Editorials

Editorial: Winners, losers and lessons from Kansas City’s election are clear

Keith Brown (left) celebrated with Keith Thomas on Tuesday after the passage of a proposed 1/8-cent sales tax during an election watch party at the Freedom Inc. offices in Kansas City. The tax will raise an estimated $8.6 million a year for 10 years to help economic development solely in the city's central core.
Keith Brown (left) celebrated with Keith Thomas on Tuesday after the passage of a proposed 1/8-cent sales tax during an election watch party at the Freedom Inc. offices in Kansas City. The tax will raise an estimated $8.6 million a year for 10 years to help economic development solely in the city's central core. along@kcstar.com

Kansas Citians are still catching their breath after Tuesday’s stunning municipal election. It was a big day for “yes.”

Voters overwhelmingly approved three separate tax increases for three bond issues totaling $800 million over 20 years. They said yes to a one-eighth cent, 10-year sales tax for improvements along the Prospect Corridor. And they reduced penalties for minor marijuana possession.

More fundamentally, the voters strongly endorsed the broad direction of their city. There were many winners at the polls Tuesday, and a few non-winners:

Winners:

▪ Mayor Sly James: The popular city leader staked his reputation on the three bond questions, campaigning tirelessly for their passage. James deserves credit for pushing the plan through the City Council and selling it to voters.

▪ City Manager Troy Schulte: The city manager will have to make the plan work. Voters said they trust him to do so, a remarkable vote of confidence for someone in a pretty difficult job.

▪ The petition process: Hoping for a change in city policy? Get out your clipboard. The One City sales tax increase and the marijuana penalties question were both put on the ballot by petitioners. The campaigns for the two issues were small, too, and inexpensive.

Ordinary Kansas Citians have a greater chance than ever to make laws. They should seize that opportunity in the months ahead.

▪ The animal rights community: After complaining about the city’s shelter for years, animal rights activists shoehorned a new facility onto the bond issue ballot. They worked hard, and Question 3 passed easily.

▪ NORML: Supporters of easing marijuana laws scored an impressive victory at the polls. Question 5 passed with the biggest margin of all. It’s a clear message to officeholders across the state: Citizens are far ahead of where you are on pot possession and use.

▪ Campaign consultants: Longtime strategist Steve Glorioso and other consultants knew which buttons to push, and when, and where. Glorioso has worked campaigns for decades, but Tuesday’s win might have been one of his greatest triumphs.

▪ Freedom, Inc., and urban center affiliates: A citywide sales tax for economic development seemed implausible just a few months ago. But urban voters turned out in sufficient numbers to pass the plan, and they were aided by wealthier voters who responded favorably to the One City argument.

▪ KCI and the streetcar: Plans to overhaul Kansas City International Airport will now proceed and should be wrapped up, we think, by the end of the summer. Let’s ask voters for their views this year, before election-year politics intervene.

Expanding the streetcar south now seems more likely, too.

Non-winners:

▪ The anti-tax crowd: Kansas Citians opposed to just about everything assemble every time there’s a ballot question. Their arguments are important: City Hall should never get a free pass to raise taxes or spend money.

But anti-tax gadflies are almost always hindered by a reliance on half-truths, misinformation, hyperbole and illogic. And sometimes bigotry: A last-minute radio ad, aired more than 100 times at a cost of $10,000, referred to “hoodrats” on the city’s streetcar system.

Kansas City’s voters firmly and properly rejected the ad and the message of the people behind it.

▪ President Donald Trump: Surprised? Turnout Tuesday was nearly twice as large as it was in the 2015 mayor’s race. Call that energy the Trump effect. The electorate is paying attention.

That’s a lesson politicians ignore at their peril.

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