As the Kansas Legislature opens for the 2008 session, in typical fashion the storm clouds are beginning to form. Once again the agenda of the Right seems to be what will dominate by using wedge issues and negative rhetoric to hold back any progress for the people of Kansas.
Two Republican legislators from Olathe and Wichita have already announced they will seek punitive legislation against undocumented workers in the state (denying them state services like health care, nutrition, and education) - even if numerous studies show that the immigrant population makes an important contribution to the economic well-being of our state. Their ire isn’t directed only against adults, these legislators also what to punish children, who have no voice in their parents’ decision to go after the American dream.
Those of us who have worked with the immigrant population and understand that children are often double victims in the immigration debate, see the move to repeal the 2004 Kansas law that allows SOME children of undocumented workers to pay in-state tuition provided they have graduated form Kansas high schools and have attended school in Kansas for more than three years, for what it is: bigotry legislated into law.
I a dumbfounded by the Right’s insistence on calling human beings “illegal” - as if their own ancestors somehow arrived here “legally.” It shows how deep their ignorance is when it comes to immigration law and the history of this nation. The first systematic immigration laws only went into effect following WWII. Prior to that, if you weren’t Chinese or an anacharist, mentally unstable, or had a serious contagious disease like TB, you were welcomed to enter the US and become a citizen.
By using “illegal” as their mantra, the Right successfully creates cultural gridlock and once again demonize a whole class of people who are doing nothing more than what my grandfather did -- come to this country to improve his economic lot. No human being is illegal. The sooner we accept this fact, the sooner we can begin looking at immigration is terms that benefit the nation as a whole - not limit the rights and responsibilities of many of our residents - and find answers to how we can deal with the issue in modern terms.
But getting back to the issue of in-state tuition. Why don’t we treat everyone equally here by requiring those children who were lucky enough to be born US citizens, but who were not lucky enough to attended Kansas schools for at least for three years as well as being KS graduates, to pay out-of-state tuition as well? I don’t see how people can tell a young person who has attended Kansas schools their whole lives, that they cannot enjoy in-state tuition. Oh! I forget, we aren’t talking about white folks here - we’re talking about THOSE brown, black and yellow “illegal” folks. Sounds like Jim Crow all over to me!
Then we have to face the question of funding higher education. Without a doubt, the anti-education lobby of the Right will once again do everything in its power to stop any attempt to fund the amount needed to do basic maintenance at our state university system and to invest in improving educational programs to meet the growing needs of our state. Do these same legislators not maintain their own homes? I mean really - were talking about fixing broken windows and leaky pipes for goodness sake!
The Right has repeatedly shown during the past twenty seven years that maintaining our state’s (and nation’s) infrastructure is something they will have no part of. As such not only do they fail to meet their responsibility as elected officials, but also will once again show their disregard for “family values” by passing the bill to the next generation to pay. What parent does such a thing to their children? This failure will negatively impact the future of our state for generations to come as we deny educational opportunities to the present generation, which will negatively impact their children and their children’s children. But when you are afraid of people who can think critically about the decisions you as a lawmaker are making, denying people educational opportunities, or limiting those opportunities only to the ruling elite, is probably a major objective in your efforts to destroy our state.
But it doesn’t end just with university education. The Kansas State Board of Education has recommended the public school funding be increased in order to improve teacher salaries and phase in all-day kindergarten. Kansas public schools are scheduled to get a $122 million increase in funding for the 2008-2009 school year. The final installation of a three-year finance package the Legislature approved under duress in response to a Kansas Supreme Court order. The Right has never been able to get over this and they have done everything they can to derail the checks and balances of our constitution to do what they are required to do: fund public education.
The teacher salary issue is more complicated. In research conducted by the National Education Association, in 2000 college-educated males working in the private sector earned 60% more than males working in education; in 1960 the difference was only 20%. Women on the other hand have done even worst. Considering that in 1960 women working outside of education earn 12.7% less than women working in education; in 2000 women working outside of education earned 16.4% more, for a total change of 29.1% compared to 1960 salaries.
When the economy roared back after years of stagnation in 1992, the teacher/non-teacher wage gap rapidly expanded as a result of no real increase in teacher pay in combination with the strong wage gains that college-educated workers in non-teaching occupations enjoyed, especially in the information- and technology-based industries. As a result of the declining pay scale and an aging population, Kansas faces a real crisis in having highly qualified teachers in our classrooms. We have a chronic shortage of mathematics, science and special education teachers. My bet is the same legislators who will fight against any attempt to see basic maintenance completed at our university system, will do everything in their power to also fail our children in public schools.
And if failing our children’s education isn’t going to be enough, these same legislators also want to leave our next generation dirtier air and more pollution. Following the Sebelius administration’s rejection of the permits to build coal-fired power plants in western Kansas, legislative leaders like Melvin Neufeld, R- Ingalls (a Global Warming nay-sayer), and Steve Morris, R - Hugoton, have announced plans to override this decision in total disregard to the will of the people (recent polls indicate the majority of Kansas are opposed to coal-fired power plants).
A grand old man in my hometown used to say “you need to get out of the county every now and then to see how the rest of the world lives.” When it comes to Rep. Nuefeld, he really does need to get out and see what is happening to our planet. Rather than looking for clean alternatives to provide our energy needs and understanding that the future is now, he is hell-bent on putting us back to London of the 1800s where TB and other contagious diseases were endemic.
I predict this one issue will paralyze the legislature and prevent us from moving forward in the direction the people of Greensburg has shown us is the way to go in becoming energy independent.
The Kansas Health Policy Authority has produced a package of recommendations designed to make insurance more affordable for low-income Kansans, emphasize better health and personal responsibility for health, as well as works to make the health system in Kansas more efficient in general. According to current figures, over 300,000 Kansas have no health insurance, including myself. The biggest block to having health insurance is cost. In order for myself to have health insurance, I would have to devote a third of my monthly income to cover premium costs. This is one issue where the Right will probably fail in their attempts to deny people basic coverage. The proposal put forth by KHPA will be funded by a 50-cent per pack tax on cigarettes. I cannot see, in an election year, legislators saying they will not support health care coverage, but the Right never fails to amaze me.
Finally, the Right’s poster child, Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, is still upset that he wasn’t able to block Lawrence’s Domestic Partner Registry, which allows unmarried couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, the ability to document that they are in fact a family. Rep. Kinzer has vowed he will try again to get this registry overturned - as if local governments can’t make decisions for themselves. I just love how the Right screams for “less government” on issues like economic exploitation, but feels totally in their right to dictate how individuals have to live their private lives. In the same venue, get ready to see Rep. Kinzer lead an attack on Governor Sebelius’ executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in state employment.
And if all this isn’t enough, we have a growing issue with predatory lending in the state -- those “pay day” loan sharks that are ubiquitous these days. Family advocacy groups like Kansas Action for Children have called on the legislature to place restrictions on these predatory lending practices. Given the Right’s position of free-market capitalism, I don’t see much happening on this front. Regardless of the fact that these practices threaten the prosperity of Kansas families because the interest rates charged diver family resources away form basic necessities as food, clothing and shelter, the same legislators who refuse to fund education, will undoubtably see interfering with this sector of the economy as something the government shouldn’t do -- after all someone is making money off it, aren’t they?
Edwards' Withdrawal is America's Loss
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, New America Media
Posted on January 30, 2008
To view original click here
America just lost its best and brightest hope for real change whengave up the presidential ghost. Edwards did something that , , and certainly none of the Republicans would dream of doing: He made poverty no longer a dirty word in the mouths of many, and that included Clinton and Obama, for a minute anyway.
But Edwards didn't stop there. He relentlessly pushed the envelope on America's next greatest crime and sin, the absolute refusal of the nation to provide decent health care for more than fifty million persons no matter whether poor, working class, middle class and even some with a few bucks to spare. He didn't stop even there. He hammered corporate and special interests for their shameless and unabashed pillage, loot, and rape of American consumers.
Edwards was truly a modern day Jeremiah crying in the wilderness against poverty, corporate greed, and the health care abomination, and predictably was bum rushed by the gaggle of ultra-conservative slam artists, the Fox network crowd, talk shock jocks, and theneo-liberal bunch. They slandered, slurred, and ridiculed him, and ultimately tried to marginalize him as a bare after thought, warm up act to Clinton and Obama.
Edward's much needed and almost never heard populist message didn't mark him as a threat. The fact that he could win and would have been in a position to deliver on his heartfelt advocacy made him a threat. The seeds of the attack were there from the start. He had barely stepped out of the barber salon early in the campaign when the pokes and digs started. He was the butt of laughs and late night TV talk show gags for committing the unpardonable sin of blowing $400 on a haircut. The barbs and the taunts didn't stop even after he shrugged it off as fun and games stuff. Months latertook another hair shot at him when he grabbed at his hair and tried to muss it up during his appearance on Letterman's late night show.
This slapstick silliness wouldn't have raised an eyebrow since he is a wealthy guy who made millions as a corporate lawyer. But it was the poverty thing that raised the hackles of his rich pals. This was not just a cheap campaign ploy to give him an edge over the other candidates. He made the case that nearly forty million poor people in the world's richest country is an abomination that nobody seemed to want to talk about it, let alone do anything about it. It was irksome enough that the GOP presidents and presidential candidates would stay silent on the plight of the poor. It was downright infuriating that his Democratic opponents would also stay mute on the issue.
Edwards put his body where his mouth was. He barnstormed through eight poor regions of the South in July 2007 with his modern day version of an anti-poverty fact finding campaign. He kicked off his three day campaign in New Orleans 9th Ward. The nearly all-black area suffered the worst Katrina flood devastation and had become the universal symbol of poverty and neglect. Worse it stood as tragic testament to the failed and broken promises of recovery made by corporations and the federal government.
His poverty crusade stirred a mild flutter for a couple of months with Obama and Clinton, but again only a mild flutter, and any talk of a crusade against poverty has disappeared from their campaign lexicon faster than a Houdini disappearing act. And now that he's out of the White House hunt, the chance that it'll reappear in their spiels is zilch.
Edwards became the first Democratic presidential candidate to go where no other Dem or certainly Republican candidate has gone in four decades and talked up poverty disgrace, universal health and economic democracy. He bucked history, negative public and political attitudes, and of course ridicule for championing these populist causes. But here's the deal. Edwards may be out of the race but his message and the reason for that message won't disappear like Houdini. Obama and Clinton will continue to pilfer and repackage parts of his message, while of course giving no credit to the messenger.
No matter. Edwards did himself, us and the nation proud when he boldly stepped up and tried to shame the shot callers into facing up to their sorry and disgraceful neglect of millions of poor and uninsured Americans. We owe Edwards a profound debt of gratitude for that. Here's a guess. Edwards won't and shouldn't go quietly into the night. We still desperately need his voice and we should do everything we can to make sure that his voice continues to be heard.
John, you have my eternal thanks for who you are and what you did. You are truly the better angel of America.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).