We registered, we voted in large enough numbers to affect some change, but what’s next?
Can we expect anything in return for our vote, or can we expect absolutely nothing in return? Can we expect it to be business as usual in Topeka and Washington?
Days ahead of the election, social media was abuzz. There was an endless stream of online posts, with photos and videos by celebrities to grandmothers, urging people to get out to vote. In the midst of these, I came across a lone video by a Kansas community activist who boldly questioned why vote. He dared to bring up an issue that, while not new, had almost been drowned out by a sea of videos extolling our obligation to vote.
He dared to question how OUR vote would help OUR community.
Unapologetically, his point wasn’t about an esoteric greater good, but about what direct benefits and or positive changes his vote would make to the view and conditions outside his window, around the corner, and for the people he cares most deeply about?
He’s not the first, nor will he be the last, enlightened Black brother to stand up and demand a quid pro quo – something in return for our vote. You may question his approach, but I suggest questioning the approach of thousands – in Kansas – and millions across the country who vote, then expect nothing in return, and never ask for a thing from those they elected.
As an elected official with 15 years of service in the Kansas legislature, Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau (D-Wichita) knows how it works. Each year, she hears from individuals and organizations, big and small, asking for her vote. During the Legislative session, they stop by her office, they testify before committees, they push and they prod to get their issue(s) passed.
Tell Them What You Want
What she doesn’t see is many Black people in the capital, using their political power to move issues forward. Besides hearing from her constituents when she’s back home in Wichita, she says she Black people are very under-represented in the political process beyond voting. Post the 2018 election, Faust-Goudeau has a number of next step suggestions for African Americans.
“This is where people don’t need to sit down, they need to keep going,” says KS Sen. Oletha Faust-Godeau (D-Wichita). “They haven’t gained anything yet.”
The time frame between the election and January, when the legislative session begins, is an active political period, says Faust-Goudeau.
Organizations with policy and issue they want to move forward should be requesting meetings with our incoming leadership team – Laura Kelly and Lynn Rogers — and with their legislators and other members of the Kansas legislative delegation. Most legislators are already at work preparing bills they expect to introduce during the 2019 session. Some will file their bills ahead of the session or not much later than January. Introducing a bill much later than that doesn’t give it much time to get worked and advanced during the legislative sessions, which only last 90-days.
Time is of the essence, says Faust-Goudeau and clearly asking for support on an issue is important as well.
This summer, Dr. Rev. T. Lamont Holder, president of the Missionary Baptist State Convention of Kansas, afforded candidate Laura Kelly and huge opportunity to reach into the state’s Black community when he invited her to speak the MBSC’s state convention. Holder is adamant Missionary Baptist churches helped motivate and mobilize a large delegation of Kansas residents to go out and vote.
Now, Holder is ready to take “next steps.” He’s not going to sit back and hope for change. It is his intention to hold Kelly and other elected officials accountable for promises they made during the campaign. Now, he says, it’s time to meet with Governor-elect Kelly to “collaborate on substantive issues that are germane to our community needs.”
A new administration in Topeka means a lot of turnover in appointed staff positions and on the hundreds of boards and commissions that influence policy on a state level. Just like the President of the United States appoints his cabinet, so does the Governor of Kansas.
A next step for the community would be to get people appointed to some of those key positions. Getting people who support our agenda into those positions is almost as important as electing a governor who supports our positions, says KS Rep Gail Finney (D-Wichita). Department heads, chiefs of staffs, information officers, and other appointees control the day-go-day operation of the state’s department and directly influence the quality of our interaction with government, from how easy it is to renew your tag, to how difficult it shouldn’t have to be to deal with the Department of Children and Families.
The community needs to help identify qualified individuals whose names they can put forward to fill some of those positions. In addition, there will be even more positions opening on boards and commissions. These boards help direct policies for many departments and programs of the state.
With so many boards, you’re likely to find one connected to something you have an interest in. For example, there’s the Athletic Commission, the Kansas Board of Barbering, the Human Rights Commission, the Kansas-Missouri Metropolitan Culture Commission and the Lottery Commission, just to name very few.
To find out more about the state’s boards and commissions, and to submit an application to serve, go to the State of Kansas’ Office of appointments. Most of these positions are non-paid, but you’re reimbursed for your expenses, including travel to and from the meeting.
While you’re at it, says Finney, find out about and submit your name to serve on boards and commission in your local community. In Sedgwick County, she notes our new County Commissioners Lacy Cruse and Pete Meitzner will be making appointments to boards, and certainly there are similar opportunities across the state.
Faust-Goudeau suggest that we also remain cognizant of position openings created because elected officials who were elected to new positions will be vacating their current positions. The process for filling these vacancies varies by position, but never the least, the vacanies create opportunities for our community to get people in these seats that are mindful of our issues.
For example, in Wichita City Councilmember Meitzner won a seat on the Sedgwick County Commission which creates an opening on the Wichita City Council. In addition, the senate seats held by Laura Kelly and Lynn Rogers need to be filled. There may be other similar openings across the state that our community needs to be involved with.
Support Your Issue
If bills that we support get introduced in the Legislature, our next steps should be to support the bill’s passage in whatever way we can. Ways to show your support are by reaching out to your legislators, others legislators and other state elected officials, including the new governor and lt. governor.
You can do this by sending letters and emails, making calls, attend public hearings on the bills and legislative forums, submitting written testimonies in support of or in opposition to a bill, knocking on doors to get others aware and involved, and organizing and building a movement to bring about change.
While many of us may not have time to do all of those things, it doesn’t take much time to call and leave a voice mail, or to send a brief email that says I support or oppose this bill.
Sen. David Haley, (D-KCK) suggests choosing just one issue and give it your best.
“Choose your issue that strikes home to you and remain vigilant with something as easy as a phone call or an email to the state senator, governor or commissioner,” says Haley. “Look at the issue and define it in a way that lets that person know you will vote if you’re insulted enough.”
Tying your advocacy to your vote is important, says Haley. “Part of what motivates every politician is looking at the numbers (who voted),” says Haley.
While it’s important to advocate and lobby, voting still remains as, or more important, says Haley, especially with the data driven way in which campaigns are run today. Politicians know who does and doesn’t vote and who does and doesn’t vote for them.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but the consistently voting households get the attention,” Haley says. Because your recourse, if you don’t like what he/she is doing, says Haley, is to “get a group of people who think just like you and vote them out.”