Steve Rose - Is Kansas following California down the rabbit hole?

04/09/2013 4:33 PM

05/20/2014 10:42 AM

Berkeley, California, where my son and his family live, could not be more opposite to Johnson County, Kansas. It is bewildering that we both co-exist within the same country.

Take the politics, first of Berkeley, then of California and compare those to Johnson County’s and the state of Kansas’.

Berkeley voted 90 percent for Barack Obama last year. Poor Mitt Romney got only 4.6 percent of the vote, barely eking out second place against the candidate for the Green Party, who got 3.2 percent. You can’t get any more liberal than that and still be in America.

Republican Johnson County, of course, gave Romney a solid majority — 57 percent — and Obama only 40 percent. There are places in the United States where Romney did even better, but our results were still outside the norm of the country and way outside the voters of Berkeley.

The 90 percent for Obama tells you a lot about the politics of this suburban San Francisco community of 112,000 people.

But there is more, which, to me, is even more startling.

California just voted on a ballot measure, called Proposition 30, which proposed to increase sales and income taxes to be allocated to public schools.

An amazing 54 percent of Californians voted to pass the measure, but hold onto your seats, because Berkeley actually voted 90 percent approval of the tax hikes.

As much as Johnson County citizens love their public schools, we never have gotten anywhere near 90 percent on a vote to increase taxes for schools.

That California citizens voted overwhelmingly to increase their taxes is a complete turnaround from recent history. In 1978, California voters passed the infamous Proposition 13, which put a lid on property taxes and, thus, starved their public schools. And for years California has repeatedly turned down tax increases for public schools.

The schools have been decimated and what once was a premiere school system is now one of the worst in the nation.

Kansas, meanwhile, may be in the beginnings of the California tax-cut phenomenon.

The Legislature, with the governor’s blessing, voted to slash our income taxes, both personal and business. Critics speculate that the impending multibillion-dollar deficit over five years will lead to sharp cuts in public school funding.

You know how they say trends start on the coasts and work their way inland?

Well, it took 34 years for Californians to finally realize that de-funding schools have consequences. I hope it doesn’t take but a short time before Kansas voters rebel and demand enough taxes to maintain the excellence of our schools.

In the meantime, in California, the voters just waged a revolution against Republicans and voted in super-majorities of Democrats in both chambers of its legislature to match up with their liberal Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. Democrats now have a two-thirds majority, which means they can pass as many liberal bills as they would like. And the governor would be happy to sign them.

Did I say opposite?

While California has gone ultra-liberal, Kansas has become one of the most ultra-conservative states in the nation.

Moderate Republicans and Democrats have been all but vanquished from our Legislature. An ultra-conservative super-majority can pretty much pass any agenda they want. And Gov. Sam Brownback will be pleased as punch to sign whatever comes to his desk.

The polarization of America is epitomized in Berkeley and Johnson County, as well as California and Kansas.

I would prefer something in between the two extremes.


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