Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What I learned in Topeka

Last week I attended two days of meetings as part of the Tourism Industry Association of Kansas’ Day on the Hill. I don’t know what it is about politics, but I find it fascinating. Maybe it’s the implied power of being a lawmaker or the historic statehouse with its five floors of marble and ornate woodwork. I don’t know but it sure was a rush.
Our group heard from Parks and Wildlife Secretary Robin Jennison about the recent addition of Tourism to his department. Sec. Jennison is a big outdoorsman and hosted a radio show all about the outdoors for four years. This new alignment of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism will put more of an emphasis on our outdoor recreation when marketing the Sunflower State. While a few larger metros have expressed some concern their attractions will get overlooked, the consensus by Director Becky Blake and those in the industry is that it is a good move. I myself like the switch but I’m a little confused as to why it was necessary to add a third undersecretary to the department if the Governor’s ideology has always been one of smaller government.
The other major issue discussed was the executive reorganization order to eliminate the Arts Commission and make it a non-profit funded by private donors. The state is facing a $500 million shortfall and comparatively the Arts Commission $592,000 budget is just a drop in the bucket.
Arts supporters are concerned the loss of state agency status will mean a loss in federal arts funding but the Historical Society is able to accept federal funds and funnel them on to a private Arts Council. There is also concern that not having a state agency dedicated to the arts will give the stigma that Kansas is not arts-friendly.
My two cents are that this is not a necessary action by Governor Brownback. On the other hand, if arts supporters truly believe in supporting the arts, hopefully they will support it with their wallets when necessary.
By far the best meeting I had in Topeka was the time I spent with Rep. Clark Shultz talking about McPherson. I’m hoping he will support some kind of resolution to make McPherson the Olympic Basketball Capital of Kansas in time for the 75th anniversary of the Globe Refiners 1936 Olympic victory in August. If you agree, mention it the next time you see Rep. Shultz, Sen. Jay Emler or Rep. Don Schroeder. Or just thank them for all of their hard work.

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