Having listened to eight in the House chamber (as a Representative and a Speaker of the House) and delivered eight State of the State messages as Governor, I have memories good and bad from those experiences. In Kansas, back in the 70’s and 80’s, it was for the most part a formal occasion. In contrast to what we all watch today on the State of the Union and what happens now in state capitols with strictly partisan reactions, state legislators back then listened with minimal breaks for applause. I made no attempt to encourage applause. In fact, to the best of my memory, I gave all eight without any interruption. Now some might say the content and/or the delivery led to that, but I want to believe it was due more to the political culture of civility at the time—which made for an ideal environment to introduce the priorities for the upcoming session to both the legislature and the people of Kansas who were watching or listening at home.
Recently in Kansas, unfortunately, there has been no real opportunity for quality communication between the public and the Governor. Come Tuesday night, what we hear will not be a product of dialogue with the citizens of Kansas, of their concerns and hopes for the future. Instead, for the most part, the message has been constructed with legislators and interest groups of like mind and behind closed doors, in order to ensure that there will be enough votes to ram the agenda through with little or no discussion with the people of Kansas. None of it was a product of a campaign debate across the state or the Governor going to the people to listen or bring forward a plan for change and receive feedback. I fear the entire exchange comes across to many viewers as just “politics as usual” and a missed opportunity to successfully communicate the executive’s plan for the coming year to the citizens, who would then be in a better position to play their important role in the debates that follow.
So, if consistent with the past five messages, Tuesday night we will get some nice partisan applause lines, a commitment to stay the course with little detail as to how, and probably more blaming of President Obama for the lack of “adrenaline” in the Kansas economy. Now, it is not realistic to expect a lot of details in one speech. But it would be nice to hear some core messages that link with reality and, ideally, are a product of some citizen input and support—rather than just support from the paid lobbyists of special interests who too often get their way in Topeka.