Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Visit With the Sponsor of Kansas' Anti-Gay Bill

Several things stood out to me as I was walking through the halls of the Kansas State Capital this week.

To begin with, the renovations look great! If you have an opportunity to tour the newly updated State House, take advantage of it. The history recorded through the paintings and statues is a strong reminder that our state is the home of abolitionists and farmers…progressives and suffragists. It is important to remember those who came before us in order to understand the turmoil being wreaked on our great state by today’s current batch of legislators.

My friend Stacey and I had driven to Topeka to participate in Equality Kansas’ “Day of Equality” in order to show our opposition to House Bill 2453 and in order to represent the hundreds of our friends who couldn’t participate but who were there in spirit.

We met on the 2nd floor and received citizen lobby packets, which included factual information regarding the bill’s language and corrected the false claims made the by the Representatives who voted “yes” on the bill (most of the over 70 who did so are hesitant to even speak on their vote now).

Stacey and I were both anxious, having been tasked with visiting our State Representative and our State Senator. She knew she’d have to share her own story and sit face to face with two people who appear to view her and her partner as second class citizens. I knew I’d be facing my opponent from two years ago; what made me more nervous, though, was the daunting thought of trying to hold anything close to a civil conversation with Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook, the (probably) most conservative Senator in Topeka and a woman well known for using foul language and aggressive posture when confronting anyone with whom she disagrees.

Stories abound with regard to Mary’s mistreatment of others, but one of the latest to slip out of Topeka has to do with the circus she ran when bringing in two pregnant women and having sonograms performed on them under the Capital Dome. Lobbyists, who cannot speak on record, have let slip that even Senate President Susan Wagle was embarrassed and disgusted by Mary’s antics. The story goes, but it is hearsay, that Wagle approached Mary to urge her to drop the pursuit, backing up the request with support from the conservative coalition in the Senate and even a request from the governor himself.

Mary’s response, loosely, was for President Wagle to “go (insert word) herself”.

Was this recorded? Nope; it’s just part of the scuttlebutt going around the Capital. She will be running for Senate reelection in 2016 in Shawnee in case you are interested.

Alas, Mary couldn’t be found. We were told by her secretary that she’d be in committee meetings all day, wouldn’t be back in the office at all, and had a similar schedule all week.

Representative Charles Macheers, however, stumbled upon us while we were standing outside his office waiting to find out when he would return.

The Representative’s shock was visible when I introduced myself but he recovered and kindly invited us to sit. I think he thought I would attack him or something; I thought he would stutter and drool. Both of us were wrong. Stacey was angrier than me, which is understandable since I benefit from marriage and this Representative’s bill denies hers.

Several things became glaringly apparent to me during our meeting.

First of all, Representative Macheers is not a monster, far from it. The anger resulting from this bill has taken a toll on him (and his family; he mentioned how hard this has been on his wife and I feel for her). His hands were shaking while we spoke and he seemed almost apologetic.

This Representative has been badly used by his party. He shared with us that when the bill was handed off to him and he was asked to present it he was told it would be simple. “We sponsor one social bill a year and they said it would be a ten minute discussion on the floor with a majority vote and we would move on. I never saw this type of backlash coming.”

He was unfamiliar with the language in the bill, using verbatim talking points that we had been warned supporters might use. He claimed this is exactly like bills in over 30 states, limited to churches and marriages. I responded that this isn’t quite accurate and that the language in his bill was far too brood, covering employment benefits for same sex couples.

I was flabbergasted when Rep. Macheers, animated for the first time, excitedly said “that’s not true, it says nothing about employment benefits”.

I will quote : “Section 1, subsection (a): Section 1. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender: (a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement:”

What this says to me is that Representative Macheers simply listens to what others tell him and doesn’t do his own research. Stacey and I asked if we could leave a folder that explains in more detail the flaws in the bill, including comparisons and explanations to other state “religious freedom” bills regarding why the Kansas bill was so over-reaching and he willingly took the information and thanked us.

He spoke sincerely to Stacey and after she shared a personal story of discrimination at the hands of the Mission Police Department he appeared to be honestly upset for her.

This is when the sadness of the entire political situation in Topeka hit me. My Representative isn’t a bad man. He is simply woefully uneducated and trusting of the wrong leaders within his own party. Most likely, based upon his associations (Mary Pilcher-Cook among others – hard to campaign and fund raise with her and not have it be assumed you share the same religious doctrine), he does share the same goal of making our state government one ruled by Christian doctrine, but I honestly got the feeling that he had no idea there were gay partners residing within his district. And he seemed almost childlike in his surprise over the national reaction to the bill, as if it never even occurred to him that others might not agree that gay people are bad.

When Stacey introduced herself he quizzed her with regard to WHERE she lived, almost as if he thought his old opponent had brought in a decoy. I saw a small look of surprise when I mentioned Stacey and Bev’s daughter and her local middle school.

We spoke for over 20 minutes and, surprisingly, he didn’t appear to be pushing us out. For this I am extremely grateful to him. It would have been so easy to say he needed to be in a committee meeting, etc, and to cut the visit short. At one point, he stated “it’s okay for us to talk and disagree when we do it civilly and politely”. Again, I think we both had pre-conceived thoughts on how we might respond to one another. He also continued to support the bill, repeating the same handful of talking points like a parrot. He did acknowledge that some of the language needed to be changed but that the intent of the bill remains the same: protect religious freedom.

When we left, he shook our hands and asked Stacey to please contact him if she experiences any type of discrimination within his district. He said “no one should be discriminated against”. He seemed to deeply, from the bottom of his heart, mean this.

Read that again.

Clearly, we can have civil dialogue all day long about this and other bills, but the chasm of comprehension is simply too wide to overcome I fear.

There truly isn’t any clear answer, other than making your voices known at the polls.

There is a lesson in this for all of you, though.

Do NOT be afraid to visit your elected officials. If Stacey and I, two people who represented a large threat to Representative Macheers, can draw on the courage necessary to pop in unannounced and make our concerns known then so can you!!

A visit to the capital doesn’t have to take long. Our elected officials are extremely busy during the session and, to be honest, don’t have a great deal of time between meetings. But it is absolutely vital that they see your face, hear your voice, and hear alternative opinions to those of their base. Voters who disagree with them aren’t the ones attending their fund raisers and cheering them on. They aren’t the ones they have targeted on their canvassing lists. Until this bill, they weren’t the ones commenting on their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

In their defense, if constituents don’t talk to them they will continue to remain in the dark.

Don’t let them off the hook. Force them to hear your opinions and then, when they vote against the spoken interests of their districts, we can use this to vote them out.

We have more power than we know. Let’s use it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Civil Rights, Dogma, and a Rally Tomorrow

I asked my Grandfather to repeat himself.

“Folks can’t even have a manger scene in their yard anymore!!!”

I gently corrected him, emphasizing the fact that thousands of people and churches across the country have manger scenes displayed every winter holiday (heck, some leave them up year ‘round). I tried to explain the difference between a private residence and the local police department in as elementary a way possible. He wasn’t interested in hearing my thoughts…until I asked him how he would feel about a statue of Mohammed being erected in front of the court house. I won’t repeat what he said.

This was a shock. My Grandfather is the reason I’m a progressive. He has been a lifelong Democrat, having lived through the Depression, WWII, the baby boomer years, and the Civil Rights Movement. I asked him where he was getting his information and he mumbled “I read it”.

Tomorrow I’m attending my first public rally in opposition to Kansas House Bill 2453, the “religious freedom bill”, and in support of civil rights for all Americans. I’m anxious, I’ll admit. You see, Topeka is home to one of the most notorious hate groups in the country, the Phelps family. They hate everyone, but they really hate homosexuals.

I don’t like confrontation; it makes my stomach churn. Tomorrow could be ugly. But I am compelled to be there. I’m going with a friend who just this weekend married her long time love and soul mate in Iowa. She’s been quiet, trying to live in obscurity in a Johnson County suburb with her partner, raising their daughter, paying their taxes, being good neighbors, and keeping a low profile so as not to bring attention to their little circle of three. If she can step out of her comfort zone and march to defend her family’s rights then so can I, by her side.

Folks have tried to debunk opposition to the bill by saying it has been misrepresented; but the majority of people who have read the wording haven’t exaggerated the sentences that talk about unemployment benefits, adoption, and government employees. The broadness of the bill, and the unconstitutionality of it, is only up for debate by those who have willingly chosen to wear blinders.

Their arguments don’t bother me (they are free to believe whatever they choose) but the underlying basis of the bill does. It is why I will be in Topeka tomorrow.

You see, this isn’t just an LGBT issue. This is an American civil rights issue. This is one of the reasons our ancestors fought to get out from under the thumb of England: the power of the Church.

The KKK used scripture to justify the murder of black men and women and to demonize interracial marriage:

Exodus 33:16 "So shall we be separated: I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the Earth."

Leviticus 20:24 "I am the Lord they God which have separated you from other people."

Joshua 23:12-13 "If you do in any way go back and cleave unto the remnants of these Nations, even these that remain among you, and shall make marriages with them, and go in unto them and they unto you: Know for a certainty That there shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your side and thornes in your eyes. Until ye perish off from this good land which the Lord your God has given you."

The list goes on and on: Deuteronomy 7:3, Proverbs 23:27, Psalm 144:11-12, Hosea 5:6-7. "So We, the True Chosen people of God, the True Tribes of Israel, are commanded not to Race mix. We are not equal in the eyes of Yahwey."

Scripture has been used to justify anti-semitism:

"And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)" Act 12:2-3

"But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. " Acts 17:5

And misogyny:

"Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing." 1 Tim 2:11-15

And for demeaning those who are disabled:

"Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken; No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the LORD made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God. He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy. Only he shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the LORD do sanctify them." Lev 21:17-23

Believe what you want. Read the translation of whatever scripture you want. Pick and choose which sins are worse than others in your own mind all you want. Hate, love, serve, denounce, and proselytize all you want. What you think and what religion you follow is your own right. It is your right to place whatever you want in your yard, as long as it doesn’t incite a riot or disrupt the peace. It is your right to worship whatever God you choose, wherever you choose. Contrary to local Kansas myth, your child can even pray in school (Supreme Court ruling; but no, a public school as an entity cannot hold mass prayer – each individual can pray as long as it doesn’t disrupt the other students). What we need to beware of, what we must be vigilant in watching, and what the term “establish no religion” means is that we cannot pass laws based upon a particular set of religious beliefs.

If we allow this bill (and others like it), maybe the next bill in Kansas will state that all divorces will be ruled in favor of the husband if a Judge’s deeply held religious belief holds that women should bow to their husbands.

If we allow this bill, maybe the next bill in Kansas will state that astrologists can be arrested or executed: "Thou shalt not allow a sorceress to live." Exodus 22:18.

If we allow this bill, maybe the next bill in Kansas will state that all synagogues must be relocated to more than a mile from churches because the “deeply held religious beliefs” of some doctrines believe the Jews are responsible for Jesus’ death.

I wasn’t alive during the Civil Rights movement and I sometimes find myself wondering if I would’ve been the kind of person who would have been strong enough to sit at the lunch counter with black friends in a show of solidarity and support for equality. Would I have been able to withstand being spit on, punched, hit and knocked to the ground?

If I had been born German, would I have been strong enough to hide a Jewish friend or neighbor from the Nazis?

If I was friends with Alice Paul, would I have been strong enough to withstand imprisonment in order to fight for the right to vote?

No, homosexuals are not being carted off to concentration camps in the United States today. Nor are they being beat to death or hung from trees on a daily basis. Our country doesn't bear the scars of 200 years of slavery and murder of homosexuals like she does African Americans. Local law enforcement officers are not turning a blind eye to victims like Mathew Shepard in today's world, although they did in the past.

But make absolutely no mistake: there was a time when gays and lesbians were in physical danger if they were discovered...and Shepard's death after being tied to a fence post and pistol whipped was just fifteen years ago. It has been well documented that homosexuals were carted off to the gas chambers, side by side with their Jewish brothers and sisters during WWII Germany. The general human propensity to hurt people they deem as "less than" or "sinful" has always been something that left me breathless, unable to speak. Am I exaggerating? Do your own research.

Which leads us to Kansas, circa 2014. I believe that to deny any American the same privileges as their fellow citizens and to deny them the right to marry whomever they love because of a certain religion is wrong and has no place in a representative government such as our own.

Make no mistake, this is a civil rights issue and it is not going to go away. Red states like Kansas and elected leaders like our own can muck up the issue and cause it to drag…and stall….much like the Southern states did with regard to segregation, but they are only delaying the inevitable. Our culture is moving forward as it has done in the past. Until we learn to remove religious dogma from defining our political platforms we have failed to reach the mountaintop.

As stated previously, I don’t know if I would have been strong enough when the consequences could have been fatal but I’m so very grateful that amazing people came before me and suffered the cost so that we don’t have to now.

The only thing I can personally do, for my friends and for all Americans, is step up and make a stand tomorrow. I’m looking forward to seeing others do the same.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

NOW Kansas wants to know who they elected? Here's a Start: Four of the 72 who voted "yes" on the Gay Discrimination Bill

There’s a growing myth in Kansas. It isn’t an emerald city or a flying monkey. It isn’t a talking scarecrow or a mythical bird.

It has to do with the Kansas Democratic Party. There is this mistaken perception that they remain the small minority because there is a shortage of good candidates.

I’m here to tell you this simply isn’t true. I should know, I was a candidate two years ago and I met or observed the majority of every person running for state office in Johnson County (okay, I'll accept that Kevin Yoder went unopposed two years ago, even after his nude escapade in the Sea of Galilee...but not this year; check out Kelly Kultala).

Tell you what. I will simply use, as examples, a handful of legislative races that were just within driving distance of my house and do some comparative analyses. By the time we finish, it is my hope that this myth can be put to rest so that we may focus on blaming the real party responsible for Kansas’ sorry national reputation: Republican voters in this state who repeatedly refuse to vote in the primaries and who simply don’t appear to care about a single factor other than the letter next to a candidate’s name.

I had a saying after the election: Jeffrey Dahmer would have triumphed in most Kansas districts as long as he had an “R” next to his name. Those of you who are yelling at the computer “hell yes” need to contact a therapist. Seriously, you’d vote for a serial killer over someone who has perceived differing political beliefs? No wonder the Kansas House was filled with members who passed a bill that has left us the laughing stock of the country.

Who exactly were some of these “weak” Democratic candidates from the 2012 election?

In Leawood’s 28th District, Kelly Jackson was part of a strong Democratic female contingency that chose to run for office out of concern over continued cuts to education. Kelly, the (then) 51 year old wife of a cardiologist and mother of three, has an undergrad degree from Georgetown University and a Law Degree from The University of Iowa. She is a practicing attorney and mediator and had earned her way through college by serving in the United States Army as the commanding officer of a bomb squad. Kelly also happens to be extremely articulate and engaging, with bright blue eyes and a beautiful smile. And yes, charisma is part of being a strong candidate. Look at Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Kelly’s opponent was Jerry Lunn. During the time they ran against each other and even as of this writing there is nowhere online where this interested voter has been able to find out if Jerry even graduated high school. No education background is listed, anywhere. In addition, his website pads a vague resume as founder of Brush Creek Partners, ”a management consulting firm primarily involved in economic/community development”. Check out the company website and all you’ll find is a list of internet links because the site isn't active. His Representative Facebook page has a whopping 53 “likes”, even after almost two full sessions in office. There hasn’t been a single entry posted that details house bills since he was sworn in. The rest of his postings are fluff (I've included the link - see for yourself).

Representative Lunn voted “yes” on Kansas HB 2453, now affectionately known to some as the Kansas Jim Crow law for gays. He’s yet to make a public statement on the vote, but did attach his name with others (including the bill’s sponsor) to the following statement in the official house record: “Mr. Speaker: One of the founding principles of our country, inscribed in the First Amendment, is the right of the people to be led by their conscience and follow their own deeply held religious convictions without fear of penalty or reprisal. Because of that, I vote YES on HB 2453. “

Democrat Pete Henderson gave up retirement to run for State Representative in the 39th District also out of concern for public education funding (there was a theme among the Democrats who ran two years ago; they care deeply about educating our children). Pete has a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and a Masters in guidance counseling. Pete taught American History, was a school guidance counselor and then finished out his career in the private sector as an insurance salesman.

His opponent, Willie Dove, had run for the District 1 Board of Education in 2010. During that campaign, Mr. Dove was quoted as saying he supports teaching alternatives to evolution, but didn’t clarify if he supports teaching alternatives like creationism as part of the science curriculum. “It’s a very hot potato right now, and for me to have a real definite answer, I would have to go back and look at some information” he said during an interview.

Dove lost that race, but, not to be deterred, he set his sights on the Kansas Legislature where he was promptly elected in 2012. Willie apparently graduated from high school in North Carolina and served in the Army at some point, according to a candidate report from 2010, but that is the extent of information available with regard to his educational and professional history. His campaign website lists his qualifications as being an independent insurance salesman and volunteering at his Baptist Church.

I mention Mr. Dove because he was an ardent defender of HB 2453. According to the Kansas City Star, “Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, said religious freedom was in ‘jeopardy’ and compared the situation to racial discrimination.” In case you weren’t paying attention, read that last sentence again.

In addition, Mr. Dove made headlines this week as the number one proponent of HB 2621, which seeks to nullify large portions of the state’s Common Core education standards. When asked his stance on the bill, he responded “I haven't seen the actual content of the Common Core. However, I do not believe it is within the scope of our federal government to put something together when it comes to education.”

Read that again please. Maybe three times so you get the full impact. Representative Dove is the primary opponent of a set of standards that he has never even read. Folks across the state have expressed concern over many aspects of Common Core; others support the standards. I’m not sure if Representative Dove didn’t read the standards before speaking out against them publicly because he is illiterate, lazy, or simply doing what he’s been told.

My own campaign for the Kansas House of Representatives 39th District, I will freely admit, was an unequivocal blowout. I had been told to expect this based upon voting demographics in the district (one of the most conservative in the county), but knowing this didn’t lesson the sting. There were many frustrations, one of the greatest being that the local Chamber of Commerce typically hosts candidate debates. When I asked them why they hadn’t contacted me with a date I was told they had decided not to waste the time or money because my opponent had already made it clear he wouldn’t publicly debate.

I didn't consider myself a weak candidate, even though I had quit working full time six years prior to running because my husband was travelling and the kids were very little. I earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas and spent over 15 years working in Johnson County as a juvenile probation officer. This meant I had worked with Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, educators, social service agencies, employers and community service providers. I also worked closely with the Johnson County Library and was a Girls on the Run coach. The largest paper in the area, the Kansas City Star, published an article highlighting local candidates and the writer described my background in five short words as “a stay at home mom.”

Mr. Macheers has a law degree from the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law. He describes himself as a small business owner. The business is a single attorney law firm, single being Mr. Macheers himself. He specializes in estate planning. Mr. Macheers’ campaign website calls him a "patriot".

Representative Macheers introduced and sponsored HB 2453, the bill which will now forever be paired with the headline “What’s Really the Matter With Kansas?” A quiet and easily forgettable individual (my impression), Mr. Macheers made himself an overnight sensation by sponsoring such a blatantly unconstitutional bill. I wonder if his professors are proud. In the spirit of his peer, Representative Dove, Macheers now says he didn’t really read the bill and simply took it from Representative Lance Kinzer, Lenexa. Kinzer has distanced himself from the legislation, go figure.

I was going to link Representative Macheers' Facebook page to show evidence of the outpouring of public anger over the bill but, alas, it is no longer available. Fortunately, having learned the hard way during our race, I took multiple screen shots of the comments, many of which expressed outrage that he was deleting their comments.

The above races are child's play compared to the following, which was clearly the most imbalanced race I witnessed in 2012. The contest occurred in the district right next to mine, the 17th.

One term incumbent Brett Hildabrand was challenged by retired ex-Mayor of Lake Quivira Larry Meeker. Meeker had a rough start; the Office of Secretary of State Kris Kobach (of the anti-immigration/anti-voter history, you remember him) had somehow lost his registration papers, meaning Meeker had to run as an Independent instead of a Democrat. There were debates over whether or not this would be beneficial, but in the long run most of us figured that Larry’s gifted knowledge and credentials would mean the party affiliation wouldn’t matter. In the end, we discovered even Einstein couldn’t have beat Moe and Curly if he didn’t have an “R” next to his name. The comparison isn’t far off.

Meeker was one of the strongest and most qualified candidates on any ticket, Democratic or Republican. His education background includes a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, an MBA, and a Doctorate in Business Administration from the University of Kansas. Not impressed with degrees? How about the fact that he is a retired Vice President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, a facilitator and adjunct professor at the New Mexico Economic Development Course (one of 19 such courses in the U.S. sanctioned by the International Economic Development Council), and the former Mayor of Lake Quivira, KS. He’s also an avid supporter of the arts. And charismatic. Apparently, a PhD in economics just makes you an elitist and not bright enough to handle the Kansas House of Representatives. After all, the last two sessions have taught us nothing if not that the state budget is simply an after thought to abortion, guns, gays, religion and teachers.

Candidate Meeker was defeated by Representative Hildabrand by roughly ten percentage points. Larry shared a story with me shortly after the election, one that I hope he will still be comfortable with me repeating. It explains a great deal when looking at the incompetence and weakness of many of the elected representatives in Topeka. He had been canvassing and came to the home of a fellow businessman. After talking, the man said he acknowledged Meeker’s unquestionable intelligence and qualifications; he also understood that Hildabrand was an extremely weak candidate and a party dominionist. The man said he’d be voting for Hildabrand regardless. When Meeker, incredulous, asked “how can you vote for someone like this?” the voter responded by saying that’s exactly who he wanted; Republicans who will keep their mouths shut and vote exactly as they are told.

Hildabrand openly supported HB 2453 and his official web page reads like a Tea Party handbook, listing personal liberties, gun ownership and abortion as three of his top four most important issues. Hildabrand, who moved to his Shawnee apartment from another district in order to be able to run in the 17th District in 2012 (many folks were just a little curious as to whether or not he had any help with the move, but I digress), is single and has no children (he served in a separate district from 2010-2012; the 17th was newly created after the Kansas legislature attempted to gerrymander Kansas districts, resulting in federal intervention). He has a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Kansas State University and works for a freight company.

After the firestorm last week over HB 2453, Representative Hildabrand sent out a newsletter in which he continued to support the bill. ‘Gotta give him credit for doubling down on a bill that received thousands of signatures in opposition and state/national outrage from voters.

Hildabrand is similar to many of the extreme Representatives in Topeka: he believes that because he was elected the citizens of Kansas have given him carte blanche permission to insert his religious beliefs into Kansas legislation and that they have given them carte blanche to ignore the state budget while attacking every social issue known to man.

A few years ago, Representative Hildabrand wrote this: "A democracy is rule by majority, or more specifically "Tyranny by Majority." The law is whatever 50.1% of the population declares to be the law at a given moment. There is no inherent value in the rights of the individual if the individual happens to hold a minority view." Now you know why our Representatives are sponsoring the bills they are presenting. In one very short, concise, statement.

I’ve just listed four Democratic candidates with strong resumes. Their opponents were weak and short on substance. This was just four races, off the top of my head, within driving distance of my home.

Think the Kansas Democratic Party doesn’t have strong and qualified candidates? Think again and next time read the bios. Even better, read the bios, the issue stances and then call each candidate.

Call Representative Dove and ask him to explain Common Core…or share his thoughts on science and evolution (yes, THAT again).

Call Representative Lunn and ask him to explain his business…or his educational background.

Call Representative Macheers and ask him how, in God’s name, he passed a single constitutional law class while attending the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law. While you are at it, maybe ask him if he's planning on making his facebook page or twitter account accessible to constituents at any time in the near future.

Call Representative Hildabrand and ask him to continue defending HB 2453. While you are at it, ask him why he believes he doesn't have to represent any minority opinions in his district.

Then share the experiences with the rest of your friends and neighbors. And maybe with John Stewart. He'd have a ball with this crew.

As for the rest of the country, please don’t assume that Kansas Democrats aren’t working like hell to bring a little pragmatism and common sense back to our Statehouse. Many of us have stepped up, sacrificed, and paid the price in our efforts to reach out to uninterested local voters. It’s time for Kansas citizens across the board to put in a little more effort during this next election and, at a minimum, take a few moments to look past the letter next to a name and at least find out if what you think you fear is reality.

Speaking of's been thrown in your faces since this session began. Just don't forget that we all have choices, regardless of what we've been told. Larry Meeker, among others, proved that.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Conservative? Which Kind?

The tidal wave of opposition state wide and nationally towards Kansas HB 2453 has been, to say the least, nothing short of a movement. As a result, the Kansas Senate is running the other direction from this toxic bill that would've made discrimination legal.

The question now, outraged Kansas voters, is what next? At the risk of angering both Republicans and fellow Democrats alike, I'm going to share my own personal thoughts about my state, the State of Kansas. And if you thought HB 2453 was great, stop reading now. There's no point in continuing.

"How did this happen" and "vote those idiots out of office" are two of the most repeated comments I've been reading online. Hundreds and hundreds of people have stepped up to express outrage and anger over the bill, many of them life long Republicans, many of them religious. So how DID this happen?

Kansas is a red state. When I say red, I mean red as in Santa Claus red. Red as in "red, red wine" red. Red as in "bleeding Kansas" red.

It's just a fact. Roughly 45% of registered voters in the state of Kansas are Republicans, 25% are Democrats and 30% are Independents. "The Kansas Republican Party has dominated Kansas politics since Kansas statehood in 1861 and in February 2011, the Gallup Survey classified Kansas as one of only five "solidly Republican" states. After the 2012 elections, Kansas was one of only five states with all its federal and statewide elected officials from the Republican Party." (wiki)

Why all the facts? In order to explain something to Republicans. YOU control who is elected in this state. You, you, you.

Back to the original question regarding all of the outrage over HB 2453 and how it could possibly have happened; these are your candidates and you elected them.

Who did you elect? They guy who introduced this bill, Charles Macheers. By the way, he's still defending it (after admitting he didn't really ever read it). How about the guy who handed it off to him, Rep. Lance Kinzer, Lenexa, who rabidly defended the bill on the house floor. Rep. Kinzer now refuses to speak publicly about his role in bringing this bill to the House. How about the other 70 legislators who voted "yes" on this bill last week? We aren't hearing much from them either...but you voted them into office.

My own trio of Shawnee Representatives heartily endorsed this bill (they are Mr. Macheers, Brett Hildabrand and John Rubin, in case you were wondering). The two State Representatives from my home county also endorsed this bill (Tom Moxley and Ron Highland, just in case you were interested).

You might find yourself asking HOW on earth could over 70 people be elected who would actually be capable of endorsing and voting "yes" on a bill that so clearly, so obviously, and so simply would allow blatant and open discrimination against American citizens? It comes down to five words: I am the conservative candidate.

When these folks ran for office they simply latched onto the word "conservative" and wore it like The Medal of Honor. Seriously, who in Kansas isn't going to vote for the self-described "conservative" candidate?? This is a RED STATE, after all. This is a REPUBLICAN STATE!

It's time, Kansas Republicans, to decide once and for all what the word "conservative" truly means to each of you individually. Because many of the people you are voting for have found a way to warp and twist that word and, in the process, have left many of the values traditionally associated with it by the wayside.

Limited government? There is very little "limit" to be found when bill after bill after bill is passed involving the legislation of medical choices between a woman and her doctor. There is very little "limit" involved when bills are passed that specifically focus on legislation based upon a particular set of religious beliefs. There is very little "limit" exhibited when bills are created that allow one man and one party to determine the makeup of the highest courts in the state. And there is very little "limit" in spending the bulk of a legislative session tackling unnecessary social issues while ignoring the state budget.

What about pro-business? This bill was the furthest thing from business friendly one could imagine. In fact, some of the most ardent opponents were a few of Kansas' biggest companies who loudly voiced their opposition to the bill. Word is leaking from Topeka that it is only because of these voices that the Senate is going to either kill or at least severely modify HB 2453. Additional word is that Governor Sam Brownback would have happily signed off on this bill prior to the public outcry.

I ask this: if you could so easily vote into office Representatives who have so freely, so eagerly, so gleefully passed this type of legislation how can you be trusted to make the right choices in the future? Will you now, finally, listen to the politically engaged when they ask you, beg you, to look deeply into the primaries and make your voices heard when it matters the most? Will you now, not just the 4% of you who typically show up, VOTE in the primary? Let me repeat: roughly FOUR PERCENT of registered Republicans vote in the primary elections. The ramifications of this means that approximately 4% of all voters in Kansas determine who is elected to office because in this, the reddest of red states, the Republican usually wins in the general election.

Will you maybe, just maybe, consider that strictly voting along party lines might not always be the wisest thing to do? All it takes is a few phone calls to the candidates to feel them out. Or maybe, just maybe, when they knock on your door instead of hiding around the corner and avoiding them you could maybe ask a few questions and engage in some dialogue. In addition, simply look at who candidates associate with. Mr. Macheers openly campaigned in tandem with one of the most extreme, right wing, and self-ordained anti-abortion crusaders in the entire Senate, Mary Pilcher-Cook (who made headlines just a few weeks ago after sponsoring a bill to outlaw surrogacy; the bill was so ridiculous that even the far right Senate President Susan Wagle scoffed at it). If anyone wanted to know what type of "conservative" Mr. Macheers was when he ran it would've been child's play to figure out.

The real question we need to be asking is what type of conservative are you? An anti-abortion, anti-public school, anti-stem cell, anti gay, anti-science, theocratic conservative? Or are you a limited government, personal freedom and responsibility, pro-education and pro-business conservative? While I've certainly simplified things (yes, I know, it's not so simple for many of you) make no mistake, these are two completely different parties. The first group is running our state government, from the top down. And they were elected by you.

The second group, it appears, woke from a slumber this week when they realized the people they had elected seemed to have lost all sense of the constitution and what it means (if they ever knew to begin with).

In November of this year, every single Representative who voted "yes" on HB 2453 will be on the ballot. A vote for them is a vote for discrimination and madness. Too harsh? I don't think so. Many of these candidates will also be on the ballot during the primaries, in August. Check to see if their opponent is the type of conservative Republican more in line with your beliefs and then make sure you get to the polls.

And hey, here's another option. Maybe, just maybe, if your Republican choice is one of the Representatives who voted "yes" on the bill that has made our state a national embarrassment (check out the "Kansas' New Jim Crow Laws" articles flooding the internet), consider voting for the Democratic candidate. Remember, all but two of the current Democrat Representatives openly and passionately voted "no" on this bill (see, even the Democrats have a few in Topeka who don't deserve to carry the party name...happens in all families). Don't worry, if you can bring yourself to vote for a Democrat rest assured your overall conservative interests will still most likely be firmly represented and you can take comfort that at least, in this one election, you erred on the side of caution. Because frankly, the Representatives who voted "yes" have proven with one singular vote that they aren't worthy of representing a constituency. Even in the most red state in the country.

Step up Kansas Republicans. Help take back our state. For the sake of us all.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The "Religious Freedom" Anti-Freedom Bill

Two years ago I ran for the Kansas House of Representatives as a Democrat in western Shawnee. Voter registration numbers made it very clear from the outset that a Democrat would have near zero odds of winning but I wanted to provide an alternative for voters who had told me they were fiscally conservative but socially liberal. I heard this sentence stated by over 90% of the voters I spoke with.

Sadly, the fiscal pieces those constituents had counted on by voting for many of the Republicans on the state ballot have not come to fruition. In fact, despite the misleading communications sent out by those elected leaders, Kansas is quickly falling behind neighboring states, having lost 7,400 jobs last month.

Higher education has been cut and school districts across the state are reeling from faltering budget concerns. Public education is still embroiled in a lawsuit because the state hasn’t maintained the very funding standards they themselves set.

In the meantime, many state representatives spent most of last year’s legislative session attacking abortion, gun regulations, and teacher unions. In doing so, they left their one mandated responsibility, the state budget, until the very end, resulting in huge monetary costs to our state when they were forced to extend the session (the first time that had ever happened since the 1860’s).

A few weeks ago, our Shawnee State Senator, Mary Pilcher-Cook, made a mockery of the state capital by hosting an ultrasound after introducing a bill to make surrogacy illegal and punishable by fines and imprisonment. Even many of the most socially conservative members of her party found the bill to be ridiculous.

And this week, Shawnee State Representative Charles Macheers introduced HB 2453, the “Religious Freedom” bill. The bill, based upon its language, would make it legal for any public or private employee to refuse services to any citizen based upon “sexual orientation or gender.”

Representative Macheers claims he introduced this bill to protect against religious persecution in our state. On the surface, the bill protects a florist from having to provide flowers for a same sex wedding (which is still not legal in Kansas) or a church from having to perform a same sex wedding ceremony (churches are already protected from this in Kansas). And make no mistake, Mr. Macheers isn't concerned with all religions being protected; only the one he practices.

The bill is so poorly worded (Mr. Macheers is, amazingly, a licensed attorney) that it would protect a law enforcement officer from responding to a domestic violence call if it is made by a same sex couple. In these types of cases, seconds can mean the difference between life and death. Could this also mean a firefighter could refuse to save a gay couple if their house was burning? Or that a Johnson County EMT could refuse to respond to a gay man in the midst of cardiac arrest? Could a public teacher refuse to teach the child of a gay couple in his/her classroom… or to hold a parent/teacher conference with the parents?

The bill is so poorly worded that it would protect a government employee from providing service to heterosexual couples in which the wife is the primary bread winner if the employee is religiously opposed to women working outside of the home.

The larger issue, however, is one of civil rights. While sexual orientation is not defined under the equal protection clause, gender most certainly is. In addition, The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional "as a deprivation of the equal liberty of the person ... protected by the Fifth Amendment".

I’ve been blasted with correspondence from gay and straight friends alike, wanting to know why this bill was introduced and whether or not it is a precursor towards other discriminatory bills from our local group of legislators. While the bill proposes to “protect” religious freedoms, I’ve yet to meet a single person whose religious freedoms have been violated by a homosexual (if this is a chronic issue step forward; but please, be clear with the details of “violated”).

On the flip side, my gay friends have felt deeply the effects of discrimination, specifically those who have been in loving and committed relationships with their partners for longer than most of my married heterosexual friends (frankly, almost half of the heterosexuals I know have at least one divorce under their belt, but I digress).

These friends feel the pain of having worked hard, paid taxes, been good neighbors and community citizens, loving parents (yes, they have children), and in one particular case having even served this nation honorably in the armed services.

They feel the sting of this bill as meaning they are second class citizens, less deserving of equal treatment by those same government employees their taxes pay, all because a particular religion disagrees with their private lives.

My question to Mr. Macheers and those who support this bill is this: where does it end? If a devout Muslim working at Wal Mart believes, as part of their religious belief, that women should cover their head does this bill protect them from refusing to assist women who go through their line without head cover? And how are employees to determine who is gay and who isn’t? Will we next require all homosexuals to wear a large red “H” on the outside of their clothing?

Which religiously perceived non-judicially identified criminal “sin” is to be next on the hit list?

Your intent, while claiming to “protect” religious freedoms, has been lost in the complete incompetence of the bill’s wording. In addition, religious freedoms necessarily and vitally protect every single American to believe and worship as they choose. But when related laws allow American citizens to trample and trod on the freedoms of other citizens, they are in violation of our constitution.

As an example, religious belief has been deeply rooted in the KKK (do cross burnings ring a bell?). Feeling racist is not illegal; violating the rights of others because of your racist beliefs, even if the foundation of your racism is religion, is. A gay man or woman approaching the desk of a county clerk and requesting a form in no way, shape or form, forces the clerk to have to perform any form of sexual act contrary to their beliefs. And the more I ponder this, the more insane it feels.

As Shawnee voters, it is time to wake up. Your legislators have lost sight of our need to find sound fiscal solutions to the state’s deepening budget issues and have crossed into offering legislation that will land our state right in the center of the Supreme Court’s docket and in the annals of late night comedian history.

You have a choice in November. Remember these bills and remember who wrote them.