Pearl River Depending on how things go in coming months, Thomas Frank, the lawyer and author of the well-regarded book, What’s the Matter with Kansas, may have to work on a new volume about What’s Right about Kansas? I’m talking about the first test before US voters of their reaction to the Supreme Court’s elimination of the protections on women’s right to choose when it comes to having children.
In a referendum during party primaries on whether Kansas should maintain the rights to abortion in their state constitution, voters overwhelming voted to do so by a margin of over 58% to 42%. Is this a harbinger of things to come as voters, especially women, including particularly Republican and independent women voters, punish anti-abortion candidates for defying their wishes for partisan, religious, and ideological reasons? That’s a harder question, but the first round in what is likely an extended battle should worry conservative politicians from Supreme Court justices on down the line.
Frank’s argument for those of you who read the book and remember, questioned how could Kansas people vote against their self-interest and be swayed to do so by snake oil politicians convincing them otherwise. That was then, and this is now. It seems there is a limit to what they are willing to allow, and that may end up being the core lesson in this signifying vote.
Kansas voters, along with the rest of the American electorate, are not extremists. They’ve proven that in past elections when they’ve rejected the far-right anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, anti-voter former Secretary of State Kris Kobach in his attempts to gain various higher offices. In this state where Republicans vastly outnumber Democrats, they elected a Democratic governor for example.
The anti-abortionists, perhaps intoxicated with their recent victory in the courts, forgot that they had to appeal to voters, not ideological extremist jurists. They hoped putting their referendum on the lighter-voting primary election, rather than the general election, would give them the advantage, but instead it triggered a swarm of voters to the polls. In some cases, anti-abortion proponents were coy about exactly what policies they would try to enact, if the right to abortion were removed from their constitution.
They should have known better. Twice before, the dominate Republican legislature had tried to establish strict limits to abortion and the state supreme court had been forced to remind them that the state constitution protected that right. Worse some wild-eyed more radical anti-abortionists said that if they won, they would seek to ban abortion in any and all cases, which continues to be the most extreme position, including rape and incest, but also threatening the lives of the mothers themselves.
Overreach is the hobgoblin of both the right and the left, and Kansas voters have shown the way. We may not like it when it happens to us, and they are going to learn that they aren’t going to like it when it happens to them. This is likely to be a lesson for the Trump-radicals that won in primaries in Arizona, Michigan, and elsewhere as well. My bet is that just like the Kansans, voters are going to reject the Trump-hard candidates who are swaddled in January 6th, election denial, and misogyny. Voters are looking forward, not backward.
Let Kansas be a lesson to everyone. You can only get away with going too far for so long, until the people speak and demand to be heard. Judges can’t change that.