Read Locally

My oldest got a thermos–the kind of gift that signals you’re growing up but not yet so grown up that you can expect only socks and long underwear–for Christmas. He’s in heaven. Now, when he sets the tea kettle on the stove each morning, he puts in enough water for both his regular morning cup (right now, Earl Grey with lavender) and a thermos full of tea.

He likes to get to school 20-30 minutes early (clearly, a genetic contribution from his father) so he can sip tea in the library while he pets Bentley, the school’s goldiedoodle, and reads the Standard-Examiner, our local paper. We get the Sunday edition but not the daily edition delivered, and that’s just not enough for this junior news junkie. He comes home with all kinds of news to report–local establishments we shouldn’t shop in (they permit open carry) and ones we need to frequent, events to put in the calendar, and new opinions gleaned from the editorial page. We’re learning a lot about our new state–what’s going on at the capitol, where to travel, the weather conditions that contribute to avalanches, the local festivals that seem to happen almost daily around here. His love of the newspaper is a reminder to me how important local coverage is.

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Above, drinking tea, with a thermos ready to go to school, and reading the NYT from the day before, brought home from the university. Hope for the future! 

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Joel Mathis’ blog The Ike is only a few days old, but I’m calling it for what it is: a recognition that cities and states are where it’s at and that Kansas, home to so many Union soldiers that it was called “the Soldier State,” to the world’s largest socialist press (run by the Haldeman-Juliuses of Girard), and to the first lunch counter sit-ins (in Wichita, predating the sit-ins in Greensboro), continues to have much to offer the rest of the U.S.

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Remember when Kansas politics was a model for pragmatic leadership? Above, native Kansan Dwight D. Eisenhower’s figure on the $1 coin (issued 1971-1978) is a reminder that leadership can be brave, reasonable, and compassionate.

Joel Mathis’ previous work has included, with Ben Boychuck, RedBlueAmerica, a Scripps Howard New Service point-counterpoint column on politics. His start, though, was in Kansas, and he’s back to help us understand what politics means in a state where figures as varied as John Brown, Carrie Nation, Eugene Debs, Fred Phelps, Bob Dole, Sam Brownback, Kris Kobach, and, of course, Dwight D. Eisenhower (the “Ike” of the blog’s title) have waged politics of national importance. RedBlueAmerica ended this year after nine years of trying to help us see issues from the other side, and you can read into that what you will. (Joel’s take: “We failed.” Ben’s: “In our defense, we were only trying to change a culture.”)

But if one side-effect of the end of RedBlueAmerica is that Joel is back to report on Kansas politics, I’m grateful. His work promises to be careful, accurate, and measured–open to and respectful of those in red, blue, and purple Kansas. Kansans are lucky to have him in house again after a lengthy stint writing in Philadelphia.

And the US, I really do believe, is lucky to have Kansas. For as much of an utter failure* its politics have been in the last years–enough that it will take a generation to heal the wounds of Brownback’s assault on the state–it is also a place of possibility, especially as rural depopulation continues to shift the population to urban centers that are more diverse and progressive.

Even as, at the national level, Republicans continue to control both the House and the Senate, they lost three seats in the Senate to Democrats–relatively unusual in an election when Republican took the White House–and five in the House. Kansas also saw a shift to Democrats. The Sunflower State, which has already experienced the same stupidity that the new Trump administration promises to inflict on the rest of the nation, went solidly (57.2%) for Trump after roundly rejecting him in favor of Cruz in the primary (48.2% to 23.3%). But, after moderate Republicans ousted 14 of the state’s most conservative nihilists in the August primaries, Democrats in the state still picked up a state Senate seat and 12 seats in the House. It’s not enough to turn Kansas blue, but it is a sign of hope worth noting. And Sanders’ significant victory over Clinton in the primary is worth watching as he was likely picking up votes from disaffected Republicans as well as Democrats who have not seen the national party’s strategies work in Kansas. If Democrats are truly interested in a 50 state strategy, Kansas could provide a good testing ground.

Even as journalism has scaled back its state and local reporting, the need for that reporting remains high; our failure to be informed was probably one of the reasons so many folks were surprised by the Trump win. (Also, voter suppression, inept poll workers and failing voting machines, the Bradley effect among white voters too ashamed to admit they planned on voting for a hatemonger, overestimation of Republicans’ commitments to their own principles, plus several problems with the Democratic candidate and her campaign).  I hope (and I pay money to my local newspaper to insure) that local coverage can contribute to an informed citizenry. Thanks to Joel and other journalists bringing their expertise and training to the state and local scene for helping make that happen.

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*How much of a failure? Topeka’s VA hospital no longer provides outpatient care for veterans with PTSD. Instead, veterans are encouraged to exercise their “freedom of choice” and find a clinician in private practice. That’s right: the state is reneging on its commitment to care for some of its most vulnerable veterans. 

 

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