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.