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Clowns at play in the Capitol

Burdett Loomis

By A Contributor

The recent wire service story took on an ominous tone: the United States is facing a clown shortage. “What’s happening is attrition,” said the head of the Clowns of America Interna-tional. “The older clowns are passing away.”

This is no laughing matter.  Where will the clowns of tomor-row come from? 

Clearly, the clown association has not been reading the Kansas news. Under our own beautiful, refurbished Big Top in Topeka, we are awash in clowns. It’s as if a couple of those tiny circus cars pulled up to the Statehouse and out popped 40 or 50 clowns, ready to put on per-formances for a full 90 days. Ringling Brothers should be so lucky.

Like every state legislature, ours has always had clowns. They’re the folks who stand up and make fools of themselves without ever knowing it. Still, we have a representative govern-ment, and fools need represent-ation, too.

But over the past few years, clowns have overrun the Capitol — in committee rooms, on the floor and everywhere else under the dome. While not wearing floppy shoes or painted faces, they’re easy to identify by their words and actions.

Most notably, of course, is the dynamic GOP duo of Rep. Charles Macheers and House Speaker Ray Merrick. Rep. Macheers pushed the bill to allow discrimination against gays (among others) on religious grounds, and the Speaker blithe-ly allowed the bill to sail through the House with almost no scru-tiny. Then came the firestorm from across the country, which made Kansas lawmakers appear once again like, well, a bunch of clowns.

But the grossly mislabeled “religious freedom” bill has just been the most highly publicized bit of comedy. The list goes on.

Legislators have proposed nullifying federal gun laws and enforcement of the federal Endangered Species Act., to say nothing of picking a fatuous fight over prairie chickens. Some of these clowns are lawyers, which is laughable in itself.

Republican state Rep. Brett Hildebrand wants to prosecute a city employee for having the auda-city to express worries about enforcement of a 2013 law that bans cities from using their funds to express opinions on gun control. What part of free speech do he and the Legislature not understand?

Then we have state Sen. For-rest Knox, who airily dismissed the scientific consensus on climate change, stating, “The only thing you know for sure about the weather in Kansas… is it’s going to change… That’s all we really know about climate too.” Rep. Knox has a degree in mechanical engineering but not one from the Ringling clown college, so really he’s just an amateur at both climate change and comedy.

Wait, there’s more.

State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook began the clowning by putting on her famous live sonogram per-formance to demonstrate —somehow — that Kansas surro-gate pregnancy laws are inade-quate.

There are bills to permit spanking in schools, to subsidize private fitness clubs, to chal-lenge fluoridation and generally to cripple local government by restricting cities’ and counties’ ability to tax, even in the face of cuts in state funding.

Yet other proposed bills would: require students to opt in to sex education courses; mandate a two-year district resi-dency to be eligible to run for the Legislature; and eliminate the Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice’s authority to choose presiding judges in county courts. All of these are pure politics and laughable.

Given our wonderfully reno-vated Statehouse, it’s a shame that serious legislating — on education, health and infra-structure — is not in the center ring. But that’s the circus business for you.

So Stephen Sondheim’s words continue to haunt us:

But where are the clowns?

Quick, send in the clowns.

Don’t bother, they’re here.

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