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SPOTLIGHT
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Kansas 1861-2013

Published on -4/3/2013, 7:20 AM

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The Great State of Kansas passed away on March 31, 2013, after a long and difficult battle with extremism that became markedly more aggressive in 2010. The struggle left the state so weakened it could no longer fight against the relentless attacks by the fatal disease.

Kansas was born on Jan. 29, 1861.

The state is preceded in death by fair taxation, good highways, strong education, family farms, a good public parks and wildlife system, open government, neighborliness and belief in helping each other out, freely elected public servants, and political moderation.

Kansas is survived by widespread poverty, low-wage jobs, high property taxes, pollution, poorly educated children, outmigration and rural depopulation, foreign land and farm ownership, lobbyist-funded legislators, chronic mistreatment of the disabled, a maniacal hatred of government and children who dream of living anywhere else.

During its early years, Kansas played a pivotal role in the Civil War by staking out a strong progressive stand against slavery. Despite repeated raids from border ruffians, Kansas held firm to the belief of free men and free soil.

Throughout its life, Kansas often aligned with leading progressive causes. William Allen White, one of the state's most notable residents, once wrote that "if it's going to happen, it happens first in Kansas." That once was true. Kansas was the first state to ban the Ku Klux Klan, and the first to elect women to public office -- one as mayor and another as sheriff.

It was the birthplace of the populist movement, rising as farmers and ordinary people grew weary of the Gilded Age politics of the late 1800s and early 1900s that favored investment interests over those of landowners and laborers.

Kansas was a leader in public education, with one-room school houses dotting the plains. A full 12 years before it was a national concern, Kansas established child labor laws that restricted employment of children in potentially dangerous industries.

In the 1950s, Kansas laid the path to civil rights for African-Americans with the historic Brown vs. Board of Education case -- the first in the country to rule against a policy of segregation in public schools.

Despite its compassionate nature, Kansas proved to be a state teeming with inventiveness, ingenuity, determination and a savvy sense of business.

Cessna, Beech and Stearman helped establish Kansas as a center of the aviation industry. Coleman launched an international company from Wichita that became a household name. Pizza Hut and White Castle -- two iconic eateries -- both got their start in Kansas, and the man who helped establish the American automobile industry called Kansas home.

Kansas' history is filled with vibrant, dynamic people. Settlers who claimed land once described as a desert and turned it into the world's garden; immigrants who came by the train-load and brought with them the hard winter wheat that germinated the state's prosperity. Throughout the years, Kansans endured drought, grasshopper plagues, depression and fierce weather, yet its people worked to hold tight to their land and the belief that there was goodness in Kansas. In spite of those hardships, the state produced world-renowned artists, writers, inventors, business leaders, astronauts, even a president.

Kansas was a strong-willed state whose hands were calloused enough to turn up the hardest sod and tender enough to calm a crying child.

Despite its strength and vitality, Kansas couldn't survive the influences of outside political machines that sought to use this fertile ground and its people as a test plot for an ambitious political experiment.

The elections of 2010 and 2012 brought the poisoned pill that would bring about Kansas' untimely end. The first election seated a governor who tossed aside Kansas' storied history and replaced it with a vision of his own design. In 2012, record setting campaign contributions from out-of-state donors financed the defeat of those moderate Republicans who had spent the last of their political careers keeping Kansas alive.

One by one, the things Kansas had spent a lifetime building were dismantled, until the state was rendered as empty and uninviting as it had been in those early days when the first settlers eyed its endless expanse.

Along the way, the state's defenders -- the farmer, the laborer, the property owner and the shop keeper -- stood mute and passive, hoping for a day when the state would spark back to life, as it had always done before.

They remained silent too long.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Policy Institute, or Americans for Prosperity all in care of Gov. Sam Brownback, Office of the Governor, Capital 300 SW 10th Ave., Ste. 241S, Topeka, KS 66612-1590.

Jason Probst is news editor at the Hutchinson News. jprobst@hutchnews.com

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