Being political means engaging in uncomfortable conversations and acknowledging one another’s humanity, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly told the crowd at Tuesday’s Stand Up, Speak Out dinner in Overland Park. It was among the takeaway messages in a speech that stressed working together and recognizing the difference between being political and being partisan.
“This has nothing to do with being a Republican or a Democrat, this is about being a Kansan, it’s about being a human being,” Kelly said. “Civility and bipartisanship are not just empty gestures. In Kansas, we know this is how we get things done — we proved it almost exactly one year ago.”
Kelly told the crowd of 700 at the MainStream Education Foundation’s 19th annual event that being political is more than casting a vote on the first Tuesday in August and November. Rather, she said, it involves paying attention and bringing in different viewpoints to work out political issues. Additionally, she said the nation’s government and politics go hand in hand, and therefore, politics is an inevitable part of life.
With elections on the horizon, Kelly said the current discomfort and negativity toward politics can be traced back to the early 90s. The political and societal turmoil of the time period did not go unnoticed: Robert Meneilly, founding pastor of Village Presbyterian Church and founder of MainStream Coalition, recognized and understood “he was witnessing the emergence of a new political tribalism” in 1993, Kelly said.
In August 1993, Meneilly warned the congregation about “the dangers of political extremism,” she said. His controversial sermon landed on the front page of the Johnson County Sun, and soon after, ended up in The New York Times. That same year, Meneilly founded the MainStream Coalition with five colleagues: David Goldstein, Judy Hellman, Carol Sader, Nancy Brown and Mark Levin.
“Over the years, that tiny group of civic believers helped transform MainStream into a powerful and persistent beacon of community, moderation and good ole’ Kansas common sense,” Kelly said.
By engaging with fellow Kansans, like-minded or not, politics and public policy can reflect diverse viewpoints, Kelly said. Medicaid expansion, tax reform and stronger public schools are all on Kelly’s to-do list, and she said bipartisanship is the only way to move Kansas forward.
“I know this is not easy work, but that is what the moment demands,” Kelly said. “Whether or not I’ve inspired you tonight I can say you’ve inspired me. You’ve risen to the occasion time and time again, and I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish next.”
The non-partisan, nonprofit MainStream advocates for citizens to get involved with the political process. There are three organizations within MainStream: the flagship nonprofit MainStream Coalition, the educational nonprofit MainStream Education Foundation and the political action committee MainPAC.