Response: State of the State 2018
I experienced my first State of the State address tonight.
Well, not the first, since I’ve watched it on TV about 100 times, but the first time being part of it – from the inside, as a member of the Kansas Legislature.
We’ll get into the Governor’s speech in a bit, but right now I think it’s worth spending a little time talking about the event itself. There’s a lot to it. Really, it’s not just a matter of the Governor coming in to set his agenda for the year, or a chance for him to talk about all he thinks is wrong with Kansas. There are a lot of parts to it that are worth at least a pause, and a nod to the generations of people who have done this before.
There’s the gathering of so many people tasked with doing the state’s work. The House of Representatives, the Senate, the Supreme Court, elected officers, appointed staff, members of the Kansas Highway Patrol, guests, and the Governor. Despite what one might think of the state of government in general, there’s something remarkable about so many people tasked with a difficult job coming together to hear a common message. If you have the chance – and the inclination – to attend one of these, I think it’d be worth your while. Take the politics out of it for a bit, and I think you’ll find, like me, that it’s an interesting and remarkable experience.
Now, let’s talk about that speech from Gov. Sam Brownback.
From everything I’ve gathered, it was the most tempered and congenial State of the State he’s given. Some of the people who have been here awhile remember when he basically said he was going to push through his agenda, and he didn’t need help from people who disagreed with him. This speech was hopeful, and carried a tone of future thinking and inspiration. That’s a nice change.
I found a couple of things interesting. The first thing that really struck was the story about a woman who worried about where she’d get food for her family She offered to churn butter for a neighbor – and walked away with some butter and “a few coins” for her effort, which she used to buy some meat.
“She knew that God would always provide,” the governor said.
But even in this scenario it required a combination of Rose’s effort and the charity of a neighbor – who was most likely quite able to churn her own butter, but instead chose to help out someone in need. Had that neighbor decided she’d be better off keeping her “few coins” to herself, the woman he talked about and her family have to try something else to find food. I’ve often heard it said that God works through us – and certainly that was the case in the story the Governor told. God might do some things on his own, but often, I think, God gives us the chance to show compassion and gives us the opportunity to help others in a meaningful way. It’s seldom, from what I’ve seen, that good things just appear. It requires some effort on one part, and a willingness to help on the other side.
Now, to the meat of the Governor’s speech. He outlined a couple of interesting things – not the least of which was a call for $600 million increase in education funding over the next five years, all without increasing revenue.
Oddly, I found myself in agreement with much of what the Governor said. Money alone won’t solve everything in education. We have to think ahead, we have to think to the next 50 years and what we need our children to know in order to be ready for a really competitive global marketplace. Likewise, I found myself agreeing with his “dream” for Kansas. Who wouldn’t want to see a state with low unemployment, rising wages, low poverty, people with good healthcare, schools that are the envy of the country, an aquifer that can sustain us for generations more, and high-tech industry that is employing more people at higher wages. We all want that, I think.
The Governor is right – a dream spoken sets the architecture for the future. But, speaking a dream doesn’t make it real. To make that happen, we’ll need to have some honest conversations about where we want to take the state, and what it will take to make that happen. We’ll have to move beyond political protectionism, and start these conversations with a goal toward making them happen. It will require people with different ideas working together. I’ll be interested to see what’s in the Governor’s budget, and how he proposes to accomplish what he’s laid out, all while holding fast to his demonstrated ideology about creating a limited government. Because what he’s proposed is pretty ambitious – and it’s clear even he believes State government plays a role in making that happen. The real question is how.
All in all, I liked the Governor’s speech. I like to dream big, and I think we should. Small dreams get small results. I particularly agree with his call for higher teacher pay, increased education funding, an increase in dual credit coursework for high school students, a 95% graduation rate, and a plan to end school finance litigation (though, I don’t agree that we should tackle a Constitutional Amendment on this right now), honest conversations about race relations, and becoming a hub for unmanned aerial vehicle production. I like all of that!
Even in just a few days, I’m understanding that the gap between the possible and the probable is big. And bridging it doesn’t happen on its own, and it doesn’t happen easily. Surely the Governor has known this for a long time, too. I’m glad that his tone was less incendiary than it’s been in past years, but overall, I’m waiting to see the devil in the details of his budget plan before I’ll make a judgement about whether he’s serious about making this dream a possibility, or just laying down some nice words before he (maybe) heads out of town.