Tagged: politics

Giving up on the Constitution?

CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood recently ran a piece by Georgetown law professor Louis Michael Seidman on one of my favorite topics, the United States Constitution.  He advocates giving up on the Constitution, the gist being that we should take the dusty, tattered, old Constitution out behind the barn and put it down, ol’ yeller style.  To me, as a priest of the religion of the Constitution (an attorney), this would be like the Archbishop or a Cardinal calling for the Roman Catholic Church to abandon the Holy Bible.  Now Sunday Morning is a program I have enjoyed since I was a small child, but this one, opinion section or not, really got under my skin.

Let’s give up on the Constitution? Really? I don’t even know where to begin with where that goes horribly wrong. The Constitution is what separates us from a democracy. Now, you say to yourself, “What could be bad about democracy?”  Well, true, direct democracy has killed every society it has run in. Without a mechanism of restraining the various tyrannies (of the majority, of the powerful, of the ill-intentioned, of the well meaning) and putting drag chains on the headlong advance of direct democratic government, democracies burn bright and the then flame out, sometimes spectacularly and sometimes with a whimper.

A Constitution, however, shifts us to a representative republic (or representative democracy). While not perfect, it is a far better balance amongst the various interests than simply letting the population centers dictate everything.  Do you really think that if CA, TX, NY and/or FL got together in a true democracy that any of us in the rest of this country would stand a chance of having our voices heard, on any issue at all? We have a House based on population, but a Senate based on statehood. And that Electoral College that is much maligned, it makes sure that, to the best extent we can muster, the voices of all the citizens are heard, whether they are in Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, NYC, Florida Texas or my own Kansas.  Without the protections of our Constitutional republic, the tyranny of the majority, actually the tyranny of the population centers, will prevail and those of us in fly over county no longer matter, at all.

In short, the Constitution is what makes us what we are. Whenever any politician, from any party, on any subject, is chaffing under some dusty old Constitutional restraint we need to remember that this is because he is staying off the path of reason and getting into dangerous territory, whether he intends so or not.

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A blogger expresses his views on the upcoming Westboro Baptist Church’s protest in Ottawa, Kansas.

“Fred Phelps says that God hates fags. Even if we conclude that God hates homosexuality, Phelps’ conclusion is wrong. Romans 5:8 says, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s my model. No matter what others are doing around you…love like Jesus loved.”

guidolicktenstein

I am such a girl!  I like the show, Glee.  A lot.  Now I could keep it a closet secret, but I don’t care what people think.  I’ll shout it from the mountain tops!  I LIKE GLEE!

Part of the reason that I like this show is because it has characters who don’t have it all together and who struggle with life issues everyday.  One of the characters in the show is Kurt.

In the third episode of season one (about 40 minutes in), Kurt states that he is gay.  It is his first time to tell someone.  With tears, he tells his close friend, Mercedes, in the hallway at their school.

The actor who plays Kurt did a great job with this scene.  He portrays how scary it would be in such a situation.

In episode four, of season one (about 37 minutes and 30 seconds…

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25 Years Later: The Kansas Lottery and the education funding myth

Playing the lottery is not high on my list of things to do. I’m just not much of a gambler. But this past March, when the lottery prize climbed to $656 million, even I broke down and bought a few lottery tickets for a lottery pool with friends.

We didn’t win.

My losing numbers.

I was in elementary school when Kansans voted to change the state’s constitution to allow for a state-run lottery and horse and dog racing. Ever since I can remember, there has been this popular belief that the proceeds from the state lottery were to be designated for education. Mention the Kansas Lottery to some Kansans, and you’ll get  scowls and shaking fists. “They sold us on the Lottery by promising us it would help fund education,” they’ll say, “but education hasn’t seen a dime.”

So I began my research with a bias against the state for letting Kansans down by promising to use the money for education and then pulling a bait-and-switch once the constitutional amendment passed.

There was only one problem.

It turned out the “educational funding” myth was not true.

The year 1986 was a banner year for the “sin” laws.

Kansans were asked to vote on two pieces of legislation that would alter life in the Sunflower State:

  1. The sale of liquor by the drink
  2. The creation of a state lottery and parimutuel gambling

It’s important to remember where Kansas was in 1986. The legislature was considering trusting Kansans with the ability to use credit cards to buy liquor. You couldn’t order a drink with your dinner at a family restaurant unless the restaurant was a “club” and you owned a membership. Meanwhile, many people crossed into Missouri to buy lottery tickets or drove to Nebraska to make a weekend of betting on the dogs and ponies. Anyone close to the Kansas City area at that time would have crossed the river to shop at the Riverside Red X, where Kansans had been purchasing liquor and illegally transporting it, sans Kansas sales tax stamps, back across the state line for decades.

Kansas was hurting financially in 1986, and they saw how much money Kansans were willingly tossing across state lines and decided they wanted a piece of the action.

There’s an episode of The Simpsons“Dog of Death,” Season 3 Episode 19 – where all of Springfield gets “Lotto Fever” as the jackpot climbs to $130 million dollars. “But there’s already one big winner,” Kent Brockman says during his newscast.  “Our state school system, which gets fully half the profits from the lottery.”

Anchorman Kent Brockman announces Springfield’s Lotto Fever during the news in “Dog of Death,” Season 3, Episode 19.

The shot cuts to the teachers of Springfield Elementary, who are daydreaming about what they’ll be able to do with their share of the lottery earnings. “Just think what we can buy with that money,” Principal Skinner says. “History books that know how the Korean War came out. Math books that don’t have that base six crap in them!”

After the winning numbers are announced, the lottery commission presents Principal Skinner with the school’s earnings: one chalkboard eraser.

A lot of Kansans today feel like Principal Skinner. They envisioned that the revenue from the state lottery would help fund teachers’ salaries (which, in 1986, were well below the national average), repair and upgrade buildings on college campuses, and buy the “extras” that schools wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. When the state began to rake in cash with the new lottery, citizens anticipated big checks being written to school districts and kids playing with new equipment on well-maintained athletics fields. So when it didn’t happen that way, when the schools weren’t the direct beneficiaries of the lottery’s bounty, citizens began to cry foul and wonder how the state had managed to pull the wool over their eyes.

The problem is that the State of Kansas did not propose to use the lottery revenue for education. After reviewing hundreds of newspaper articles from 1986, I can attest that the state clearly articulated that lottery revenue, after paying back the seed money loan from the state and expenses associated with running the lottery, would be used for three purposes:

  1. 60% would go to Kansas Economic Development
  2. 30% would go to the reassessment of Kansas properties for tax purposes
  3. 10% would go to corrections

Every article with politicians who were pro-lottery restated these points, though some didn’t agree completely with the way the money was to be distributed. In fact, the only statement from a state official I could find that even suggested education would benefit from the lottery came from then-Governor John Carlin. According to the July 9, 1986 Hutchinson News, “Carlin said revenue generated by a lottery already was designated for certain areas of state spending — economic development, prisons and reappraisal – but it could free up money for education. But an unfavorable tax  reform bill and the absence of lottery revenue could make things rough for education, he said.”

Did the state change tactics before the election? Based on the newspaper stories I found in the Lawrence Journal-World, the Hutchinson News, the Salina Journal, and several other respected state newspapers, the state never wavered.

Where, then, did the education funding myth originate?

Let’s go back to 1986. Part of Kansas’ desire to create a state lottery stemmed from watching Kansans willingly throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at the lotteries of other states. The California State Lottery was just two years old and a minimum of 34% of its revenue was supposed to be earmarked for supplementing public education funds. The Iowa Lottery kicked off at the Iowa State Fair in 1985. Rumors were circulating that the Iowa Lottery’s revenues were to be used for public education even though this information was not exactly true. As more and more states added state lotteries to their cash flow, the concept that “lottery revenue = educational funding” became ingrained in everyone’s minds.

The situation was further complicated by newspaper editorials.

When the measure to amend the constitution to allow for a state-run lottery and parimutuel gambling was added to the ballot, all hell broke loose.  This was 1986, before the Internet and blogs and facebook and Twitter, and the only option most citizens had to express their views about the upcoming election was through their letters to the editors of their local papers.

Religious leaders argued that liquor and the lottery would turn Kansas into New Sodom; liberals argued that Kansas would be making all of its lottery money on the backs of the poor who saw the lottery as their only hope. Still others, apparently unclear on how the state of Kansas was planning to use the revenues, argued how the lottery had failed to support higher education in other states.

Many of the letters that were in favor of the lottery were not in favor of the way the revenue was expected to be used, insisting that the money should be set aside for public education.

As these sometimes confounding editorials filled a year’s worth of newspapers in most every city in the state, a third source of confusion was introduced: Kansans were asked to vote on an important educational measure which would have dramatically changed the power of the Kansas Board of Education. In 1986, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that as the constitution was worded, the board was completely independent of the state (unlike the Kansas Board of Regents, which ultimately answered to legislature). Kansans would have to pass an amendment to the constitution in order to give the Kansas legislature the ability to have final veto power over the Kansas Board of Education. (Incidentally, this amendment was shot down at the polls.) I believe that introducing amendments for the lottery and education in the same election confused many citizens, who mixed and matched the information until, in their minds, they created a lottery that would support education.

A October 7, 2007 New York Times article, “For Schools, Lottery Payoffs Fall Short of Promises,” outlines the lukewarm success of using lottery revenues to supplement public education expenses. According to the  New York Times, “lotteries accounted for less than 1 percent to 5 percent of the total revenue for K-12 education last year in the states that use this money for schools.”

Kansas, however, vowed to use the money for economic development, reappraisal and corrections. Did the state follow through?

Yes.

Since the first ticket was sold in 1987, the Kansas Lottery has generated a total of more than $1.19 billion in revenues through ticket sales. Of that, roughly 28% is returned to the state in profit (beyond the cost of running the lottery (about 15%) and paying out prizes (about 55%)). In 2010 alone, the Kansas Lottery returned $69 million to the state. While reassessment wasn’t on the agenda these past few years, the bulk of the money continues to go to the Economic Development Initiatives Fund and various prison and juvenile detention funds. The Economic Development Initiatives Fund awards grands to different programs year-to-year, and many programs are run through universities or are connected to education.

In 2003, the Kansas legislature authorized the Kansas Lottery to create the Veterans Games, a lottery whose proceeds would go exclusively to veterans’ benefits, including educational scholarships.

Kansas has managed to stay consistent in its promised use of the Kansas Lottery revenues. What’s more, nearly $11 million of the $29 million awarded to the Economic Development Initiatives Fund involved educational projects. Much to my astonishment, the state of Kansas did what they said they would do with the money and are even awarding a higher percentage of it to educational programs than states whose revenues are supposedly designated for public education. What’s more, the program is self-sustaining and participation is completely voluntary.

There are many ways the Kansas Legislature has let us down. Surprisingly, the Kansas Lottery isn’t one of them.

Should Separation of Church and State Be Absolute? Absolutely.

Let’s put, for now, aside how religion in government has worked or not worked in other countries. We’re talking about this country. In America, the First Amendment (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html) states: 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I’m no scholar, but let’s examine for a minute what that first part says. Congress (Representatives elected by the people) shall make no law (will not pass legislation) respecting an establishment of religion (favoring one faith over another) or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (or keep people from practicing their faith freely). To me, it seems pretty straight-forward. In essence, it is saying that an elected government which represents all people shall remain neutral in matters of faith. Despite what faith may have been practiced by our founding fathers, they are in a position to govern a free people and keep religious influence as far as possible from public policy.

In the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, approved by John Adams himself, Article 11 states the following:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Again, and I am no authority on 18th Century treaties, it seems the me that they were saying the U.S. is a nation with no official allegiance to Christianity and that future business with Tripoli, or any other Muslim nation, shall be on a strictly professional level.

Moving from that, ask yourself about your place of employment. In many companies, mine included, there is a policy that prohibits people from using company time, materials, or speaking platforms as a means of proselytizing. Why? Business leaders and government leaders alike recognize that much blood has been spilled over the centuries over differences of belief in the Divine. When it comes to getting things done for the benefit of all people, whether they are clients of citizens, it is in the best interest of all parties to keep a completely neutral ground when conducting business.

BREAK TIME: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/05/08/3600527/abortion-becomes-a-tax-issue-in.html We’ll get to that later, or possibly in another post. Feel free to read anyway.

Let me put it another way. Religion, or lack of religion, is a very personal choice which must be made by all people in their own time on their own terms. It is not something that can be used as influence or coercion by a group of people over the population.

Thomas Jefferson, a man revered by many on the religious Right, was the first to publicly speak of separating matters of church and state in his letter to the Danbury Baptists (http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html). Jefferson knew the importance of keeping personal matters out of public affairs as a way of ensuring adequate representation of ALL Americans.

Back in February, Presidential candidate Rick Santorum commented on President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech regarding separation of church and state made him want to “throw up.” (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57385430-503544/santorum-church-state-separation-not-absolute/ )You remember Rick Santorum, right? If not, Google him. On second thought, don’t do that. What Rick Santorum was trying to suggest was that government had a system of values that trumps a person’s personal code of ethics and they were going to enforce it on you by keeping religion out of politics. Let’s explore…

Using the issue of prayer in public schools, there is a simple argument that can be made for keeping things secular in public settings. The problem for many people is not that children are not allowed to pray in public schools. In fact, I have never known a school to tell children that they can not have a prayer group, bible study group, etc… before and after school or during lunch. When I attended high school, we had several groups of the sort. They were all arranged and practiced by students in a non-official manner so as not to involve the school administration. Even today, I know of many such groups in our local school district. This is not, and never has been, a problem. As I said, people are not upset that they’re children can’t pray in school, because they, in fact, can.

What has bothered so many people is the fact that schools have not made prayer part of their official policy. Those that have, do so under direct violation of what our Constitution states. The school is part of the federal system. Therefore, they must act accordingly. The only way to do so, is to do as what I suppose President Jefferson was hinting at by removing religion from any official government business.

So, what exactly is Rick Santorum suggesting that is being enforced? Neutrality? A level playing field? Oh, that crazy JFK and his secular ways. Oh wait, he was Roman Catholic. Back to the blog…

Let’s say a school makes daily prayer a mandatory event. What prayer will the children recite? If you said anything other than, “Whichever one they choose”, you are wrong. What about the one kid in a school in Queens whose family practices Santeria? What about the kid in Miami who comes from a Rastafarian background? What about a kid who lives in The Big Easy whose family tradition involves voodoo? How about the Muslim kid in Dearborn, Michigan whose normal Dhurh prayer can take up to 15 minutes? Would communities really be okay with a student of such a radically different faith openly practicing their prayer, no matter what it included, in front of their children? Even the most generic Judeo-Christian prayer will not satisfy the spiritual needs of a student who does not belong to that faith. A Wiccan or a Satanist is not going to be a part of that prayer. They are going to hold their own private prayer, chant, candle ceremony. If a school refuses to allow it, they are violating their own policy. So, be careful what you wish for.

High school is horrifying enough as a teenager. By insisting that schools hold mandatory prayer places added and unnecessary pressure on kids to conform. It places them in an awkward situation to either pray with the rest of the kids, pray in your own way in front of other kids no matter how private it might be, or not pray at all and be excluded or face further alienation among their peers. School is a setting much like a job where children have work to do. That does not include division based on religious belief. That is not a choice children should have to make.

Fortunately for them, religious belief is not a “majority rules” scenario. It does not matter if your county is 80%, 90%, or even 100% devoted to a certain faith. The fact that you are excluding someone from possibly entering that community is a slap in the face to people who fought to protect personal religious freedom. That’s exactly what it is and should always be; Personal and private.

What does this have to do with Kansas? Luckily, we have not had much of an issue with school prayer. The worst we have are prayers at the beginnings of city council meetings, State Capitol meetings, and possibly some school board meetings. While this is still a direct violation of the First Amendment, people tolerate it. Mostly, because that’s just the way things have always been done. Also, because there is a time and a place to debate such things. Over time, as it is made more clear how exclusionary government-endorsed prayer is, the more people will rebuke such activities.

The larger problem, as I see it, is not one of public prayer, but rather religious influence on public policy (http://www.kansascity.com/2012/05/08/3600911/kansas-attorney-general-pays-almost.html). The hottest issue in Kansas is that of abortion. Should or should not women be allowed to get abortions? Despite the fact that abortion was legalized in 1973 after the Roe v. Wade case, people have stepped up their efforts to make it illegal. No matter how you argue, the stance of being Pro-Life is usually a religious-based argument. Typically, driven by the Catholic Church or evangelical ministries.

The efforts do not stop simply with abortion. Those on the Pro-Life side wish to do away with all forms of contraception. In essence, they are stepping between a woman (or man) and their doctor, which is someplace they have no business being. Sex is a private matter, just as religion, and must stay that way. We have to ask ourselves, “Do we really want to start worrying about how other people are having sex? How does their personal, physical relationship affect my life? Does it affect my life?”

Speaking of sexuality…

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons, to those who don’t know), were pivotal in California’s Prop 8 issue in (http://www.whatisprop8.com/) the 2008 election. Due to their own personal beliefs about what marriage should be, they spent upwards of  $43 million convincing people that they knew what was best for all Californians. Many have argued that the LDS church should be stripped of its tax-exempt status for using its money and influence as a means of swaying a public vote.

No matter which way you feel about abortion, gay marriage, how people pray, etc… It is all a personal matter for those directly involved. Even if I were against same-sex marriage, I would have no authority to dictate how people spend their lives and with whom. Therefore, neither does anyone else.

What does this have to do with Kansas now? Not much. In the future, however, I can see it becoming a hot-button issue the same way Arizona’s recent decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood has many people talking. You can read more about some of the recent bills in the Kansas House and Senate in Diana’s (the blog moderator/administrator) post from this week. I feel she already covered it very well, so I’ll refrain from too many redundancies.

To sum it up, your religious beliefs are yours and yours alone. I have no say-so in what you believe. Nor, would I try to impose my beliefs on you. Likewise, I do not wish for someone to impose their religious beliefs on myself or any other person. If you look, this is what is being done covertly within the state. People in Kansas need to be aware of what is going on around them locally and state-wide. If you’re not careful, informed, and critical in your thinking, you are likely to end up putting people in positions of authority that have a tendency to overstep their bounds.

I hope this blog turns out to be a frequent stop. I also hope the discussions and comments can maintain civility. I am pretty thick-skinned and have been known to be abrasive at times. That doesn’t mean that I’m not human. It just means I’m concerned about my home state and what choices people are being left to make for themselves. I welcome alternative viewpoints and challenges to my own.

Thanks.

A short history of Kansas and civil liberties and how two new bills are letting Kansas history down

Let’s talk about a couple of bills that are causing much of the rest of the country to gawk at our state right now.

In March, the Kansas House of Representatives passed HB 2260, which they called the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. This bill, which is currently being tossed around congress as SB 142, would legally protect people who, under the cloak of religion, choose not to serve those whose sexual orientation does not mesh with their own religious tenets. Meanwhile, the House has just passed H Sub. SB 62, a vaguely worded bill concerning medical care facilities, abortion, and sterilization and a provider’s right, again under the cloak of religion, to not offer, refer, or discuss such medical issues or procedures with their patients.

What is interesting – and in a very sad way – is that non-Kansans watching this circus aren’t surprised that our elected officials are using what precious little money we have in our state’s coffers to introduce and pass these measures. They might be outraged, horrified, or amused, but they’re not surprised that our state could pass, with a majority, any legislation that could be perceived as anti-women or anti-civil liberties.

But these non-Kansans should be surprised. The should be astonished. Because Kansas has served as a platform for the kinds of leaps in civil liberties other states didn’t have the guts to pursue. The state was created in the middle of a bloody fight over slavery, and Kansas entered the Union as an antislavery state in 1861. In 1867, Kansas Governor Samuel Crawford, a Civil War general and a Republican (when being a Republican meant something completely different), campaigned to ratify an amendment that called for “impartial suffrage without regard to race or color.”

Though the amendment did not pass at that time, the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association did win the right for women to vote in local elections, and Kansas was in the international spotlight when Susanna Madora Salter became the very first woman in the nation to be elected to political office in 1887. She even gave birth during her term as mayor.

In 1912, Kansas women were granted equal voting rights to their male counterparts, joining the ranks of women in only seven other states.

Down the line, Kansans like Attorney General Charles Griffith and newspaperman William Allen White would battle the Ku Klux Klan, and teachers like Corinthian Nutter and a handful of parents in Topeka would fight for the educational rights of minority children.

None of these battles were easy. But, over time, the state of Kansas moved progressively toward greater and more equal civil liberties.

Which brings us back to HB 2260/SB 142 and H Sub. SB 62.

What bothers me most about both of these bills is that they weigh the rights of the person with power above the rights of the person being served, something that is completely contrary to Kansas’ historically progressive moment toward the civil liberties of those who might have a disadvantaged status. The religious rights of the landlord are protected, but what about the religious rights of the person trying to find safe, affordable housing? The medical doctor’s personal beliefs are protected, but what about the personal beliefs of the patient who is entrusting his or her (and let’s face it, in this bill, patients being impacted will primarily be female) health to that doctor?

Whose religious rights are more important?

As a woman, I’m appalled by the H Sub. SB 62, not because I don’t believe the provider’s religious rights matter, but because it such an easy leap to deny women the right to participate in their own healthcare decisions by not informing them of the pros and cons of all of their legally available choices. For many people, this is easily dismissed because it targets reproductive issues. Yet this bill could serve as a gateway to stronger legislation. Replace “abortion” and “sterilization” with “heart surgery” or “skin graft,” and contemplate what it would be like for your family to find out you were denied the option to get a new kidney because the surgeon at your small town’s only hospital is religiously opposed to interfering with the body’s natural healing process, and you begin to see how dangerous this law really is.

As a woman, I’m just as disgusted with HB 2260/SB 142 because one day, I might have a child, and that child might be gay, and it saddens me to think he or she might not be able to find a safe and affordable place to live because of that sexual orientation. From a purely practical point of view, it seems potentially self-defeating; heterosexuality isn’t necessarily a litmus test for being a quality tenant. Frankly, most landlords I know would rent to a pair of rabid gorillas if they kept the property tidy, mowed the lawn, and paid their rent on time.

As a woman who is a taxpayer, I am furious that our state, the state that I love, the state that has a history of moving toward expanding the rights of its citizens, is spending my money on these bills that are very anti-Kansas. Worse, I’m angry at the lack of transparency in the creation and the passage of these bills. Did my elected officials vote in favor of these bills? The Kansas Legislature web site is careful not to let anyone know.

It’s time to unearth our progressive roots. It’s time to stop wasting energy on these negative bills that degrade our sense of civil liberties and make us look as foolish and backward as much of the rest of the nation already perceives our state to be. If we’re going to make the rest of the country watch our state with open-mouthed awe, let’s do it for the right reasons.