The East-West Divide in Kansas by Sandra Stenzel of WaKeeney
Imagine my surprise last week when I got a call from a friend in eastern Kansas telling me that the schools in WaKeeney had become the subject of a political mailing in a race for the Kansas Senate in the district that covers Johnson County.
Surely, my friend has misunderstood. WHY would the schools in WaKeeney be used as a tool for a tool running for the Kansas Senate? “Well, he said, if you don’t believe me, I’ll send you a copy of the flier. Sure enough, in living color there it was. Mary Pilcher-Cook, the candidate who cooked up this nonsense, was blaming WaKeeney schools for the tax rate in Johnson County.
Ok, I’ll wait for you to stop laughing before I go on.
It was a mailer that was complete with full color pictures of a “bandito” with guns blazing, a cowboy hat, and a bandana mask over the face. Ooooooh. Scary. Heheheheh. I had NO idea folks in our school system were so frightening to Johnson County. Here’s the offending part of her mailer attacking her opponent:
“I will not support legislation which allows your tax dollars to be exported to schools that your children do not attend. His approach to education funding is to increase taxes on Johnson County residents and then export our tax dollars to fund schools in WaKeeney. That is wrong.”
Oh.My.God. I tell ya, when I read that, my first reaction was indeed to say “Whaaaat?” Then I laughed. I suspect little miss alarmist probably has never actually BEEN to WaKeeney, except maybe to stop at the local truck stop for coffee on her way to ski in Aspen or Vail, or wherever rich folks from Johnson County ski. She likely threw a dart at a map and it landed on our town. She sees us as “robbers” and
And then I got mad.
For crying out loud, it isn’t like we don’t send OUR tax dollars to Johnson County for economic development programs, higher education, and a plethora of other things that ALL state tax dollars go to support in ALL areas of the state. This candidate might be desperate, but if she thinks WaKeeney schools are why Joco taxes are high, she’s also insane. Delusional. And desperate to win.
I decided to channel my outrage about this to write a letter to the editor of the Johnson County Sun and the Kansas City Star. I would encourage you to do the same. For now, I thought readers here might like to read the letter I sent east.
“Dear Editor of the Johnson County Sun:
Imagine my surprise this week when a friend called to tell me about the campaign flyer he received from Mary Pilcher-Cook regarding the schools in WaKeeney, Kansas. I have to say, I was surprised to know that our school district had become a campaign issue in Johnson County. First I was puzzled, and then I laughed out loud. Actually, I laughed until I had tears in my eyes. And they say people in western Kansas are uniformed?
I was astounded, as well as amused, that this woman would be dragging our community into your state senate campaign. I asked my friend to send me the offending campaign literature. Good grief. So, WaKeeney is the reason Johnson County taxes are what they are? Only Pilcher-Cook could make that false leap of logic.
It’s a sad day for our state when a candidate for an important legislative seat tries to use WaKeeney, of all places, as a wedge to divide the citizens of eastern and western Kansas. I wonder if she has ever even been to WaKeeney, or did she, or some other political operative, just throw a dart at a map and came up with our name?
Surely you all in Johnson County have more important issues to worry about than whether or not WaKeeney gets its few dollars of state funding for our children. And in case the voters in your district need a reminder, we are all, both rural and urban, in this Kansas economy together.
At a time when businesses at both ends of the state are struggling to survive, at a time when Kansas is at an economic crossroads and needs real leadership, and at a time when employers in Johnson County are desperately seeking well educated workers, now is no time to replay the endless east vs. west bashing game. Such inflammatory rhetoric serves no one.
Kansans have, for too long, allowed ourselves to be divided and conquered by this kind of petty nonsense. But, I guess for some elected officials, jealousy and division are more important than addressing the very real issues facing Kansas. For sure, it’s easier to throw stones at WaKeeney than it is to confront the economic reality in our state, your county, and the workforce needs of your businesses. I guess if I had been in the Kansas legislature for as long as she has, with so few accomplishments, I’d want to distract the voters with a non issue too!
One of the reasons population in western Kansas has declined over the years is that so many of our well educated children have migrated to Johnson County and other parts of the greater Kansas City area. Your businesses provide wonderful opportunities for our children, but only after they have been educated in our local schools. They come to work for you after they attend our vocational training schools or Kansas colleges and universities, which, I might add, we also pay state taxes to support. It’s an arrangement that has worked well for both your businesses and our children for decades. We’re glad to see our children do well and help your economy grow, because we know, in the long run, it benefits the entire state. Too bad Pilcher-Cook doesn’t feel the same way.
It seems that Mary Pilcher-Cook would just as soon we stop sending our well educated students to your county to join a workforce that desperately needs to grow in order to keep you competitive in the global economy. I guess she’d rather have those Kansas children be uneducated and unskilled and useless to your employers, who are hungry for just the kind of hard working and well trained people we graduate from our schools.
Perhaps she’d rather have us send those competent workers to other states and cities instead of Johnson County. Clearly, a divisive and condescending attitude like hers hangs out the UNwelcome sign for anyone looking to join the Johnson County workforce. The work ethic of our WaKeeney students is unmatched, as are the education and training they receive in our Kansas schools. They are a valuable asset to businesses across the state, but apparently, not to Pilcher-Cook.
Over the last few years, the citizens of WaKeeney and Trego County have raised our OWN taxes multiple times to improve the physical facilities at our schools, to upgrade our science labs, our computer training, and to reward the hard working teachers who make it possible for us to provide your businesses the employees they want. Workers that we hear, (apparently via Pony Express) your businesses need. We’ve been glad to help, and you are welcome. But her kind of divisive speech is what we get in return? To quote someone from another state, “thanks, but no thanks”.
Please consider what we in western Kansas contribute to your community, your businesses, and your economy. In case Pilcher-Cook has forgotten, we also pay state taxes that benefit multiple Johnson County economic development projects. I don’t hear her complaining when those tax dollars flow from west to east. It seems that as far as she is concerned, what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. I wonder if your business community agrees? If so, we’ll remember that the next time we plan a shopping trip or a visit to one of your sporting events. Our money is good elsewhere too!
It’s a joke out here that people from Johnson County think I-70 only runs in one direction, from west to east, until it is pheasant hunting season. That attitude of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too” is a joke out here and a joke all over Kansas. Just like the provincial attitude of Pilcher-Cook is a joke. Except, on this issue, no one in either community should be laughing.
I urge you to vote for Pete Roman. Our children, your workforce, and the growth and prosperity of our state depend upon it.”
If you would like to send a letter to the editor of the Johnson County Sun, you may Contact the publisher, Steve Rose, at 4370 West 109th St. Suite 300, Overland Park, Kansas. Or, since the election is coming up soon, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax your comments to (913) 381-9889.
Please let him know that we are tired of the politics of divisiveness, the lunatics that think Kansas ends at the Johnson County line, and the shortchanging of students in rural communities. Like I said, the future of our state, and certainly our schools, may hang in the balance.