On Aug. 2, 2022, Kansas became the first state in the nation to affirm women’s constitutional right to personal autonomy and reproductive freedom after the fall of Roe v. Wade. It was a historic, landslide victory that shocked our nation.
Leaning on their own stereotypes and limited knowledge of our state, most national pundits reduced Kansas to a one-dimensional “red state” — its people incapable of thinking independently or prioritizing common sense over extreme partisan ideology.
Those of us who know Kansas, however, were more optimistic.
In the heat of that campaign, I spent hours trying to explain the complexity of our state’s history to out-of-state journalists. Most didn’t know our unique and vibrant story. When they thought of Kansas, they thought of sunflowers, prairies, “The Wizard of Oz” or maybe recent presidential campaigns. They failed to recognize that Kansas has often played a leading role in America’s most pivotal moments.
As our famous journalist William Allen White once said, “When anything is going to happen in this country, it happens first in Kansas.” From our ancestors’ early battles against slavery to our desperate fight to expand the rights of tough, pioneering women. Kansans fought for freedom no matter the cost. We elected the first woman ever to public office and we were the first state to mount a successful legal blockade of the KKK during its terrifying rise to power in the 1920s. We are a bold, independent people. It has been our legacy since before we became a state in 1861.
Sadly, that legacy has come under threat more than once.
A decade ago, journalist-turned-legislator Jason Probst wrote a poignant mock-obituary for Kansas, lamenting the state’s shift toward extremism. Then-Gov. Sam Brownback ignored our glorious history as a beacon of freedom and opportunity. Instead, he prioritized his “real live experiment” of trickle-down tax cuts for the wealthy, to the detriment of our communities.
The result was disastrous. Within a few short years, the state budget was in shambles. Massive cuts were made to public education, resulting in school closures in rural communities and growing class sizes in urban neighborhoods. Health care funding was reduced and Brownback vetoed Medicaid expansion, resulting in hospital closures and growing costs for all Kansans.
Fortunately, common sense prevailed, and the Brownback experiment was shelved. Since then, we have clawed our way back to economic and financial stability. Together, we weathered a global health emergency and historic economic turmoil. Our independence, grit and common sense throughout these challenging times led to record job growth, historic business investment and economic recovery.
Unfortunately, threats to our freedom and fundamental rights continue to surface year in and year out. We must keep working to protect our shared commonsense values — the values that are core to who we are as a state. It will take hard work and collaboration to ensure all Kansans — no matter who they are or where they live — have the opportunity to prosper.
That’s why I founded the Kansas Coalition for Common Sense, a nonpartisan advocacy and communication organization. Our goal is to empower Kansas voters, advocates and leaders in our fight to advance commonsense values and strengthen our state for every family.
Kansans were successful last year in defending our constitutional rights because a diverse group of people worked together across partisan lines, ideologies, geographic regions and demographic groups. We identified the values that bring us together and trusted voters to make their voices heard. I know we can work together on other critical issues that impact the lives and livelihoods of Kansas families — and we must.
As a mother of five, I see our state as a reflection of our values. Our state must be a place where every child can thrive and feel welcome. We have work to do to make that a reality. I am determined to do everything in my power to protect and nurture Kansas’ heroic roots of freedom, equality, democracy and hard work. And I know others hope to do the same. Together, we can embrace our Free State roots for generations to come.
Sixth-generation Kansan Ashley All has spent two decades working in Kansas politics and public policy. She was the spokesperson for the campaign that opposed the anti-choice state constitutional amendment in 2022. She is the founder of the Kansas Coalition for Common Sense, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that does not lobby. She lives in Lawrence with her husband and five children.