Today I attended a rousing and inspirational fund-raising luncheon for the MainStream Coalition, and I’m starting to get keen on Kansas.
Keen on getting Kansas back on track, that is, in light of the legislative debacle that has been taking place in Topeka.
I had heard of the MainStream Coalition but knew virtually nothing about it. A week or so ago, my friend and former colleague in The Star’s Wyandotte County Bureau, Mark Wiebe, emailed me an invitation to the luncheon at the Matt Ross Community Center in downtown Overland park.
Mark, who now works for Wyandotte Inc., Wyandotte County’s community mental health center, is secretary of the MainStream Coalition, which has its offices in Mission.
The coalition is a 22-year-old, bipartisan, non-profit organization — 501(c)(4) — that can spend up to 50 percent of its revenue on politics. Its mission is to oppose extremism and fight for good government, sound fiscal policy and strong public schools.
A noisy crowd of about 230 attended yesterday’s event, and a sense of energy, optimism and defiance permeated the room.
Speaker after speaker talked about the need to “Restore Sanity to Kansas” (the organization’s slogan) and cited reasons why Kansas was not a lost cause just because extremists hold sway right now.
For example, coalition president Sheryl Spalding, a former Republican state representative from Johnson County, said that although Gov. Sam Brownback was re-elected in 2014, he had the support of only about 25 percent of the state’s registered voters. (He defeated Democrat Paul Davis 423,666 to 390,614.) Spalding said she thought many people who voted for Brownback now regret it.
Spalding was one of many Democrats and moderate Republicans who were washed away in 2012 by a flood of outside money from ultra-conservative outfits like the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.
To rousing cheers, Spalding said, “With your help, we can make a stand, we can speak out, and we can turn this state around!”
Another speaker was Carol Marinovich, former mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County-Kansas City, Kansas. It was under Marinovich — and at her agitation — that the Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte County governments merged in the late 1990s.
Citing the importance of working across party lines, Marinovich said Republican legislators were key sponsors of legislation that authorized a vote on consolidation in Wyandotte County. In addition, she said, then-Gov. Bill Graves, also a Republican, “could not have been a stronger partner” in Wyandotte County’s ascendance.
“Consolidation laid the foundation for the economic resurgence of Kansas City, Kansas,” Marinovich said.
Republican state leadership supported Wyandotte County in those years — the late 1990s and early 2000s, Marinovich said, because they knew that a prosperous Wyandotte County would be good for the whole state, partly by generating millions of dollars a year in new sales-tax revenue.
Echoing Marinovich, Jill Quigley, another former Republican state representative, told the crowd that working across party lines was essential to “bringing about positive change.”
On the importance of mainstream politics, Quigley quoted the late Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was raised in Abilene, Kansas:
People talk about the middle of the road as though it were unacceptable. Actually, all human problems come into the gray area. Things are not all black and white. There have to be compromises. The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.
For the MainStream Coalition, the timing of Wednesday’s event was perfect. The organization appears poised to surge ahead in what could be a long and resonating backlash to the folly that extremists have unleashed on a once-moderate state government.
In his invocation yesterday, Rev. Robert Meneilly, retired pastor at Village Presbyterian Church, prayed that “our beloved state” would be saved from “its present state of shame.”
What reasonable, moderate person could argue with that characterization?
…If you’re interested in learning more about the MainStream Coalition, visit their website, http://www.mainstreamcoalition.org, or give them a call at (913) 649-3326. Brandi Fisher is the executive director. The organization’s office is at 5960 Dearborn, Mission.