"Me miserable! Which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep,
Still threat'ning to devour me, opens wide,
To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven."
WICHITA, Kan. - When I opened the Wichita Eagle, my local newspaper, on Sunday, May 20, 2012, my thoughts turned to John Milton and Paradise Lost. The front page contained two articles, both about the wrap-up of the dismal 2012 Kansas Legislative session. The only good thing I could see is that those miserable right-wing legislators wouldn't be around for awhile to cause more damage to the ordinary people of Kansas. However, even as I write, Gov. Sam Brownback and the right-wingers are doing everything in their power to ensure that Republican moderates will be voted out of office in the primary election, which means that Brownback, and by extension, his Koch handlers, will be able to declare open season on those of us who depend on state funding for our most basic needs.
Milton's epic poem, published in the 17th century, is an allegory relating the fall of man and the descent of the archangel Lucifer into hell. Lucifer, who becomes Satan after his descent into hell, says to God that "it is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven," needed to absent himself from God's presence because a kingdom, in this case the kingdom of heaven, cannot have two rulers.
So Lucifer in his misery flies off to his eternal damnation lamenting his fate.
The analogy between Lucifer and me breaks down, of course. Despite what some people think, I am not Satan, nor am I interested in reigning in anybody's kingdom. However, I would like to live in a kingdom that is governed, not by a Lucifer, but by a ruler who has some sense of balance when it comes to governing. So far, Gov. Brownback and his right-wing cohorts have failed the balance test.
During this session, the legislature passed and Brownback signed into law a tax cut bill that will, according to impartial researchers, put the state into a $2.5 billion shortfall by 2018. This bill favors the rich over those at the bottom of the income ladder. He also signed a bill that would allow pharmacists and physicians to forgo prescribing and providing drugs that they believe might end a pregnancy, including birth control drugs, such as Plan B.
A bill that condemns Agenda 21, a twenty-year old UN resolution calling for sustainable lifestyles, a resolution that is unenforceable, and a bill that turns Medicaid over to a private corporation went across Brownback's desk with his signature. This last bill passed despite widespread objections from the disabled, families of the disabled, and newspaper editors across the state that the care of the disabled would suffer as a result of this change.
Just last week, Brownback signed into law a bill that would ban the implementation of any foreign law in the State of Kansas. Despite protestations by Brownback and his staff to the contrary, this law is aimed directly at American Muslims. In fact, many religions and cultures, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormon, among others, have laws governing civil actions such as marriage, divorce, and settlement of disputes. None of these laws apply to what happens in American courts. No religious law can trump the U. S. Constitution.
Recently, Jill Docking, former Board of Regents member and a candidate in 1996 who ran against Brownback for the U. S. Senate, spoke at a gathering of Democrats. She discussed the impact of the tax cuts on Kansas education. Basically, public education will be devastated, she said. She pointed out that the Regents schools willingly took cuts with the understanding that those cuts would be restored when the economy improved. The economy is improving, but it's unlikely, given the Brownback tax policy, the cuts will be restored.
When Brownback talks about job creation as a priority of his administration, he never mentions that his cuts to the public sector have added to the unemployment numbers in the state. Public employees do work for their salaries, they pay taxes on them, and they spend money on consumer goods. How short-sighted is it that Brownback sees fit to cut these public sector jobs?
As I listen to people talk about this turn of events in Kansas politics, I hear, "How could this happen?" "Do people realize what's going on?" "What can we do about it?"
The answer to the second question is, "Probably not." That answers the first question. This happens because only fifteen percent of eligible voters bother to vote in Kansas. It can be assumed that a good percentage of those who vote either do no research on the candidates' voting records or watch Fox News. According to the recent New Jersey University's PublicMind Poll, Fox News viewers are less informed than those who watch no news at all.
This, in my opinion, is the reason that people voted for Sam Brownback for governor of Kansas. They had no idea of his record because they never bothered to look into it. All they knew about him was his name and that he had been around Kansas politics quite a long time. If they had looked they would have found a voting record that follows the right-wing agenda down the line. They also would have found that he gets significant support and money from the Koch brothers, who will benefit greatly from the drastic tax cuts that have now become law.
Also, through their Kansas Policy Institute and its spokesperson Dave Trabert, the Kochs have done everything they can to propagandize against public education. Just today, NPR broadcast the news that Pennsylvania will turn ninety public schools into private ones, the Kochs preferred form of education. They lobby for charter schools and private schools, neither of which has shown to be any better at educating students than public schools. However, these schools, as the Kansas Medicaid system soon will be, would be private, profit-making institutions. This translates into a union-killing, corner-cutting, profit-making policy that would likely ignore the needs of the most vulnerable students and their families.
Those who are upset because their neighborhood schools are closing or their disabled family members are losing benefits should look right to Sam Brownback and his cohorts in the Kansas legislature.
Any woman who finds her pharmacist won't fill her prescription for birth control pills or her doctor won't prescribe them should look to Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature.
Any low-income taxpayer who finds himself paying a larger percentage of taxes while the rich are paying less should look to Topeka.
Any property owner who finds her property taxes skyrocketing should look to the right-wing legislators.
Then they should work for and vote for candidates who will restore balance to the state. It will also restore the moderate state in which we all may find some sense of satisfaction. Even Milton's Lucifer might be able to fly out of hell and find a home in Kansas. And I, who did not choose to reign in hell or live there, might be able to look at the front page of a newspaper without feeling I've been thrown there against my will.