CAN WE UN­FREEZE D.C. POL­I­TICS? NOT A SNOW­BALL’S CHANCE

The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - LOCAL - STEVE KRASKE

You don’t like Wash­ing­ton much, do you? Ear­lier this month, a CBS News/New York Times poll found breath­tak­ing dis­sat­is­fac­tion with how all of you feel about Congress: Just 15 per­cent of vot­ers said they ap­proved of the job Congress was do­ing; 75 per­cent said they dis­ap­proved. So what’s new? That’s the point. Noth­ing. We’ve been un­happy with Wash­ing­ton for a long time. Only it’s get­ting worse. But what should we do about “frozen” Wash­ing­ton, as the March1­cover of Time mag­a­zine put it? How do we get it mov­ing again? How do we move past the deeply en­trenched cy­cle of par­ti­san­ship that now grips the na­tion’s Capi­tol and dis­gusts so many of us? That’s where things get re­ally de­press­ing. Be­cause I’ve searched high and low, and here’s a se­cret: Handy so­lu­tions are just nowhere to be found. We are stuck. So­lu­tion: Elect more mod­er­ates and mid­dle-of-the-road mem­bers of Congress who can serve as bridge-builders be­tween the far right and left. Prob­lem: Mid­dle-of-the road vot­ers don’t vote in party pri­maries. Ei­ther it’s too hot out­side for those mid­sum­mer elec­tions or a lot of vot­ers are on va­ca­tion. Pri­maries do draw more lib­eral and con­ser­va­tive folks who feel more pas­sion­ately about their pol­i­tics. What do they do? Gen­er­ally speak­ing, they elect lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives to Congress. So much for that idea. Here’s an­other “so­lu­tion”: Elect mem­bers of the U.S. House to four-year terms (in­stead of two-year terms) to give them a longer-term view. Maybe then we could move past the “What have you done for me lately?” men­tal­ity that grips Wash­ing­ton and re­sults in all those ear­mark projects that aren’t vet­ted as thor­oughly as other projects. Prob­lem: Ain’t gonna hap­pen. Chang­ing Con­sti­tu­tions to lengthen terms isn’t in the po­lit­i­cal cards. Folks want to shorten terms th­ese days. Here’s an­other so­lu­tion: Set up com­mis­sions to re­draw con­gres­sional dis­tricts to en­sure more com­pet­i­tive elec­tions. Of the 435 mem­bers of the U.S. House who are up for elec­tion this year, the num­ber of truly com­pet­i­tive races is fewer than 100. Some years, it’s fewer than 50. Prob­lem: The pub­lic isn’t en­gaged enough in the nu­ances of once-a-decade con­gres­sional re­dis­trict­ing to de­mand change. The pols are tak­ing ad­van­tage, once again, of your ap­a­thy. Let’s try an­other so­lu­tion: Al­ter the 60-vote re­quire­ment in the U.S. Se­nate to end fil­i­busters. A tip of the cap to David Wysong, a for­mer Kansas state se­na­tor from Mis­sion Hills who spent four years push­ing for a statewide smok­ing ban. Wysong, a Repub­li­can, left the Leg­is­la­ture late last year af­ter doc­tors told his wife, Kathy, that she had breast can­cer. But last week, Wysong saw his dream come true. “It’s su­per,” he said. “The first two years, I was the sole voice. I can’t tell you how hard it was.” The na­tional av­er­age for pass­ing smok­ing bans is three or four years, so Kansas wasn’t too far off the mark, he said. “It’s great for the state. Hope­fully, Mis­souri will now start looking at it.” To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send e-mail to skraske@kc­star.com. Move it to 50. Fun fact: In 2009, Se­nate Repub­li­cans fil­i­bus­tered on 80 per­cent of ma­jor bills. That was up from the Clin­ton years, Time re­ported. Prob­lem: Try it now and mi­nor­ity Repub­li­cans go nuts. Do it when the GOP has the ma­jor­ity and Democrats throw rhetor­i­cal bombs and stop it. Try this so­lu­tion on for size: Let’s find ways to en­gage the pub­lic more deeply in pub­lic af­fairs. Let’s ap­peal to their sense of civic duty to pay more at­ten­tion. Prob­lem: Get real, dude. That stuff is booor­rrringg. No won­der Wash­ing­ton is in a rut. You won­der why our pols can’t solve So­cial Se­cu­rity or the deficit or Medi­care or im­mi­gra­tion? Health care re­form? Af­ter Thurs­day’s de­ba­cle, that doesn’t look good ei­ther. This isn’t the civil rights era, where so­ci­etal wrongs stuck out like WWE wrestlers at a yoga camp. Those were causes that of­fered sim­pler so­lu­tions. Th­ese days, we’re into dense, heavy, meaty prob­lems with dense, heavy, meaty so­lu­tions. It can be mind-numb­ing. An­swers for what ails Wash­ing­ton? Keep looking, friend. There must be one out there some­where.

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Mind-blow­ing stat of the week: This comes from Glenn McGee, a bioethics wiz at the Cen­ter for Prac­ti­cal Bioethics in Kansas City who told me on the ra­dio that it’s no longer un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect that those now un­der 30 will live to be 130. Just think about the im­pli­ca­tions for Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity. Maybe that will light a fire un­der the hon­or­ables in D.C.

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Anew event in March will ben­e­fit a bur­geon­ing pro­gram that uses run­ning to em­power girls. Rock the Park­way is a halfmarathon, 5K and10K event along Ward Park­way on March 27. Pro­ceeds from the races will help girls like Kalee Clark. Kalee, an 11-year-old at Robin­son Ele­men­tary in Ray­town, will be­gin train­ing this week in Girls on the Run. Ex­er­cise is a key com­po­nent in this youth de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for girls in third through eighth grade. It is of­fered at more than140 lo­ca­tions in North Amer­ica, in­clud­ing Jack­son and John­son coun­ties. Kalee said her mother, a run­ner, per­suaded her to join up. “I am not a ‘sports-y’ per­son, but I do races,” said Kalee, who agreed to the pro­gram the sec­ond time her mom men­tioned it. “I didn’t know if I would like it or not.” But her views have changed. One thing Kalee likes about the pro­gram is that it gives her a chance to make friends out­side of her school. “And there are fun and in­ter­est­ing coaches,” Kalee said. “They don’t give you lec­tures.” In­stead, Kalee said, the girls and coaches talk about is­sues — like bul­ly­ing — and then the girls run or walk, which gives them time to think about what was be­ing dis­cussed. A girl doesn’t have to be a run­ner to be in the pro­gram, said Kalee. “It’s not all about run­ning,” she said. “You might not have any ex­pe­ri­ence. My coach likes to say it’s all about for­ward mo­tion.” The pro­gram’s Jack­son County coun­cil started in fall 2007 with about six girls. This spring, the coun­cil ex­pects 100 girls. The same growth is be­ing seen in John­son County, which started with six girls in spring 2007. This spring, 200 girls are ex­pected to par­tic­i­pate in a 10-week, 20-les­son pro­gram. “It re­ally has gone like gang­busters,” said Re­becca Som­mers, board chair­woman of the John­son County coun­cil. “We are teach­ing them some life­long habits and en­joy­ing a life­long sport,” Som­mers said. Brad Ziegler of KC Run­ning Co., which is or­ga­niz­ing Rock the Park­way, said help­ing Girls on the Run seemed nat­u­ral be­cause a large por­tion of area race run­ners are women be­tween 24 and 35. “It’s just a small or­ga­ni­za­tion try­ing to get off the ground,” Ziegler said of Girls on the Run. “They do cool things about em­pow­er­ing young women.” Good Con­nec­tions tells sto­ries of peo­ple who are giv­ing — and get­ting — help. If you have a story idea, call De­bra Sko­dack at 816-234-4738 or send e-mail to dsko­dack@kc­star.com.

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