The Democratic Party has way more to offer rural Kansas than the GOP. Why it’s failing

·4 min read
Shafkat Anowar

Kansas Democrats — we have a messaging problem.

Let us walk through some recent events.

On Oct. 7, Wichita suffered a significant infrastructure failure: For about 36 hours, Kansas’ largest city lost access to safe drinking water; 47,000 students could not attend classes the following Friday. Several small businesses had to shut down. The impact of critical infrastructure failure was felt in many ways.

In July of this year, the Kansas Reflector’s Allison Kite reported that Kansas had 5,446 lead pipes per 100,000 residents: “Children who are exposed to lead can suffer damage to their brains and nervous systems. Exposure is also linked to learning disabilities, shorter height, hearing loss and harm to their blood cells. Adults can develop cardiovascular diseases, and their reproductive systems and kidneys can be impacted.”

Water issues are not new to Wichita. In 2019, the Wichita Eagle reported that then-Mayor Jeff Longwell steered a $524 million dollar contract to his political supporters and friends. The group — Wichita Water Partners — was also blamed for the Flint, Michigan, water crisis. As a result of a major ethics violation and betrayal of public trust, Longwell lost reelection to Brandon Whipple.

You might be asking, “What does this have to do with the Kansas Democrats?”

Everything.

Instead of having strong, effective messaging around how the Build Back Better plan would help with our infrastructure woes, the Kansas Democratic Party put nothing out about the water main break in Wichita. Nothing about the lead pipes in Kansas. Even nothing about Longwell’s water scandal. Absolutely nothing.

Instead of building the case that we need to invest in our infrastructure, the Kansas Democratic Party is sitting on the sidelines. Instead of using real, tangible examples of how crumbling infrastructure is affecting us, the Kansas Democratic Party simply just puts out ineffective posts with news links.

As a recovering community organizer, this is a failure of our state party.

Why wouldn’t the state party want to have strong, effective messaging around these issues? Why wouldn’t you want to communicate to Kansas’ largest city that, in fact, the modern Republican Party is not fighting for you? Why would you let this crisis go to waste?

In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing the Kansas Democratic Party puts out that resonates with rural Kansas. Most, if not all, of its messaging is catered to the Kansas City metropolitan area. That would be fine if it was the Johnson County Democratic Party, but that is not the case.

The Kansas Republican Party wants voters to be livid and discontent. Why do you think they are hammering so-called “critical race theory”? Transgender issues? The president’s apparent ability to control gasoline prices? The party understands compelling messaging is key, and they do it damn well.

I worry deeply about the future of our state. Without strong, effective messaging to counter the growing threat of right-wing extremism, our state’s impending demise is all but certain.

Maybe you know of Thomas Frank, and maybe you don’t. His 2004 book “What’s the Matter with Kansas” should be on your reading list if you haven’t read it already. In the context of messaging, this passage sticks out to me:

“The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.”

If the Kansas Democratic Party “asks the people of Kansas to examine our traditions of leadership and to join us in moving our state forward to an even brighter tomorrow,” then it better start getting out in front of real, tangible issues that Kansans are experiencing every day. Otherwise, it will continue to be a party of irrelevance.

Jonathan Cole is a state committeeman for the Kansas Democratic Party, and a precinct committeeman for the Riley County Democrats.

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