May 12, 2017

Every recent poll that has been conducted on Medicaid expansion in Kansas has indicated strong support for providing 180,000 low-income citizens with more health coverage.

When Fort Hays State University released its annual “Kansas Speaks” survey last October, 62 percent of respondents said they were in favor of expansion. Two months later, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network reported that the proportion was 82 percent. And just last month, ACS CAN conducted a poll with the American Heart Association, and they found that 64 percent of Kansans didn’t support Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of Medicaid expansion (including 66 percent of Republicans).

A substantial majority of Kansans oppose the legalization of firearms at state universities as well. When Fort Hays researchers asked survey respondents if “concealed or open carry of firearms should be allowed on college campuses” in 2015, only 16 percent said “yes” without qualification. Another 26 percent said universities should be allowed to “place some restrictions” on firearms, while 58 percent were totally opposed. Fort Hays also found that 82 percent of faculty and staff in Kansas would feel “less safe” with armed students on campus, while 70 percent want the Legislature to ban firearms in university buildings altogether.

These are just two examples of the vast gulf between what Kansans want and the behavior of their elected officials — the Legislature was unable to override Brownback’s Medicaid veto and campus carry is still set to take effect on July 1.

This stark inconsistency is apparent in other areas as well, such as tax policy. When voters were asked about Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts in a poll commissioned by the Kansas Center for Economic Growth earlier this year, 67 percent of them said they didn’t approve (while 51 percent expressed “strong” opposition). Moreover, 61 percent of respondents to the Kansas Speaks survey said the LLC exemption should be repealed. You might argue that the Legislature is sure to pass comprehensive tax reform this session (including the restoration of taxes on LLCs), but Brownback’s tax scheme has been in place for almost half a decade. For much of his second term, Brownback and his allies in the Legislature ignored the growing hostility toward their economic policies.

While we’re not arguing that state officials should be inextricably tethered to shifting opinion polls, it’s important to recognize that such a profound divergence between voters’ preferences and public policy is a bad sign.

For example, it can have a corrosive effect on the public’s faith in political institutions — a fact that’s reflected in the approval ratings of our governor and Legislature. At the end of last year, the Legislature’s approval rating was less than 30 percent. And according to a poll released by Morning Consult in April, only 27 percent of Kansans approve of the job Brownback is doing. With numbers like these, it isn’t surprising that almost three-quarters of Kansans think the state is “on the wrong track.” Nor would it be surprising if Kansans are feeling a little cynical about civic engagement right now — particularly those who’ve repeatedly showed up at the Statehouse to advocate for Medicaid expansion or speak out against guns on campus.

Our elected officials should remember that cynicism can lead to apathy — something healthy democracies should fight off with all their might.

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal here.

ClayTOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: Editorial: Kansans are being ignored