by 2022 was a year like few others in Kansas politics, journalists at the Kansas reflector began by covering a breakneck legislative session. Towards the end of the year, we followed a bitter midterm election contest. And in the middle of it all August, we saw a landmark vote on abortion rights. My name is Clay wire stone. And I'm the reflectors opinion editor to help make sense of these stories and others that defined a remarkable year. I'm joined by the reflectors, Editor in Chief Sherman Smith, senior reporter, Tim Carpenter, and reporter Rachel nipro. Welcome to you all. Thanks, Clay. So let's start with that abortion vote on August 2. Sherman, this was a very, very big deal to understate it.
Yeah, it was it was a political earthquake, and one that was set in motion by the US Supreme Court decision weeks before. You know, the the Kansas abortion amendments was something that had been in the works for several years legislature put this on the ballot a year and a half in advance. Nobody really, you know, first of all, I guess that the US Supreme Court would would drop this decision right before the Kansas vote that that Take That would take away the right to terminate a pregnancy. And so that put a lot of attention on Kansas. And, you know, a lot of people now say they saw the vote coming, but in real time, it was seen as a toss up vote, and the the basically 6040 landslide, rejecting this abortion amendment was shocking. And it you know, kind of reset the way some of the the elections unfolded later in the year.
And I think honestly, we're still kind of coming to terms with that vote and what it means in Kansas,
we are I think it's people are a little hesitant, and rightfully so to try to draw a lot of meaning from this, like, does this mean everybody wants a lot of access to abortion, or were they just unhappy with this particular amendment? You know, the supporters for this amendment drew it up in confusing language placed it on a a particular ballot where they thought they would have a an extraordinary advantage. It was like all the everything was stacked in their favor. And I think voters didn't like that. I think they didn't like the idea that the legislature would have unlimited power to ban abortion under any circumstance, without exception. So we know that voters don't want that. But we don't know what they do once, you know, would they support a, for instance, a 15 week ban? Would they support other restrictions? I think if there had been a constitutional amendment that said, we're going to allow abortion, but we're going to seem and every restriction that's currently in place, maybe Kansas voters would have adopted that. So candidates on the trail, you know, or maybe had Democrats especially were a little reluctant to go out and say, you know, I really, really support all of these abortion rights, because they weren't really certain about where voters stand.
Could I say something I wanted to just pitch in there. As Tim, when this amendment was drafted by the Kansans for life and the legislators who were fervently against abortion, they were so confident that they could get this past that they didn't include the typical language you see in abortion law, which is to say, there's an exception to abortion limits to save the life of the mother, or in cases of rape or incest. They didn't put that in there, because they thought this amendment would pass. And they would just be one step closer to not allowing abortion at all in Kansas. But what happened, there was a very organized and well funded campaign against the amendment. They I think they were effective in their marketing and commercials and advertising. And in the end, by a margin of 172,000 votes. The Kansan spoke and said, We want abortion rights, and we don't like this amendment. And I would agree, Sherman, that the legislators and the anti abortion crowd are still on their back heels, trying to figure out where to go next. If you believe in the voters decide things if you want to lean in to what voters say, then they'll stand pat about where they're at right now in terms of abortion instead of coming back in the 2023 legislative session, and immediately kick off a program of further restricting abortion. I would think
you would think but we're seeing now some some legal battles over some of the restrictions that currently exist. And as some of those start to get knocked down. I think you'll see more more enthusiasm in the legislature to to fight back to come up with new restrictions or you know, there's there's nothing that says they can't come up with another constitutional amendment. One of the issues issues with with this one was, you know Kansans for life the other supporters were dishonest about what they were trying to do. They they insisted This wasn't about banning abortion, even though that's the exact power they were giving the legislature, one of the things that we were able to do is report a story I reported a few weeks before the votes of a regional director for Kansas for life out in western Kansas or central Kansas talking about how, as soon as this amendment passes, that's exactly what we're going to do. She knew the the exact bill number what was in that bill, and it was a total ban without exception for abortion. And so that is ultimately the goal. Whether whether there's a path to get there, I think is yet to be seen.
On I just found it fascinating in watching the campaign that the anti abortion forces never quite had an answer. For folks who said, This is what you're trying to do. This is what you you want to do. They would say things along the lines of oh, that's ridiculous, but then not answer follow up questions. It seems as though after spending all of this effort writing the amendment and getting it on to the ballot for the primary, they had not actually gone through like the third, fourth fifth steps and figuring out how to how to sell it if there was an opposition method message.
I mean, rather than answer questions, they had a series of background calls where they wanted to tell you what you should report, but you weren't allowed to quote them, which I thought was very problematic. And, you know, at some point, I just stopped dialing in because there wasn't any point to it. After the election, of course, they blamed the media for the failure of this.
Right. And, and I just feel ultimately you have a 6040 you know, 60% 40% rejection of the bill. I think anyone, anyone, cause any one event you can maybe attribute a few of those percentage points to but to have such an overwhelming rejection. You know, Tim, I really agree it the voters of Kansas, were saying we're not having it. So Okay, moving on to another giant story from the year Tim, you reported a story about Johnson County Sheriff Calvin hatin. So tell us a little bit about that.
Yes, Johnson County Sheriff Hayden, a 2020. Election denier I should point out, convene a meeting with like minded folks at the sheriff's department that earlier this year in which he offered some of the following. The sheriff said he would take up arms to thwart the IRS from flooding the county with investigators. He also said he had the authority to actually tosses IRS s agents out of his county, his county. Hayden said he wanted to arrest protesters and Lawrence even if it drew a lawsuit from the ACLU. He just wanted to knock heads. I think he likewise warned picketers that he wouldn't allow them to harm one twig in Johnson County. So he sort of threw down the gauntlet to anybody who wants to express themselves, in defiance of whatever Sheriff Hayden thought. He said he would continue in an investigation of election fraud in Johnson County, because he has quote, tons of suspicion, despite admittedly the lack of hard evidence. He also, by the way, urged election deniers who were employed as poll workers to take pictures of documents that they saw on election day that were possibly useful to his probe, I think he had to walk that back a little bit. You know, this all led to a the passage by the legislature and placement on ballots in November, constitutional amendment that would require sheriffs to be elected. And what happened was the elected officials in Johnson County were so uneasy about hate and being their Sheriff, that they talked about changing it to an appointed position. So that constitutional amendment was actually passed. And so Hayden's position as long as he wins, elections, over there is is preserved. And I think he may have toned down some of his rhetoric a little bit, but I think this is very revealing about how this very, very powerful law enforcement officer believes in things that are perhaps ridiculous.
This is Sherman. There's another critical piece of this amendment, which deals with how you would investigate sheriffs. So if somebody like Calvin Hayden never did go off the rails and do something illegal, this amendment takes away local authority to investigate and do something about it. It would have to go through the Attorney General's office.
That's a good point, Sherman. And the issue there is that attorney generals in Kansas have historically tried to align themselves with these. The sheriffs across the state and US every year. There's campaigns in which sheriffs and doors this attorney general candidate or the other so why in the world would the Attorney General We all want to go after three way word sheriffs and risk losing that powerful voice of of local government and local law and order in terms of their future elections.
Yes, I have one office in charge now of investigating 105 counties, which just doesn't seem very practical.
Yeah, and this is Clay, I think there's also a, a broader perspective here that's important, which is that there's something known as the constitutional sheriffs movement that's going on across the United States. It's kind of a fringy theory, but it has more and more people subscribing to it, which believes that county sheriff's are essentially the ultimate law enforcement officials that their authority supersedes that of other elected officials. And they they're becoming very powerful and talking about things like denying elections and whatnot. So that's something to certainly keep, keep an eye on.
And this is Rachel, I just want to add one more thing about this, which I felt like the campaign Fifth Amendment was a little misleading in some of the posts, we're seeing some of the information being spread on Facebook about this,
including some from Sheriff Hayden's office, right. Yes. From
his office himself. I forget the exact wording of the post. But in one of the posts, he was like vote for this amendment, it will give us like, it was worded as sort of like, the shirts were in danger and voting them would like keep them. But I felt like it was the language was very misleading, I would say
they had to actually take that post down and refine it a little.
So So Rachel, it's it's good to hear from you. And you had you were covering one of our one of the years kind of biggest stories, at least to our readers, which was an, I suppose a threat to the continued existence of the Pottawattamie what buoyancy Regional Library in St. Mary's, at least as a building in its current site, so tell us about that.
Right. So for some context, here, the library has been in that location since the 1980s. It serves two counties, eight different locations. So it's a very important landmark, I'd say there for readers who wants to us books in the rural areas. So basically, starting in August, there was some controversy over the library. Their lease was up for debate, because one parent was mad about a book called Melissa, it's about a transgender, middle schooler. And basically, the parent wanted that out of the library. So following the bait out of several meetings, the parent and a couple of the commissioners decided that they wanted to include a lease in the libraries clause for renewal on the lease would have been all socially divisive, material, racially, or sexually, or any LGBTQ material at all from the library. So this would have been like a very, very general overview kind of thing here. So the library refused to put that into their lease. And ever since then, it was up for debate. Finally, in December, December 6, they took a vote on it, after a huge public turnout, a lot of reactions from the public, they decided to keep the library's lease where it is today.
So this is Sherman, I think the backdrop to this ritual is the the power and influence of a church and St. Mary's. And the members of the County Commission, the City Commission, excuse me, all members of this church, and their idea was to kind of seize control over the kind of books that this library could have. And if the library refused, which it did, they wanted to pull the lease and, you know, threaten, basically, they're threatening to end the library's existence. But ultimately, the library held firm after he started reporting on it, there was a lot of media attention, the ACLU came in and threatened some litigation. And where does that leave us moving forward?
So it's interesting, actually, because the commissioner is actually were discussing ways to reshape the public library, even after this was voted to keep the least what I thought was really interesting to you is, in the past, they've discussed having their own city run library, like completely removing themselves from the county at large. I'm not sure if that's actually possible under the statute there. Had that library there for a while. But so in the future, I think we're gonna be looking at other attempts like this, to do more censorship, really,
they're also looking at taking over the the library board, right?
Yeah, yeah. And right now, the library board itself is not an elected position at all. So the members are kind of picked and then put on place, but they're hoping to reform the entire board itself, and maybe get some of their own St. Mary's officials in there. They're claiming that the representation for that is a problem, because there's a lot more St. Mary's tax dollars going into the library, but I've looked at up. I'm not sure if that's actually true. It looks like it's representational right now.
This is Tim, I interject here. Missouri is going through a controversy in regards to libraries as well. And I must say, I'm just completely baffled by the As the library has always been just a building full of ideas, ideas that you can, you can touch, you can absorb, you can cast them aside, you can choose which ideas to read and follow and and understand. And for people to come in and say, Oh, libraries are being this terrible influence, for crying out loud, why can't people decide for themselves what they want to believe? And and there's questions about parental control that like librarians are, are stealing the thunder of parents, well, no, no, libraries have books out there that people can pick and choose from. But parents still have, you know, some sort of influence over what their kids read, it is a parental influence. And if you're concerned about what your kids are reading in a library, go sit next to your kids in the library, and make sure they don't pick up that want those five offended offensive books that you're all up in arms about, you know, don't you think young kids should be chaperoned in a library, I mean, if you took a six year old there, you just don't drop them off and leave for five hours and go to a bar and come back. You know,
in clear, we've we've published a series of columns that you can have curated for this week. And over and over again, what we see are people who say, I wish I had this book, when I was a kid, this would have been very helpful to me. So it's fine for one parent to say, I don't want my kid to read this. But for another kid, this could be a lifesaver.
Well, and I think there's, there's an important point, this is Clay, again, to make here, which is that so often what we've seen before this, the St. Mary's situation has been challenges to books in school libraries, which have a particular you know, particular resonance, because, you know, the kids go to school every day, that's the place they have to be those those books are the ones that kind of have the this schools backing. I mean, that's a ridiculous thought. But that's how people talk about it. But what we're seeing here at St. Mary's as a as a challenge to a book in a community library, something that's used by everyone, not just folks who are going to school, and that's a that's a building and an institution with a wider purpose.
Can I just say one more thing? You know, in the education system, people, it's a requirement that kids are educated in Kansas, but there's a choice as to where to go, you go to a public school and go to private school, or you can be homeschooled. All right. So why can't we approach libraries in a comparable way and other publicly funded system? If people don't, the parents don't like the books that are in a library than home library them? You know, get the books yourself, and don't let the kid go to the library will say, so there's all kinds of alternatives to ripping books out of libraries and throwing them on the burn pile? Yeah, just
this is Rachel. Again, just to add on to Tim's point there. There are a lot of parental controls already in place, both in LA and St. Mary's Public Library and libraries in general on in most libraries, there's like forms you can do to say, hey, I don't want my kid to check out this book or that book in particular, that's definitely in place at the public library and St. Mary's. And I believe it's a general practice to so I mean, if you as a parent just go in and say, I don't want my kid reading that most of the time. I think it's librarians won't let them read that.
Okay. So moving on here to kind of I'm going to say it's a lightning round, but I'm sure it won't be. But this these are, these are stories that Sherman and Tim and Rachel have kind of picked themselves from what they've covered so far this year, as being particularly important or noteworthy. And Sherman, you wrote about something that has been a gigantic issue for years at the Kansas State House. Transcript transparency.
We I think what I tried to document was the way the legislature shields itself from public scrutiny through secrecy and playing the shell game with with bills and silencing opposition. And a lot of these tactics are things that are not a surprise to anybody who spends much time in the statehouse. I think we kind of get jaded by this process. But I think it's it's still shocking to the general public and it should be shocking the way that that the legislature operates. You will have a bill that is intentionally held from from being entered into the system until right before a hearing so that people can't read it and show up informed for that hearing. Only one side that supports the bill has gotten advanced notice of it and they're all lined up. The other side is either doesn't know that it's coming doesn't know the hearing is coming or is just flat out not allowed to speak before the hearing or during the hearing. Then you have you know undisclosed authors of these bills interests that are really behind them. You have have an end of session avalanche, where all these things that may be talked about during the early weeks or months of the session, wind up passing all at once in the final 48 hours or so. And they get bundled together with you know, they'll take this bill and shove it into some other bill with four others. That might be legislation that nobody's ever heard of before that didn't receive a hearing something that one side he knew the senator, the house is heard, but not the other. But these all get shoved together, we had a tax bill with I think, 27 different pieces of legislation, some that nobody even knew existed before, all shoved together at once. And when you have a lot of bills like this coming through at the end of the session, you know, there's not even time for legislators to really vet any of these. And that's the way that the things happen in the legislature. Now, this kind of idea that like the Schoolhouse Rock of how a bill is formed, how a bill becomes a law, that does not happen in Kansas.
Well, and and this is Clay, I think what's really important for folks to understand about this is that there's no need or requirement that it be this way. Republicans in the in the House and Senate in Kansas have a super majority, they could literally adhere to Every letter of you know, procedure and every formality and get exactly the same outcomes, given their numbers. It's just that these shortcuts are used essentially, to, as you say, just keep the public out. It's it's used specifically to exclude folks from having a voice not because it would actually it's actually needed to pass these measures
on the cynic in me says that if if people were paying closer attention and the public were more involved, we would see a lot different membership in the legislature. Instead, what we see is more than half of the seats were not even challenged on the November ballot.
So Kim, you also wanted to talk a little bit about some of the very top line election results last month in November.
I think you can clump together the Laura Kelly defeat of Derek Schmidt, the victory by Sharif David's against Republican Amanda Adkins and Kris Kobach, narrow win over crisp Democrat Chris man. You know what I the reason I want to clump those together is I think, early on, there was a sense that Laura Kelly could lose that sharees David's could lose, and and along with Kris Kobach in the attorney general's race, and they defied those early odds in one. And there's a lot of reasons for that. But I think Laura Kelly, proved that she was a capable administrator and she talked about economic development and said I'm a centrist did a bunch of ads in which he's standing in the middle of a highway and Derek Schmidt stayed on the conservative flank of the Republican Party. He also had the problem of state senator Dennis Powell running as an independent Sharise David's, excuse me, was specifically targeted by the Kansas legislature, which they read redrew all the maps to try to help Amanda Atkins and Amanda Atkins did worse than she did against Rhys Davids two years ago, Kris Kobach, who has lost a series of elections in Kansas, people didn't give him much credit. The Kansas chamber insisted that people vote against Kris Kobach because he was unelectable. And they put forward their own candidate. Somebody else and Kris Kobach prevailed in the primary and then by the skin of his teeth. He be Chris man, Lawrence political novice in the election. So we have Laura Kelly for another four years Rhys Davids for another two years, both Democrats and Kris Kobach. He is going to be attorney general for the next four years. I think all of those races were interesting, perhaps predictable. But I think early on, there was some skepticism about them all.
Well, and Tim, you also mentioned, redistricting, which could easily have been an entry on this end of year summary as well, just the way in which, and it also ties into what Sherman is talking about the way in which these maps were rolled out. I don't think we we still don't quite know who drew them or where they came from. And, you know, there were lawsuits, they went to the state Supreme Court, just challenging how, how these new districts were drawn and who the US representatives from Kansas would be,
is also a kind of a Hail Mary here that was filed recently to try to get the US Supreme Court to look at this,
you know, redistricting of these Kansas Legislature, House and Senate in the US House districts and then subsequently the State Board of that. It's a messy process every 10 years. A decade ago, the the legislative maps were drawn by a panel of federal judges And they avoided that this time. But one of the points that became very clear to me is that under the Kansas constitution, gerrymandering is illegal. So you can distort political representation. To the extent that you disenfranchise people, here's the best example. Lawrence, known as a liberal Enclave was thrown into a congressional district with a bunch of rule conservative voters, and really to silence the electoral voice of Lawrence resonance, which I think is sort of outrageous for the people who live in Lawrence, you know, so maybe, you know, maybe that's just the trend in the nation. And if you have the power, then you flex your muscle. But I don't think it's really the best thing for democracy.
I think a lot of attention has been given to to the congressional maps and not so much to the legislative ones. And I think here in a couple of years, we're gonna see some really shocking districts in the the Senate maps that were drawn, you take a community like Topeka, and Shawnee County, which may be slightly leans democratic, and it's carved up like a wagon wheel with districts running off and spokes to rural areas so that they can ensure that only Republicans represent the area.
And just one quick point on that is, the Kansas house was up for reelection, this 2020 2022 The Senate not up until 2024. So that'll be the first exploration of the new Kansas Senate maps in two years.
Okay, and so now we come again, to Rachel and, Rachel, you were talking about some challenges that were faced by Kansas voters this time around,
right, yeah, so it's kind of interesting, we're talking about gerrymandering, because it's kind of this ties in a little bit with that. So one of my favorite stories from this year, just from the few months I've been here has been one about disability voting. Um, it turns out that some of the 2021 legislation made it a lot more difficult for some disabled voters to get out and actually vote. I'm talking specifically about House Bill 2183, and has filled 2332. And these bills that made it like illegal for people not to, for one person to deliver more than 10 election ballots per household, you had to get a signature and make sure it was verified. So that alone put kind of a damper on the voting process for a lot of people living in residential settings with a bunch of other people. And there is also more about like, which residential addresses can be registered for actual voting purposes. So these two things together made it really difficult for disabled voters to get out there and actually vote. And then also, just in general, with campaigning and everything, I think we're seeing like a kind of a different world really than we've seen before, with door knocking campaigns and everything. I've heard a lot more about intimidation, like voter intimidation and candidate intimidation, and the sort of campaigning leading up to the election itself.
Right, you you wrote about candidates who'd had graffiti on on their personal property threats, they had filed police reports over this.
Exactly, yeah. And then in some neighborhoods to one to two or three of the candidates I was talking to you said data got stopped when they were going door to door knocking, you know, just like getting their message out there. So that itself is kind of worrying that people in Kansas would go out and shout at you if you're trying to like get your campaign message out.
This 2021 legislation that you were talking about is is a result of kind of the hysteria around make believe voter fraud from the 2020 presidential election. And it was this, this provision that's you're talking about, dealt with a term called ballot harvesting, which is just kind of a scary sounding term. That doesn't really mean anything. But there were Democrats in the legislature who are kind of notorious for going through their communities and saying, you're going door to door, you know, have you turned in your mail in ballots, I will do that for you just to try to make sure that those votes were counted. There's never been any indication of fraud associated with that. Nobody has ever been charged with fraud associated with that. But it was a convenient way to say, Oh, this is vulnerable to fraud, this is vulnerable to fraud. Let's make sure we stamp it out.
Yeah, and we're still seeing that like two years later, we still have all these discussions about election security and everything. Tim and I were actually at the House of Reps for their speeches. And one of the points we were hearing about was that they're going to work on election security again this year.
Which is, as clay which is, again, kind of mind blowing, given that all of these Republicans super majorities in the House and Senate are willingly taking their seats. No one is doubting that the voters elected them to their positions. So
invariably, you know, there are ways that you could improve security of Kansas elections through better training, better resources, higher end machines, things like that. But invariably, these laws always take the effect of making it more difficult to vote
should point out to conclude on this item that Secretary State Scott Schwab Republican repeatedly, relentlessly says Kansas elections are free and fair and accurate. And there are still people in his party that don't want to believe that. But I think he's our elections are and that's what he says.
Well, Sherman, Tim, Rachel, thank you so much for coming together for this year, end or year beginning podcast as it may be. And I wanted would like to say to you all that the greatest gift of my 2022 has been being able to work with all of you. So thank you