Kansas has long struggled with something of an image problem.
To those millions who have never lived or visited here, Kansas can seem to be little more than vague recollections from “The Wizard of Oz” – you know, that scary black-and-white landscape complete with the horrendous tornado that whisked away Dorothy and Toto.
Well, outsiders heard plenty more about Kansas this past week.
In the good news category, there was the appearance of our three major-college basketball teams in the NCAA tournament.
Exciting stuff, definitely.
The negative side of the ledger, unfortunately, included a couple of other events that could make people think: “What in the world makes Kansans so doggone odd?”
First, we had the death of the Rev. Fred Phelps, the Topeka pastor who was known worldwide – yes, really – as one of most outspoken and annoying mouthpieces from here to Antarctica.
Mr. Phelps built a reputation that made most citizens cringe, repeating such stunts as protesting at the funerals of American soldiers killed in combat or insisting that God would smite anyone who violated the pastor’s fire-and-brimstone beliefs about the evils of homosexuality.
If he weren’t already on most people’s “Oh, no!” list, Mr. Phelps cemented his bizarre legacy when his church burst into South Africa at the time of Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.
Mr. Phelps’ apostles made frequent appearances on an African TV network – that continent’s version of CNN – to claim that Mr. Mandela was in hell (for divorcing and remarrying), and that God hated South Africa and would punish the entire country with eternal damnation.
Watching clips of these “God Hates You” displays, we could only cringe when every interview carried an information banner that read: “Kansas, United States.”
Then just when international news services were beginning to tire of flaying Mr. Phelps, homeboy Kris Kobach picked up the baton.
Kansas’ secretary of state, who has established a reputation for trotting around the nation to help cities and states craft laws aimed at making life difficult for immigrants and minorities in general, won a round in a court battle that surely will stay in the headlines for awhile.
To simplify, Mr. Kobach got a Wichita judge to rule that states – Kansas and Arizona, in this case – can force the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to change all voter registration forms, including those for federal elections, to reflect any state’s particular proof-of-citizenship demands.
The district court ruling eventually may be overturned, but that is no cinch.
And if the decision stands, then Kansas and Arizona (the state with the infamous “Driving with brown skin” statute) essentially will make voting much more difficult for a segment of the population – basically poorer people and anyone, legal citizen or not, for whom English is a second language.
Given the hoopla over Mr. Kobach’s elation with the verdict, you’d think illegal voting was a national scourge – when,in fact, there are no statistics at all to back up his fears.
Mr. Kobach’s relentless crusade has the whiff of a solution looking for a problem.
So once again this week, outsiders might have looked at Kansas as the odd-sock drawer of America.
It’s all a bit depressing.