While talking about a recent international trip, New York City Mayor Eric Adams took a shot at the Sunflower State, saying “Kansas doesn’t have a brand.” But for Journal columnist Mark McCormick, talking about Kansas’ uniqueness is all too easy. 

I’ve lived in several states, served on national boards and participated in national fellowships. Most of my colleagues along the way will tell you that they received from me more information about Kansas than they’d ever dreamed of asking.

My national Black museum colleagues weren’t aware of Kansas’ role in founding the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. They are now. My Miami fellowship class wasn’t aware that Gwendolyn Brooks, Aaron Douglas and Langston Hughes lived here. They know now.

Though I’m usually frustrated that we aren’t living up to our “Free State” billing, I’m generally proud of Kansas, but maybe never more so than after the August special election, where voters here turned out in record numbers and with the nation watching, acquitted themselves so well.

My pride stems not just from the result, but also from the way Kansans modeled the power of participatory democracy. Except for race, abortion might be the most volatile issue in today’s public square, yet we settled our bitter differences with ballots.

This is no small thing, particularly following recent episodes of hateful rhetoric aimed at the FBI and a deadly attack on an FBI building in Ohio. 

I also delighted in Kansas leaning into its libertarian tendencies and temporarily shelving its tired and predictable brand as only red, conservative and marching in lockstep with the political right. We have had two Democrats elected governor in recent decades.

Just as with the issue of abortion, Kansans have depth and complexity, and we defy easy categorization.

We aren’t flyover country, either. Trends have originated here and spread, as opposed to trends arriving in Kansas 10 years after they’ve ebbed on the coasts.

It was historically fitting that we were the first state to take on the issue of abortion after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

My brilliant Journal colleague and Kansas historian Beccy Tanner taught me that Kansas was the first state to pass temperance laws and enter Prohibition and that we served as a petri dish for populism among a number of other “isms.”

Wichita was one of the first cities in the country to pass a gay rights ordinance, though entertainer Anita Bryant launched her successful overturn campaign targeting Wichita immediately afterward.

There’s more: Pizza Hut, Phillips 66, broomcorn, and a world-class aerospace industry. One of the first-ever lunch counter sit-ins. 

And now, I can buzz in the ears of my east coast, west coast and Southern friends about that day in August when the Sunflower State zigged when America thought we’d zag. It was great watching and reading national pundits as they scratched their heads and tried to figure us out.

While they work through that, I’ll keep thinking about how we maintain and maybe even expand this level of voter engagement. With fissures snaking up the foundation of our democracy, we need that more than ever.

I’ll also reflect on Aug. 2 and how Kansans showed up and showed out. It’s truly something to be proud of.

A photo of columnist Mark McCormick
Mark McCormick previously served as editor of The Journal.

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