Memo From Mac

 

                                                                   


The Hutchinson News
Hutchinson, Kansas

It Is a Fearsome Thing 
June 29, 1964

What, exactly, do the foes of reapportionment of the state legislature fear?

The Supreme Court has ruled that seats in both houses of the legislature should be based on population that each representative should represent as nearly as practical the same number of people, so that each citizen's vote will count for as much as any other citizen's.

You'd think, from the outcries, that the court had ordered everyone to join the Democratic Party, or had banned prayer in church as well as in school.

What are they afraid of those who now frantically are crying states' rights, imploring the Founding Fathers, and castigating the court?

Why, the people, that's what they're afraid of. Ever since the first kings started toppling and the first revolutionary thoughts began to find their way into print, they've been afraid that if the people ever really got control of their own governments, all hell would break loose.

The Communists are afraid of this, just as the American colonial merchants and landlords were, and just as today's defenders of the status quo in Kansas are.

We play a little game about it. We talk about democracy. We quote Lincoln about government of, by, and for the people. We talk about the will of the people. The will of the majority.

But we don't mean it. We employ all sorts of ploys, of which legislative malapportionment is the favorite, to frustrate the majority to make sure the people never really get in charge. We've been doing it since the revolution. Then, ironically, it was the seaboard merchants who wanted to make sure the backcountry, rabble-rousing farmers didn't get control of the legislatures. Now it is the backcountry conservatives who are trying to keep the city folks from getting control.)

In Kansas, what are we afraid of? What would the legislature do, if city folks had more representation in it, that we don't want done?

Well, like most grave, philosophical, and patriotic questions, it comes down to money. The worry is that the representative of the city dwellers of laborers and slum dwellers and people with lots of kids would want to spend a lot more money. Naturally, this would raise taxes and take more money away from those who don't live in the cities, but who have a lot of property to be taxed.

This citified legislature would want more money for schools, more for welfare, more for combating juvenile delinquency, improving law enforcement and public health. It would probably give labor a more friendly hearing and be more concerned about the victims of loan sharks. It would be interested in getting more industry into the state and providing more recreation facilities.

How successful it would be is questionable because, even with equal representation, the big cities still would control a minority of the house.

It is also clear how costly all this would be to rural landowners. The fear seems to be that these demands of the city folks would be paid by increasing taxes on the land of the country folks. But property taxes in Kansas have been used traditionally to finance local, not state, government. The state burdens are carried increasingly by sales, income, and excise taxes. Interesting enough, the prime movers to get even the local school burden off local real estate, and on to state-collected indirect taxes, have been the city folks the leaders of the city schools that cannot operate on real estate levies.

It is a fearsome thing, all right, this prospect that the people might one day control their own legislatures.

Editor's Note: With opinion pieces, news stories, and feature articles throughout 1964, Mac led the successful campaign for reapportionment in Kansas. The Hutchinson News was awarded the 1965 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service "For its courageous and constructive campaign, culminating in 1964, to bring about more equitable reapportionment of the Kansas Legislature, despite powerful opposition in its own community."

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