Talking about Hutchinson, and a “love letter” that wasn’t
I was excited, and nervous, last Monday.
I had scheduled a forum, of sorts. Only I was calling it a community discussion because that’s what I hoped it would be – an authentic conversation about Hutchinson. I wanted to hear from people about what they see as problems in the community, as well as their hopes for the future.
I didn’t know if I’d end up with a crowd of disaffected voters looking to tear into a rookie lawmaker, or if I’d end up with people who hoped to have a meaningful discussion about the future. I was happy it was the latter. And I was nervous because I was trying to do something different. Instead of a typical town-hall meeting, or a traditional forum, I employed a method that I hoped would intentionally draw participation from those in attendance.
We didn’t have angry groups of people. We didn’t have heated discussion about our disagreements. My goal was to find out from the people I represent exactly what’s on their minds. I wanted us to think deeper than the superficial talking points we so often hear – but which accomplish nothing. I’d like to think that I didn’t speak to those gathered as much as I asked them to speak to me.
The Hutchinson News was there, and wrote something about the discussion. The article was largely positive because the event was positive. The News reported 30 people (my volunteers counted closer to 50) attended. We talked about jobs, healthcare, taxes, education, crime, drugs, and a bunch of other topics that make up life in Hutchinson. We talked about Hutchinson’s past, where it is now, and what it will take for us to create the sort of community we’d like to have in the future. I left feeling very good about the event because it was a productive and important discussion with people who live in Hutchinson.
Koch Brothers folks at Kansas Policy Institute didn’t see it that way. They wrote, through their privately financed news service The Sentinel, a piece titled “Hutch News writes love letter to former editor-tuned-representative.”
“The Hutchinson News wrote a glowing story about Hutchinson state Rep. Jason Probst. The Democrat stepped down as the Hutchinson News Opinion Editor to replace Rep. Patsy Terrell, who died in office during the 2017 legislative session. Probst received kinder coverage than most lawmakers receive from the newspaper.
The Democratic legislator hosted a community forum, where the Hutch News reported he found 30 happy constituents with almost no complaints. Headlined, ‘Probst hears changes desired,’ it reports that Probst found a ‘lot more agreement’ at the event.”
Sigh. Here goes.
The first thing you need to know is that no one from KPI, The Sentinel, Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Chamber, or any of these incestuous lobbyist groups were in attendance. They wrote this thing from a great distance, and with a great deal of speculation. Because, you know, they weren’t there.
It’s important to understand the innate nature of a group like KPI, and its private news service, The Sentinel. While it bills itself as an independent news source, it is anything but. It is nothing more than the mouthpiece for the 1%, which has financed a massive misinformation machine in the hopes of manipulating elections in their favor. Groups like KPI exist in nearly every state to do exactly the same thing.
(Sidenote: The article, in an effort to falsely paint me a tax hungry lawmaker, said that I supported the Nov. 7 sales tax vote that would add ¼ cent to the city sales tax. I do support the vote, but it won’t add a new tax – it’s a continuation of an already existing tax. Facts matter. If you want them on this sales tax, read this).
Monday’s event was not a legislative forum as The Sentinel would have you believe. That’s where lawmakers field questions and offer answers. I’ll have plenty of chances to participate in such things. On Monday I sought to recruit insight from people who live here before I head up for the legislative session.
It’s a foreign concept to groups like KPI, but it’s not my fault they can’t grasp the concept of a true representative government. Here I’ve drawn an illustration to show the difference between the way KPI thinks things should work, and the way I think things should work.
That’s why I’m inviting the community to come have these productive conversations that only cost an investment of time and effort, while KPI and its cousin AFP are spending enough money to send a handful of kids through college to push its financiers’ policy agenda.
A few other things worth knowing. The Hutchinson News doesn’t love me. I quit, and I was quite vocal about my dissatisfaction with the current ownership. I wrote about it, and it was read pretty widely. Believe me, I’m not going to get any special favors because I worked for The News. Also, there’s reporter Mary Clarkin, who I guarantee won’t cut me any slack.
KPI has long relied on its well-heeled backers to finance an onslaught of misleading information to sway voters and turn elections in their favor – and by extension gain policy that is favorable to those backers. This is a top down approach, and it’s worked pretty well for some time.
I have no plan of following such a model. I’ll spend my time talking to the people I represent, and I’ll ask them to talk about the ways we can work together to make our community better. And, together, we’ll identify our shared vision and find ways to turn that into policy that will make this a stronger, more inclusive, more robust and healthy community.
That’s what I came to do, and I’ll make no apologies if that makes the fat cats at KPI uneasy. In fact, the thought sort of makes me smile. A lot.