Commentary Politics

In Kansas, Secrecy, Control, and Limited Participation Are Hallmarks Of Brownback’s Town Halls

Kari Ann Rinker

Governor Brownback's policies are designed to favor the likes of the Kochs, not the kids of Kansas. His "town halls" are further proof of the control that our governor demands over every interaction, every policy and every man, woman and child within Kansas boundaries.

Governor Brownback has some serious control issues.  There have been closed door discussions on faith based marriage initiatives, a lack of transparency with proposed tax restructuring and a refusal to comply with an open records request regarding the drafting of proposed abortion clinic regulations

Beyond these examples of governmental control and secretive actions, his state agency henchmen actively foster a climate of fear within their ranks.  People who have legitimate complaints or concerns with the paths that are being taken are scared.  These are everyday people, non-political average everyday working Janes and Joes who hold their tongues for fear of reprisal.  Heads of local agencies reliant on government funding, find themselves in constant anticipation of the next cut, which could potentially endanger their very existence. 

A prime example of this is the Governor’s unprecedented directive of a 20 percent reduction of program budgets of organizations receiving funding from the Children’s Initiative Fund (CIF).  In the past, the money provided by this fund has been based upon prior years receipts and while this fund is anticipated to experience a reduction, there has never been a shortfall this large.  The programs funded by this money include Early Head Start, SIDS Network and Child Care Assistance Program. 

As I’ve written earlier, Kansas has the highest infant mortality rate in the United States.  All of the programs funded by CIF have influence over the reduction of this deadly Kansas statistic.  In fact, approximately 200,000 (roughly one-third of the state’s children) were served in Fiscal Year 2010 by programs that rely on CIF dollars. These programs serve children of all ages with the primary focus on children ages birth to five.

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Healthcare access also greatly influences infant mortality and childhood poverty, yet this administration is doing its best to reduce access through denial grant funding for the federal healthcare insurance exchange.  If we want to meet the needs of children, we must provide adequate healthcare to adults.  One in five Kansas children are living in poverty.  There are 347,400 uninsured individuals in Kansas and nearly 75,000 of them are children.  Now is not the time to consider the elimination of corporate and state taxes, as has been proposed by Governor Brownback. 

That is why I was happy to hear that the Governor has scheduled town halls during the month of November on the issue of childhood poverty.  Many women and children in Kansas are experiencing devastating hardships and an open discussion involving those immediately affected by Governor Brownback’s policies is badly needed.

As I prepared to rally grassroots attendance for these town halls to give voice to the concerns of many, I was shocked and amazed by what I discovered… our Governor’s control issues have caused him to completely dominate and control every aspect of this public interaction.  Participants are required to register in advance and provide their personal information.   Online registration, in and of itself, creates barriers to participation for those living in poverty, who do not have access to the Internet.

A woman who answered the hotline for inquiries informed the caller that they would not be allowed entrance unless pre-registered.  There will be pre-assigned seating at tables with 8-10 other pre-registered people.  A facilitator will be placed at each table to monitor the discussion.  The facilitator will select the questions to be voiced.   The meeting will last 3 hours and takes place in the middle of a weekday. 

What kind of  “town hall” is this??  This amounts to censorship of open dialogue.  It appears to be an event orchestrated to stifle the voices of those directly affected by policies that are slowly killing off the poor. It is a “town hall” that prevents the media from giving a platform to critical, legitimate concerns of the public being railroaded by a Governor who could care less about Kansans living in poverty.  This governor’s policies are designed to favor the likes of the Kochs, not the kids of Kansas. These town halls are further proof of the control that our governor demands over every interaction, every policy and every man, woman and child within Kansas boundaries. 

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