THE BLOG
11/12/2014 05:50 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2015

Kansas: Picking Ourselves Back Up

Julie Denesha via Getty Images

Recently my son's Advanced Placement literature class was playing what they jokingly call Russian Wiffleball before tackling Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Running, Alex tripped and fell, re-breaking the same wrist he broke late last summer playing touch football.

I picked him up from school. As we drove to the hospital emergency room, I glumly clutched the steering wheel.

"Mom, let's pull some positives out of this," he suggested.

"I'm having a hard time seeing a positive here, Alex," I said.

"I'm alive," he said brightly.

That simple re-framing lightened my mood, as did his stoic and brave attitude at the hospital, where the surgeon inserted a titanium plate and screws in his left wrist. His literature teacher came to the emergency room to offer her good wishes. His orchestra teacher came later with two female students who were there when the accident happened. They brought a cupcake and a t-shirt, each decorated with a Wiffleball. These expressions of caring also helped me see the positive.

The next day I drove to the polls for the midterm election. With optimism, I blackened the ovals on my paper ballot. I felt strongly that Governor Brownback would be defeated because of his reckless income tax cuts, resulting revenue shortfalls, and his arrogant "red-state model," which doesn't account for the blue-staters who reside here. I also felt Greg Orman would defeat the absentee Senator Pat Roberts, who crosses the state's threshold most when he has an opponent, as he himself unwittingly implied.

"Every time I get an opponent -- I mean, every time I get a chance -- I'm home," he said in an interview.

In an email last year, a western Kansas friend reminded me that I live in a blue pocket of the state and she lives in a red one, that folks in her Trego County love Brownback and hate Obama. Needless to say, I now see that my friend was right. I have often remarked that I live in a Democratic bubble, by which I usually mean my urban Topeka neighborhood of old Victorian houses. This time my bubble encompassed my home county of Shawnee, which went for Paul Davis, Democratic challenger to Brownback, and for the Independent Roberts challenger, Orman.

I met Orman at a house party across from my son's high school. He fielded questions from the responsive audience with thoughtfulness. I agreed with whoever said he would raise the intelligence quotient of the U.S. Senate if elected. As election results rolled in, my Democratic bubble burst, and the Senate's IQ was not to be boosted by Orman's presence.

I am a Democrat. My small "d" democratic bent encourages me to try to see the best in people, even politicians from the opposing party. But I have rarely witnessed the kind of bare-knuckled politicking that occurred during these mid-term elections. For example, a mailer was sent to voters in the south-side Topeka district of a state legislator that showed a dark hand across the mouth of a white woman. "You ain't seen the last of me," read the quote above the woman's face.

The mailer attempted to implicate Rep. Virgil Weigel, D-Topeka, in the overturning of death sentences of the Carr brothers. Of course, Weigel had nothing to do with this judicial decision. And the judicial decision was based on procedural errors made by the sentencing judge, certainly not on some mistaken judicial casualness about the heinous quadruple murder. The mailer was clearly intended to invoke people's racial fears. In an article in the Topeka daily newspaper, Weigel derided the mailer, which was not only politically, but personally, repellent to him, as his wife's second cousin was among the murder victims. But negative tactics succeeded, and Weigel lost his seat to his Republican opponent by a mere 40 votes.

Another unconscionable last-minute campaign shenanigan was a television commercial in which the wildly popular football coach for Kansas State University, Bill Snyder, endorsed Pat Roberts for Senator. Snyder apologized for the endorsement, which violated university policy, and admitted he made a mistake. The K-State administration asked that the commercial be taken off the air. Despite this request, and only after it had aired for several days, was the commercial finally removed the morning before Election Day, but it had done its job.

It has been said that the ruthless tactics of the Republicans were born out of desperation. That's an explanation, but not an excuse. The Republicans ran against Obama. The local TV ads linking Democratic candidates to Obama or Obamacare were legion. And Pat Roberts didn't run for anything, he ran against Senator Harry Reid. I was sorely tempted to ask the poll workers why the names of Reid and Obama were not on the ballot, as they were the straw opponents in Kansas.

But just as my son pulled a positive out of his pratfall, I'll pull one out of the midterm elections in Kansas. Rarely have I seen the opposition as energized or as organized as they were in this election cycle. From the public school teachers who showed up at Brownback events in red t-shirts to protest the legislative stripping away of their tenure rights, to the hundreds of women who gathered for the "Taking Back Kansas" convention in Wichita over Labor Day weekend, folks turned out to make themselves heard.

That the opposition didn't turn out to vote in sufficient numbers on Election Day is obvious. If voters were waiting to see if the train would wreck before voting Brownback out, the information arrived a week after the election. The Kansas City Star reported that a panel of fiscal experts, including members of the Brownback administration, found that the state's revenue would fall short of expenses by $1 billion in 2015 and 2016.

But the infrastructure is there for the next election. We fell down, but we are alive, ready to pick ourselves back up for the next election cycle.