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.

However…

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.

7 Comments

  • Posted January 10, 2018

    Kam McEwen

    Good job!! I have always admired your basic underlying optimism coupled with realism which was once again apparent in this blog and video. I wish you the best, don’t think you need “luck” as you have so many positive attributes going for you. Sign me up for newsletter if I am not already signed up!

  • Posted January 10, 2018

    Kim Moore

    Great analysis and good theology thrown in. Let me know if I can help in any way. We appear to be coming up to Education and Health to talk about ABC later this month or so.

  • Posted January 10, 2018

    Harriet

    Not really ready to give our divisive governor a pass because he mouths some bromides. He will take his alt right ideology with him into wherever he can find a place for himself.

  • Posted January 11, 2018

    Gary Withrow

    Jason, your written message and your blog were excellent, as usual. I am very glad that you are in the legislature. With your gift of wisdom and the ability to express what is going on helps me feel a bit more positive about the State Government and it’s possibilities. I see you as a blue bolder on a red sandy beach. God bless you and go for it. If I can be of help, let me know.

  • Posted January 11, 2018

    Glenn Owen

    Well written, Representative Probst , giving the facts with your personal reaction. You appear to be on the same lines as Senator Berger and the democratic party. There appeared to be a change of heart from the Governor from his past agendas. That must have shocked the Democrats and surprised the Republicans. I am in agreement with more money in education but there are other issues that could assist education besides money. I could discuss this with you at at later time. Other concerns are Mental Health and Children and Family services which has an affect on education.

  • Posted January 13, 2018

    June Gladden

    Isn’t the $600 million to restore that which was taken away?? Or is my memory failing me. Truth is for education, mental health, prisons, health care etc. there is NO FREE LUNCH. I think of when our grandparents built those lovely old school buildings……they were the best the community could provide…….and I am sure that folks made sacrifices to pay for them. The church at Victoria, KS is another example. Every family was accessed so many loads of stone. Those who were able gave more but all sacrificed labor and money to build that beautiful church. My family would support a tax increase to pay for community services that are needed to grow our state and protect our citizens.

  • Posted January 13, 2018

    June Gladden

    no need for reply. GO TEAM PROBST

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