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Engaging with Kansas politics might be complicated. But it's easier than this board game. • Kansas Reflector

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Engaging with Kansas politics might be complicated. But it's easier than this board game. • Kansas Reflector


With election season bearing down on us like an overzealous predator animal, I’d like to take a quick moment to focus on responsibility.

The chattering class, of which I’m a longtime member, likes to chatter about the responsibility of both politicians and the news media. Lawmakers and journalists should tell us the truth, but they owe us more than mere facts. They should, commenters emphasize, dedicate themselves to principles of representative democracy and civic virtue.

The ultimate responsibility, though, rests on the shoulders of a far larger group. I’m talking about voters. That’s right, the millions of men and women, young and old, Black and white and every color in between, who cast their ballots in primary and general elections. You all have a job to do as well.

A fair number of you have been falling short.

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I know you all assume I’m writing about a certain New York real estate developer-turned-politician. He shadows a lot of these conversations. But let’s set him and his strongman act aside. Here in Kansas, voters have enabled a system that stymies exactly the policies that they tell pollsters they want.

They want an expanded Medicaid program. They want recreational marijuana — not even medical marijuana — legalized. They want schools fully funded and a sensible tax structure. Their responses remain consistent over the years, at least according to Fort Hays State University’s Kansas Speaks Poll. Yet these same voters have continued to elect supermajorities of hardcore conservative Republicans to the House and Senate who stand squarely against all of these proposals.

Voters have chosen this course.

 

Washburn University professor Bob Beatty appears for a Nov. 30, 2023, recording of the Kansas Reflector podcast to share what he learned by following GOP presidential candidates taking part in Iowa’s Jan. 15 caucus. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

What’s the matter?

None of this should come as a surprise. We’ve been doing this in Kansas for decades, and a particularly well-known book lays it all out. Yes, Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” captured hearts and minds and attention two decades ago. Yet the elections keep coming, and the choices keep being made.

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Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty pointed to Frank’s work in trying to explain why voters choose politicians who pursue policies contrary to their interests.

“A political party can be effective in making certain issues that might not affect a lot of people be prioritized over issues that these people might support and also may influence them directly,” Beatty wrote me in an email.

In other words, GOP candidates weaponize issues such as immigration, election security, crime and “critical race theory” — all non-factors in Kansas — to advance other goals.

But perhaps there’s a simpler explanation, according to the professor.

“Party identification is the greatest indicator of vote choice, still, in American elections, according to all data,” Beatty wrote. “Primaries in Kansas feature very low turnout, especially for legislative races, and the people who do turn out tend to be more conservative (sometimes much more conservative) than the general population. So, if a conservative Republican wins a primary, even if they’ve got a more moderate district overall, then party ID will kick in.”

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Analysis from KFF shows that only 59% of eligible voters in Kansas actually cast ballots in the 2022 elections. That means 41% of those older than 18 who could potentially cast a ballot chose not to do so when Election Day rolled around.

Crunching data from the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office and the Census Bureau shows that a substantial number of Kansans don’t even register. Roughly 2.25 million people in the state were above the age of 18 as of July 1, 2023. Only 1.95 million had registered to vote. That works out to about 300,000 going unregistered.

You can’t have a say if you don’t raise your voice.

 

Voters cast ballots in election office
Kansas voters cast their early ballots Oct. 25, 2022, at the Shawnee County Election Office in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Our priorities

Over the weekend, several friends and I played a gigantic strategic board game called Twilight Imperium.

In the game, you play one of several alien races battling for power and influence in the galaxy. Playing requires not only understanding two books’ worth of rules, but navigating plastic spaceships across a map assembled from hexagonal tiles. As gameplay progresses, you also draw dozens of cards with potential actions and ways to score points, both publicly and secretly.

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Playing a full game of Twilight Imperium can take seven to eight hours, although that’s a best-case scenario if all players know the game well and can leap into action. Our particular game took 10 hours, spread across a Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.

Believe me, this does have to do with voting. Please bear with me.

Intensely complicated strategy board games may not be your idea of a good time. But many people become intensely involved in various hobbies. Folks of all ages play complex and absorbing video games, which transport them to other worlds while including dense screens full of statistics. A different group of enthusiasts play fantasy sports, in which building and adjusting your own team throughout a season can involve detailed research and even spreadsheets.

We don’t play Twilight Imperium or video games or fantasy football because these pursuits earn us a salary. We enjoy them. We blow off steam and spend time with friends. Yet you cannot ignore that doing so involves learning and manipulating reams of intricate data that have nothing to do with our day-to-day lives.

So why can’t we take a fraction of that absorption and critical thought and put it toward our shared civic conversation?

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Why don’t voters step up to participating in their state and nation’s government with the same enthusiasm as they do toward drafting their fantasy team?

Once upon a time, perhaps when “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” came out, a certain ignorance of the internet or 24/7 news cycle could be excused. The world had changed quickly. Yet we’ve now lived more than three decades with the web, two decades with social media and 17 years with the iPhone. If you don’t understand the technology by now, that’s on you.

Multiple resources online separate fact from fiction. Reporters and news sources across the country, including Kansas Reflector, tackle this work every day. If you want to separate legitimate news from misinformation and disinformation, you can.

Each one of us has a responsibility to our state, country and shared future. Each one of us — including voters — should take that seriously.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Kansas City Chiefs kicker defends controversial commencement speech

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Kansas City Chiefs kicker defends controversial commencement speech


In his first public comments following a controversial speech at a recent college commencement, Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker defended his address and emphasized his Catholic faith.

“If it wasn’t clear that the timeless Catholic values are hated by many, it is now,” Butker said during a speech at the “Courage Under Fire” gala in Nashville on Friday night.

The Nashville speech was posted to X by right-wing media outlet The Daily Wire.

This is the first time the three-time Super Bowl champion has spoken publicly about his commencement address at Benedictine College, a small Catholic college in Kansas, on May 11. During his address, Butker made comments interpreted by many as homophobic and sexist, including calling Pride Month a “deadly sin” and saying that a woman’s accomplishments in the home are more valuable than any academic or professional goals, among other things.

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Friday night’s gala was hosted by Regina Caeli Academy – a hybrid campus/homeschool Catholic school group with several locations across the country. The gala boasted several other speakers including right-wing media personality and host at the Daily Wire, Matt Walsh.

“Over the past few days, my beliefs, or what people think I believe, have been the focus of countless discussions around the globe,” Butker, who is on the school’s board of directors, said.

Regina Caeli Academy did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

“At the outset, many people expressed a shocking level of hate. But as the days went on, even those who disagreed with my viewpoints shared their support for my freedom of religion,” Butker said Friday.

Butker reaffirmed his commitment to his Catholic faith, saying, “Our love for Jesus and thus our desire to speak out should never be outweighed by the longing of our fallen nature to be loved by the world.”

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During his speech, Butker referred to Saint Daniel, the biblical prophet who was thrown into a lion’s den for committing to prayer to God, despite a law that condemned worshipers to death.

“I can’t help but tremble at the thought of the courage many saints have shown in their lives,” Butker said.

Daniel was spared by God due to his commitment to faith, according to the Old Testament.

“Would I be so bold if the repercussion was what Daniel faced in being fed to lions? In reality, any courage I’ve shown will lead to some small suffering. And it will lead to some people maybe never liking me, but that could be God’s will,” the Chiefs kicker said.

The NFL issued a statement earlier this month, saying Butker’s comments don’t reflect the views of the league.

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Butker’s May 11 speech sparked criticism from LGBT advocacy organization GLAAD, which called his comments “a clear miss” and “woefully out of step with Americans about Pride, LGBTQ people and women.”

The sisters of Mount St. Scholastica monastery, a founding institution and sponsor of Benedictine College, also distanced themselves from Butker’s message. “The sisters of Mount St. Scholastica do not believe that Harrison Butker’s comments in his 2024 Benedictine College commencement address represent the Catholic, Benedictine, liberal arts college that our founders envisioned and in which we have been so invested,” they said in a statement. “Instead of promoting unity in our church, our nation, and the world, his comments seem to have fostered division.”

Fellow Chiefs star, Travis Kelce, recently responded to the commencement address, saying he does not agree with “just about any” of Butker’s views but values him as a teammate.

“I cherish him as a teammate. I think Pat (Mahomes) said it best where he is every bit of a great person and a great teammate,” Kelce said on the latest episode of the “New Heights” podcast he hosts with his brother, Jason.

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Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce responds to Harrison Butker’s commencement address

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Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce responds to Harrison Butker’s commencement address


Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce weighed in on his teammate Harrison Butker’s controversial commencement speech at Benedictine College earlier this month.

Speaking on the Friday episode of his “New Heights” podcast with brother Jason Kelce, the tight end said he does not agree with “just about any” of Butker’s views but cherishes him as a teammate.

“He’s treated family and family that I’ve introduced to him with nothing but respect and kindness. And that’s how he treats everyone. When it comes down to his views and what he said at Saint Benedict’s commencement speech, those are his,” Kelce said. “I can’t say I agree with the majority of it or just about any of it outside of just him loving his family and his kids. And I don’t think that I should judge him by his views, especially his religious views, of how to go about life, that’s just not who I am.”

Butker made waves in his address to graduates at Benedictine College when he suggested women should be homemakers, railed against LGBTQ+ Pride Month and took at President Joe Biden and abortion. His comments sparked widespread backlash and the NFL distanced itself from the kicker’s comments. 

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“Harrison Butker gave a speech in his personal capacity,” Jonathan Beane, the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer told CBS News in a statement. “His views are not those of the NFL as an organization. The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger.”

While people online condemned his words, his jersey became one of the top-selling after the graduation.

Harrison Butker of the Kansas City Chiefs warms up prior to Super Bowl LVIII against the San Francisco 49ers at Allegiant Stadium on Feb. 11, 2024, in Las Vegas.
Harrison Butker of the Kansas City Chiefs made waves with a commencement address at Benedictine College.

Perry Knotts/Getty Images


Travis Kelce’s comments echoed those of his chief teammate and three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

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Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mahomes said that while he doesn’t agree with all the beliefs espoused by 28-year-old Butker, the Chiefs quarterback nevertheless respects his teammate’s right to make them be known.

“I’ve known Harrison for seven years. I judge him by the character he shows every single day,” Mahomes said after one of the Chiefs’ voluntary practices in Kansas City, Missouri. “We’re not always going to agree, and there are certain things he said that I don’t necessarily agree with. But I know the person he is and he’s doing what he can to lead people in the right direction.”

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said that while he “talks to Harrison all the time,” he didn’t believe he needed to discuss the commencement address with his kicker when the team reconvened in Kansas City.

“We’re a microcosm of life here,” Reid said. “We’re from some different areas. Different religions. Different races. But we get along. We all respect each others’ opinions, and not necessarily do we go by those, but we respect everyone to have a voice.”

During Friday’s podcast, Jason Kelce added: “There’s always going to be opinions that everybody shares that you’re going to disagree with.

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“And make no mistake about it, a lot of the things he said in his commencement speech are not things that I align myself with. But, he’s giving a commencement speech at a Catholic university, and, shocker, it ended up being a very religious and Catholic speech.

“To me, I can listen to somebody talk and take great value in it, like when he’s talking about the importance of family and the importance that a great mother can make, while also acknowledging that not everybody has to be a homemaker if that’s not what they want to do in life.”

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Jackie Robinson statue is rebuilt in bronze in Colorado after theft from Kansas park

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Jackie Robinson statue is rebuilt in bronze in Colorado after theft from Kansas park


As he coats a mold of Jackie Robinson with wax, metalsmith Alex Haines reflects on the extra importance of a project that will soon give the city of Wichita, Kansas, a replacement bronze statue of the baseball icon after thieves brazenly destroyed the original.

“Many sculptures come through here,” said Haines at the Art Castings studio in Loveland, Colorado, where the original statue was cast. “Some are a little bit more important than others. And this is definitely one of them.”

It all started in January, when thieves cut the original statue off at its ankles, leaving only Robinson’s cleats behind at McAdams Park in Wichita.

The bronze statue of legendary baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson was stolen from a park in Wichita, Kan., during the early morning hours of Jan. 25, 2024. AP

About 600 children play there in a youth baseball league called League 42.

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It is named after Robinson’s uniform number with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he broke the major league’s color barrier in 1947.

The news spread wide, and a national outpouring of donations followed that enabled Wichita to quickly reorder a replacement.

“There’s been a lot of serendipity when it comes to League 42 throughout our entire existence,” said Bob Lutz, who is executive director of the Little League nonprofit that commissioned the statue.

“It’s almost like there’s somebody watching out for us. And certainly, in this regard, we feel like … there was a guardian angel making sure that we could do this statue again.”

Fire crews found charred remnants of his statue five days after the theft while responding to a trash can fire at another park about 7 miles away. AP

As news spread of the theft, the nonprofit was flooded with an estimated $450,000 to $500,000 in donations.

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That includes a $100,000 gift from Major League Baseball, which will cover the statue’s $45,000 replacement cost and other improvements, including landscaping and adding decorative bollards that will keep people from driving too close to the statue.

The rest of the money raised will go toward enhancing some of the nonprofit’s programming and facilities.

David Hobbs, an employee at Art Castings of Colorado, touches up a wax mold of Jackie Robinson’s head in Loveland, Colo. on May 8, 2024. AP

Last year, the group opened the Leslie Rudd Learning Center, which includes an indoor baseball facility and a learning lab.

There might even be enough money to add artificial turf and more lighting, Lutz said.

Another blessing for Lutz is that the replacement will look exactly like the original, which was created by his friend, the artist John Parsons, before his death in 2022 at the age of 67.

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That is possible because the original mold was still viable.

An employee at Art Castings of Colorado touches up a wax mold of Jackie Robinson’s jersey in Loveland, Colo. on May 8, 2024. AP

“If that wasn’t the case, I don’t know that I would feel as good about all this as I do,” Lutz said.

It looked dire five days after the theft, when fire crews found burned remnants of his statue while responding to a trash can fire at another park about 7 miles away from the scene of the theft.

One man has pleaded guilty, and the investigation continues into a crime that police have said was motivated not by racial animus but by plans to sell the bronze for scrap.

It was a stupid plan, said Tony Workman, owner of Art Castings of Colorado. The town where the business is located, around 50 miles north of Denver, is well known for its abundance of sculptors and artists.

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“The problem is you can’t get a fire in a dumpster hot enough to melt metal,” Workman said. “All you’re gonna do is burn the sculpture. So you’re still going to be able to tell what it was.”

Beyond rebuilding the statue, the severed bronze cleats from the original statue found a new home last month at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

Brooklyn Dodgers’ infielder Jackie Robinson is photographed on April 18, 1948. AP

It is a fitting location. Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, paving the way for generations of Black American ballplayers.

He is considered not only a sports legend but also a civil rights icon. Robinson died in 1972.

“The outpouring of support that folks have gotten as a result of this, it reminds us that light indeed does come out of darkness,” said Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

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At the museum, the cleats are part of a display that also includes a gunfire-riddled plaque that had been erected outside Robinson’s birthplace near Cairo, Georgia.

The bronze Jackie Robinson cleats that were left behind during the theft. AP

“It renews our spirt and belief in people because sometimes people will do despicable things, and it makes you want to give up on people,” Kendrick said.

“But you know you can’t give up on people, even though sometimes you want to.”

On a recent morning, Emilio Estevez, a financial services worker from Miami, stopped to look at the cleats. He described Robinson as an inspiration — both because of this athleticism and his ability to put up with jeers while integrating the sport.

“We can all learn from that,” he said.

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And the thieves couldn’t take that away, Estevez said.

“He’s still in all our minds. He’s still very present, like here in the museum, very prevalent,” he said.



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