But it’s the rest of the story, left out in this op-ed, that I want to focus on and what I believe will be needed if this kind of action is to spread. Contrary to the usual reporting, and reinforced in this op-ed, the new approach was not so much a change in the Republican direction on taxes as it was the bipartisan approach that made it possible. In the end, every single Democrat and enough rational Republicans cast their votes for a wiser way forward. The effort to override was backed by every former Kansas Governor of both parties. But maybe the most significant aspect is that much of the initial leadership came from a group of female legislators from both parties, working over a period of time, to lay out key elements of a tax package that ultimately passed.
Historically, both at the state and national level, it is this bipartisan approach that brings quite often the best of times. I think of Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, both Democrats, working with Republican President Dwight Eisenhower that led to numerous successes, including the creation of the Interstate Highway System. It was Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neil working with Republican President Reagan that brought successful reform to the Social Security System. The successes I had as Governor came from working with the majority Republican leaders in the Legislature. Contrast these examples with Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell publicly stating that his number one priority was to oppose every measure President Obama wanted, including legislation that Republicans had once proposed and supported. And, also counter to positive results on our highway system and social security, is the Affordable Care Act, which did not have bipartisan support. Now, with Republicans in total control of Congress, there is the possibility of a new health care plan, replacing President Obama’s plan but, if passed, it will be done without Democratic votes. Isn't it likely as soon as the Democrats have the power there will be another change? Working together, for instance on the needed adjustments to the Affordable Care Act (which could garner both Democratic and Republican support), would result in a much better plan and the stability to positively impact health care over time.
On a larger scale, what it takes is members of both parties agreeing on the outcomes we want to achieve for the people of our state and country, keeping the future well-being of the people at the center of the process, and checking big money interests and bitter partisan wedge issues at the door while they work to achieve the results that the people want and need. Another key to this will be reestablishing the value of truth (even when it means accepting the hard truths) and agreeing on the facts at hand. For example, the more that Kansans understood our budget challenges, the easier it became to send representatives to Topeka who had looked at the facts and agreed on the problem—which allowed citizens to more effectively voice their concerns and create a critical mass of support for the Legislature to work towards real solutions to the challenge at hand.
So, only time will tell whether what has happened in Kansas will spread across the country. Meanwhile, in Kansas—in order for this direction to continue—support for legislators from both parties who made progress possible must continue. And we should be judging future candidates by whether they support a solid, stable financial future for the state or a return to the reckless and failed fiscal and economic direction that landed us in this mess in the first place. The elections in 2018 and 2020 will determine whether this is truly a new direction for the state of Kansas or just a blip in the passage of time.