justify the change in the law, nor do they take into account the significant justifications for "blue laws" such as this.

In our view, there are significant cultural and even economic arguments for maintaining the law as is, and that socially conservative legislators would be wise to listen to the arguments of the Kansas Family Policy Council, which opposes the legislation.

Our arguments are as follows:

- The economic benefit is overstated. As stated in this article, it seems a stretch to say 15,000 new jobs will be created simply by changing this law. Will a grocery store or QuikTrip really add jobs simply because booze is available? Seems doubtful. While some convenience stores may pop up (as if there are not enough already) as a result, the proponents admit that around half of the liquor stores would close as a result, thereby slashing jobs and ending the livelihoods of hundreds of small business owners in Kansas. Is this really a good idea, at this time? (more on that in a minute)

- Even if there is economic benefit, it is not worth it. In order for there to be a true overall economic benefit to Kansas, the proposed change would have to result in the increased purchase of alcohol. This is likely to occur given that it would be readily available at places like HyVee and Quik Trip. Do we, as a state, and do Kansas legislators really want to encourage the increased purchase of hard liquor? Yes, we recognize there is a "libertarian" argument as to whether it's the government's business to regulate this anyway -- we'll talk about that in a moment.

- To be consistent, a social conservative should oppose this bill on cultural grounds. Many of us might remember the 2007 all-night debate over expanding gambling in the state of Kansas, which passed narrowly. Certainly, there were some who were opposed to the bill not because they were opposed to casinos, but to state-owned casinos. But, there were many social conservatives who made arguments against it on moral and societal grounds, and made impassioned pleas on the House floor, with readily available data which stated that expanded gaming in Kansas and proximity to a casino has a negative overall impact on families in Kansas. Similarly, many conservatives also oppose sex shops or at least support severe restrictions on there whereabouts and ability to advertise, also on the societal/family argument. Certainly, social conservatives would have to agree increased consumption of hard alcohol would have a negative impact on families and on individuals, period. One need only look at the dozens of studies on alcohol abuse or hear the testimonials of those who struggled with alcohol addiction to know that the availability of alcohol is a serious struggle. So, to be consistent, conservatives should also oppose laws which would increase the availability and temptation to purchase hard alcohol.

Of course, some proponents will say that it is available now, and that is very easy to purchase alcohol from a liquor store. That's true, but that isn't our point, as we are not advocating prohibition. What we are arguing is against increased availability of a product which clearly has a negative impact on families and our culture as a whole, which leads us to our next argument:

Kansas shouldn't promote alcoholism by encouraging the purchase of hard liquor. As a general rule of thumb, a state should not pursue policies which will encourage the increased purchase and sale of extremely harmful products, particularly when consumed in even mild excess, such as hard liquor. Clearly, this law would make hard liquor more available. That's the intent. Clearly, it would result in more consumption of alcohol; otherwise there would be no economic benefit. And while, yes, right now it is easy to walk into a liquor store and purchase booze, any person is much more likely to enter a QuikTrip or a HyVee on any given day than a liquor store. As such, that person is much more likely to purchase the bottle of hard liquor -- not only on that specific visit to the store, but also on repeat visits, as many people stop by a QuikTrip or a grocery store on a daily basis. As such, It isn't too much of a stretch to argue that this change would promote alcoholism by encouraging the repeated purchase of alcohol, particualrly given the severely addictive nature of hard alcohol, and the struggle many individuals have with abusing alcohol and the temptation to "fall of the wagon".

There is a negative economic impact on families. A great deal has been made about the economic benefits and potential job creation that could occur as a result of this legislation. Maybe so. But on the back of who? In an economic downturn such as we are in right now, it is families who are in the most stressful of situations, struggling to make ends meet while one or both try to find a job. It is in high stress situations alcohol is more likely to be consumed, and thus the availability of alcohol at a HyVee would make it all the more likely a husband, wife, parent, etc, would purchase that bottle of hard liquor instead of allocating that money to food, bills, debt, or other family needs. Given, again, the highly addictive nature of hard alcohol, have we truly considered, as a state, the negative economic impact this would have on families? While certainly, there is a large personal responsibility quotient to this, and the state cannot police everyone's behavior, it also should not be promoting said behavior. Point is this -- HyVee's economic benefit might be a family's economic devastation, particularly one struggling with alcohol addiction. We should choose families, first.

It's not fair to liquor stores. Yes, an argument can certainly be made that the current law protects liquor stores by allowing them to monopolize the sale of hard liquor. Fair enough. But, it is not the liquor store owner's fault that the law exists as it is. Given, again, the economic state we are in presently, is it really a good idea to change a decades-old law when the advocates of the change even admit it would close over 300 liquor stores? Like it or not, this is the law on the books and has been for a long time. While that doesn't necessarily mean we should not change it, it certainly would represent picking some some already existing winners (grocery stores and convenience stores) and some non existing winners (convenience stores that MIGHT open as a result) and losers, the long-existing liquor stores which would cease to exist. If this is going to be the centerpiece of a conservative's argument for changing the law -- perhaps it would be a good idea to at least wait until there was an economic upturn.

There is justification for the liquor store monopoly on hard liquor. Some economic conservatives will say there should the state should not protect the monopoly liquor stores have on selling hard liquor, which of course, as noted above, keeps many in business. That's a fair argument. However, sometimes, in law, created "exemptions" for an industry is wise -- often because of the very nature of the product or service. Major League Baseball, for example, has a federal antitrust exemption. Cable companies, often, have monopolies on service within a particular area, or in some cases, it's at least limited to two companies. In this case, we feel the nature of hard liquor justifies its "special product" category and sale at liquor stores only. The reasons are largely along the lines of what we stated above (the addictive nature of the product, the harm done if consumed in excess, etc) -- but also this -- there is an argument that hard liquor is okay for special occasions. Certainly, there is an argument to be made that is what hard liquor should be reserved for. By requiring a special trip to a liquor store to purchase it, we are emphasizing that the "special occasion" principle, and not something akin to a gallon of milk, a box of cereal, or the item typically found at a grocery store.

If we're going to get serious about our culture, we have to get serious about alcohol. Conservatives like to talk a lot, justifiably, about the protection of families and the importance of the culture in America. That's why we're conservatives, and not libertarians. That includes promoting a culture of life, protecting and enhancing marriage, restrictions on gaming, and the war on drugs. Even apart from any government action or solution, we want vibrant churches, quality schools, curriculum which reflects our values, and a society which encourages wise decision making. In all of this, sadly, there is a large elephant in the room and that is the ever presence of alcohol.

To be clear, this is not a case for prohibition, as that is not feasible nor does it work. However, that does not mean that we should be scared to examine not only governmental solutions but also not fear talking about this issue from a hearts-and-minds perspective as well.

One need only to go to any college campus or read any study or attend any athletic event to witness the profound impact alcohol has on our culture. And not just alcohol -- but the heavy consumption of alcohol. Even in our anti-drinking-and-driving campaigns, we seem to say that drinking excessively itself is perfectly okay, as long as you don't get behind the wheel -- nevermind the fact that excessive alcohol usage impairs good decision making nor the fact that excessive alcohol usage can have a destructive impact on one's life and family.

One has to, pardon the pun, be drunk as a skunk not to realize the fact that excessive alcohol consumption leads to depression, unwanted and teenage pregnancy, divorce, poor grades, destroyed families, auto and boating accidents, and too often, the injury or death of innocents. No further study needs to be done on this -- the negative impact of alcohol on culture is readily apparent and the evidence is ample -- in divorce proceedings, in college dropouts, in teenage pregnancies, and too often -- in the morgue.

Conservatives like to talk a great deal about protecting families and life, and justifiably so. But if we're going to seriously talk about improving the culture, we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room and that is alcohol. Yes, it will be a hard fight to win and a difficult discussion to even have, because so many people consume alcohol and so many people consume it regularly. Even those who consume it lightly still consume it -- and it's hard to be the one advocating against alcohol on one hand while having a glass of wine on the other. No one wants to be labeled a hypocrite.

Thus, no one, not religious, not moral, and certainly not political leaders whose parties and fundraisers are often fueled by booze -- wants to carry the flag on this issue. Even when it comes to resisting the increased availability of HARD liquor, it is hard to find a leader in Kansas who is willing to stand up and speak loudly on the issue.

That's not to say it's not a tough issue, it is, particularly as it pertains to specific laws such as the one in question here. There are legitimate "liberty" and limited government arguments for loosening these laws. But, in our eyes, those do not equal the incredible piles of evidence that weights against expanding the availability of hard liquor. And no matter what happens, it should not preclude us from having a broader, more long term cultural discussion about the impact of alcohol on our culture.