The change? Suddenly this year what appears to be interest in the future of rural Kansas, those small cities and towns that bigger-city folks might regard as living near the exit ramps of four-lane highways or maybe those towns where the paved streets are in their small downtowns, and most people live on gravel roads.
Those are the towns, in the majority of the land area of the state, where a school bus ride might take 40 minutes, and where even on a clear day, there isn’t a Kwik Shop or a liquor store in sight.
Those are the areas where there isn’t much representation in the Statehouse because the populations are so small that a House district can span a half-dozen counties, and a Senate district even more.
In recent years when rural populations have shrunk and the county courthouse is the center of government for many, their issues often have been overlooked. Oh, the urban-dominated Legislature might OK an exit ramp now and again to show interest or may name a bridge after a local leader, but it was mostly pandering.
And at every reapportionment—and there’s one coming up in 2022—the political power of those rural areas is diminished. More farm kids are growing up to go be computer experts, not farmers.
Well, there’s an indication, and we won’t know for sure for a session or two, that there is more interest in keeping rural areas economically strong, and that Kansans in those areas get the same level of service that the cities offer.
This interest started with the Kansas House, which created a Rural Revitalization Committee. Yes, a whole committee, chaired by Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, out in Lane County, who lost his bid to be House Majority Leader, but showed enough strength that he could put forward a committee that will help people back home.
And Gov. Laura Kelly and her Lieutenant Governor Lynn Rogers, of Wichita, have created the Office of Rural Prosperity, and got $2 million to get it up and running and taking the pulse of rural areas of the state.
That initiative, run out of Rogers’ Statehouse office, is taking a tour of a dozen small cities this summer to see what rural areas need. While city folks have a choice of Internet providers, there aren’t many options in rural Kansas. That means that broadband internet service needs to be expanded in areas where it is going to take some state guidance and assistance and who knows what else to equalize access. It’s not just so rural Kansans can watch Netflix. It’s so they can watch what their government does, their kids can get access to programs that small rural school districts can’t staff, they can get health-care services from experts in areas where doctors are few and miles apart.
The Rural Prosperity office will be on the ground to see just what is needed in rural areas to provide housing, economic development, tourism, and the infrastructure that city folks and their representatives have access to.
It’s a change in atmosphere in the Statehouse, or at least the appearance of a chance in atmosphere, that holds promise. But just how that reach-out from the cities to rural Kansas works isn’t going to be easy. The cultures are different, the access to nearly everything is different.
Convincing city folk the importance to the state of those rural areas is going to be complicated.
Let’s hope that it works…
Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com