People gather for the Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom Bans OFF Columbus rally for Issue 1, Oct. 8, 2023, outside the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)
Kansas showed the way.
A year ago in August, the Sunflower State stunned the nation by voting down a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed the Legislature to ban abortion. A year ago this month, voters in this Republican-dominated state re-elected Democrat Laura Kelly to her second term as governor. In both cases, we offered a preview of 2023’s elections, in which Ohio voters enshrined the right to reproductive health care in their state constitution and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear was reelected to lead Kentucky.
As famed Emporia editor William Allen White wrote back in 1922: “When anything is going to happen in this country, it happens first in Kansas.”
I’ve often noted that even the reddest states contain an incredible diversity of political opinion. Heck, 42% of Kansans voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, the largest percentage support for a Democratic presidential candidate here since Michael Dukakis in 1988.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Across the country, folks support the right of women to make their own reproductive health choices. We’ve now seen voters in a staggering seven states turn out to make that very clear. Similarly, folks will vote for leaders who support mainstream, old-school values such as strong public education, affordable health care and an economy that benefits everyone, not just the wealthy. That means that centrist Democrats such as Kelly and Beshear rack up victories.
National pundits might want to beware, though.
You can read already hot takes about this week’s elections that suggest these high-profile wins (along with Democratic victories in the Virginia legislature) mean that Democrats should fret less about President Joe Biden’s 2024 prospects. The party can cheer another string of victories as it chugs toward the title bout.
Democrats should still worry. Recent polling from the New York Times and CNN suggests Biden would lose against former President Donald Trump if their rematch were held today. Trump, as he never fails to remind us, has only ever had a loose affiliation with the Republican Party. He’s been careful to distance himself from extreme anti-abortion advocates. And for better or worse, the public appears to recall his four shambolic years in office through the rosy lenses of nostalgia.
Abortion-rights victories in red states don't prove their deep, abiding love for Nancy Pelosi. They instead demonstrate that, when voters can separate the issue from candidates and culture wars, they support a long-established constitutional right.
As I also wrote last year, abortion-rights victories in red states don’t prove their deep, abiding love for Nancy Pelosi. They instead demonstrate that, when voters can separate the issue from candidates and culture wars, they support a long-established constitutional right.
Similarly, Kelly’s wins in Kansas show how one politician’s determination to plot a low-key, moderate path can reap dividends. Important to understand, yes, but not earth-shattering.
“When you go out to rural Kansas, they are not talking about all of the divisive social issues,” Kelly told Politico last week. “What’s on their mind is ‘are you going to fund my schools?’ Or ‘are you going to build my roads, fix my roads?’”
Before we wrap today, I would like to note that far-right conservative Kansas candidates appear to have fallen short in Johnson County and Baldwin City school board races. According to the Game on for Kansas Schools group, “It was a very good election (though not perfect) for traditional candidates and a very bad election for extremists across the state.”
Can we now finally put to rest the ridiculous idea that a vast majority of Kansans are clamoring for drastic changes to their public schools?
Far-right ideologues see public education as a Trojan Horse to inject their poisonous ideas into mainstream discourse. They want schools to stop teaching about the pernicious effects of racism and the fact that LGBTQ people exist. They want to install a statewide voucher program that would destroy K-12 education as we know it.
Kansans don’t want that. They don’t agree with that. Their votes on Tuesday proved it.
If state politicians do anything in regard to our schools, they ought to fully fund them and finally spend the required amount on special education services. The public doesn’t want dramatic change; it wants elected officials who will do their jobs and make this a better state.
Nationally, I think that’s the message voters sent as well. Most of us find our lives generally acceptable. No one enjoyed the pandemic, and the subsequent inflation didn’t help. Yet when it comes to our families and friends, our neighborhoods and communities, we don’t want disruption or turmoil. We want officials who will fix the problems that arise, steer us through any unexpected turbulence, and otherwise avoid messy drama.
They can manage that, right? Right?
Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: [email protected]. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.