What's the Matter with Kansas?

Local citizens can share their thoughts about this national debate
during a forum sponsored by FHSU's American Democracy Project

4/12/05 ks

HAYS, KS -- What's wrong with Kansas? A lot, according to native Kansan Thomas Frank, whose book, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" has fired the interest of television news shows and the nation.

In his book, and in countless TV interviews that have followed, Frank advances the theory that the state of Kansas is rapidly declining into poverty and joblessness, and that right-wing leaders in the state Republican Party are to blame.

" This derangement is the signature expression of the Great Backlash, a style of conservatism that first came snarling onto the national stage in response to the partying and protests of the late sixties," Frank writes. "While earlier forms of conservatism emphasized fiscal sobriety, the backlash mobilizes voters with explosive social issues -- summoning public outrage over everything from busing to un-Christian art -- which it then marries to pro-business economic policies."

Frank argues that voters are duped into voting for conservative Republicans, who never deliver on their promises to right social wrongs and instead put economic policies into place that exploit the very people who put them into office.

On the theory that Kansans should have a voice in this national debate, the university and The Hays Daily News will co-sponsor a public forum beginning at 7 p.m. Monday, April 18, in the Fort Hays Ballroom on the second floor of FHSU's Memorial Union.

The public is not only invited to attend, but also encouraged to participate in the discussion.

" The university has assembled a dynamic panel that should spark a fascinating dialogue about who we are in Kansas -- our politics, our values, our priorities -- and whether or not there's anything wrong with us," said John Montgomery, editor and publisher of The Hays Daily News.

Dr. Chapman Rackaway, assistant professor of political science, will serve as moderator for the forum. "Today's political scene is obsessed with the apparent growing divide between 'red states' and 'blue states,' and Thomas Frank tells us that we've been hoodwinked into being a red state," Rackaway said. "Frank's book is a shot across the bows of us here in western Kansas particularly and a command for us to exercise our political will. Whether the conservative right has simply done a better job at presenting itself to the people of Kansas or is duping the public is for the public to discuss. I hope that lots of people in Hays and all of western Kansas will come out to speak their minds on what, if anything, is really wrong with the politics of Kansas. With an active and engaged citizenry, there is no party that can fool the people."

Rackaway has been a key player in establishing the American Democracy Project at the university. The ADP's mission is to inspire today's students to be tomorrow's active citizens by providing opportunities for students to become involved through civic volunteerism, voter registration and information, positive motivation, and access to community leaders. Professors and students can then integrate those real-life lessons into classroom learning and reinforce the idea of an active citizenry as essential to continuing the democratic experiment in America.

A four-person panel will set the stage for what the planners hope will be a lively conversation. Sue Boldra, instructor of teacher education at FHSU and a former Hays High School history teacher, will review the political history of Kansas; Dr. David Weiden, assistant professor of political science and assistant director of FHSU's Docking Institute of Public Affairs, will give a synopsis of the book; Dr. Bill Shanahan, assistant professor of communication studies and coach of the FHSU debate team, will speak in favor of the theories advanced in the book. Kent Steward, FHSU's director of University Relations and a member of the Hays City Commission, will speak in opposition to the theories advanced in the book. Following this 30-minute introductory phase, members of the audience will be invited to ask questions or state their opinions.

" We are hoping that this will be a town hall sort of meeting," said Steward, a member of the ADP subcommittee that has planned the forum. "We encourage everyone to read some or all of Frank's book before next Monday and then share their thoughts at the forum on Monday night. We think this will give the community a way to appreciate and become involved with the university's efforts to increase civic engagement."

" What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America" is available at Forsyth Library on the FHSU campus and at the Hays Public Library. It also is available to be purchased at the University Book Store in FHSU's Memorial Union and at the Corner Book Center, 509 W. Seventh.

The Fort Hays Ballroom in the Memorial Union was selected as the site for the forum because Union Director Bill Smriga has noted that college unions emerged historically as locations for debate societies. Parking for the forum is conveniently located in the large lot immediately to the west.

Eagle Community Television has agreed to do a delayed broadcast of the forum for those who cannot attend in person. Details of the broadcast will be announced later.

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Office of University Relations   |  600 Park Street   |  Hays, KS  67601-4099
(785) 628-4206   |   Fax (785) 628-4152
Kent Steward, Director   |  ksteward@fhsu.edu  |  Kurt Beyers, Assistant Director   |  kbeyers@fhsu.edu