FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When the Personal Fits the Political Agenda

by

Friday, June 26, 2015 was a historic day, for this country and for Kansas. On the same day that the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the fifth-floor room of the Kansas State Capitol was packed with people from all over the state who’d come to show their support for state representative Dr. Valdenia Winn of the 34th district in Kansas City, Kansas, as she underwent disciplinary review by an investigative committee of the legislature.

Rep. Winn was brought before the committee, chaired by Rep. Erin Davis, in response to a complaint alleging that she had made “offensive and reprehensible” remarks during a House Education Committee meeting held in March to discuss the proposed denial of in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants. Rep. Winn called the bill in question, House Bill 2139, a “racist, sexist, fear-mongering bill.” In response, nine of Winn’s male colleagues brought a complaint against her. The committee that met on Friday to consider the complaint could have recommend that the full House censure or even expel Rep. Winn. (Meanwhile, the bill to which Winn had objected, one that would have repealed a 2004 law allowing children of undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition, was tabled, and it has not been brought up again for consideration.)

Here’s part of what Rep. Winn said that had gotten her in hot water with her Republican colleagues:

“This [H.R. 2139] is an example of institutional racism, not individual racists….institutional racism, because it deals with societal structural changes. It stifles growth, it stifles prosperity, it’s targeted to individual identifiable group of students….It does not promote Kansas growth….But the most important thing is that you’re stealing the lives and the future of these students….this bill is bad, it’s racist, sexist, it promotes institutional racism….I would proudly vote against this bill.”

Earlier this month, Rep. Davis, the chair of the committee investigating Winn, sent an email to her attorney, Pedro Irigonegaray, stating that he would not be allowed to represent his client at the Friday hearing, and that Rep. Winn would be allowed only 10 minutes to rebut, the same amount of time allotted to each of the nine complainants.

Before deliberating behind closed doors, the investigative panel, which consisted of six House members – three Democrats and three Republicans – heard testimony from Rep. Winn, and from two of the complainants: Republican lawmakers Ron Highland of Wamego and Tony Barton of Leavenworth.

During her ten-minute testimony, Rep. Winn said,

“A legislator’s free speech must be protected if our democratic process is to survive…..During the March 19, 2015 meeting of the House Education Committee, I exercised my freedom of speech as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Kansas….It is not accidental that the First Amendment protects speech, even unpopular or abrasive speech. For without free speech, one is not free. In declaring my opposition to House Bill 2139, some may not have appreciated my words; many others did. I chose to tell the truth as I saw it. And I will continue to do so as long as I am given the great privilege of representing the people of the 34th District. In conclusion, my words during the March 19th, 2015, House Education Committee hearings regarding House Bill 2139 were not directed at any particular member of the House Education Committee. Rather they were intended to address in general supporters of a bill that I sincerely believed to be motivated by racist, bigoted attitudes, not by economic necessity or reasonable legislative purpose. I did not during the debate single out a fellow member….We are the home state of Brown vs. Board of Education. As a Ph.D. and a college history professor, protecting education is of great importance to me. Fortunately House Bill 2139 was tabled.”

Rep. Barton testified that he was a supporter of House Bill 2139, and that he found “her remarks offensive and disrespectful,” and that she “resorted to the tactic of choosing her target….I was one of those targets.” And Rep. Highland for his part said, “The inflammatory tone and words used in the speech were taken personally by several members of the committee, to include me.” Neither explained why he assumed that when Rep. Winn mentioned racism and bigotry she was referring to him.

Later that afternoon, five of the six panel members voted to drop the case against Rep. Winn; the chair, Rep. Davis, abstained. The complaint was dismissed. But afterward, Rep. Winn told me, “This isn’t over yet.”

That same Friday, another victory–the legalization of same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court–was making national, colorful waves. By wonderful coincidence, this was the last day of the Legislative session, and Equality Kansas had called for a Dignity and Equality rally in the Capitol Rotunda. Notwithstanding this historic Court ruling, does Winn’s gut feeling and vocal admission that “this is not over yet” also apply to systemic concerns facing the LGBT community? According to Samantha Allen, writing for The Daily Beast, “[The] level of anti-LGBT violence—as it occurs at the intersections of race, gender identity, and citizenship—was a central preoccupation for the organizations . . . Many seemed less concerned with LGBT people getting married than they were with simply keeping LGBT people safe and alive.”

The important distinction here is the difference between elite personalism vs. personal attacks on minority or marginalized people. One is imagined and hyperbolic, while the other has real-life consequences on communities as a whole. As a character in Robert Stone’s novel Damascus Gate said, “The self-pity of the mighty – it’s so pathetic.”

Priti Gulati Cox is an artist living in Salina, Kansas. She’s a local organizer for CODEPINK. She can be contacted at priticodepink@gmail.com.

 

 

.

 

 

More articles by:

Priti Gulati Cox is an interdisciplinary artist, and a local coordinator for the peace and justice organization CODEPINK. She lives in Salina, Kansas, and can be reached at p.g@cox.net. Please click here to see more of her work.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
July 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Kevin Zeese
Green Party Growing Pains; Our Own Crisis of Democracy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Red State, Blue State; Green State, Deep State
Paul Street
“Inclusive Capitalism,” Nancy Pelosi, and the Dying Planet
Anthony DiMaggio
Higher Education Fallacies: What’s Behind Rising Conservative Distrust of Learning?
Andrew Levine
Why Republicans Won’t Dump Trump Anytime Soon
Michael Colby
Ben & Jerry’s Has No Clothes
Bruce Dixon
White Liberal Guilt, Black Opportunism and the Green Party
Edward Hunt
Killing Civilians in Iraq and Syria
Matthew Kovac
Is the Flint Water Crisis a Crime Against Humanity?
Mark Harris
The Revolutionary Imagination: Rosa for Our Times
David Rosen
America’s Five Sex Panics
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia: the Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All
Jack Heyman
Class War on the Waterfront: Longshore Workers Under Attack
Kim C. Domenico
Marginalize This:  Turning the Tables on Neoliberal Triumphalism
Brian Cloughley
Trying to Negotiate With the United States
John Laforge
Activists Challenge US Nukes in Germany; Occupy Bunker Deep Inside Nuclear Weapons Base
Jonathan Latham
The Biotech Industry is Taking Over the Regulation of GMOs From the Inside
Russell Mokhiber
DC Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox Won’t Let Whistleblower Lawyer Lynne Bernabei Go
Ramzy Baroud
The Story Behind the Jerusalem Attack: How Trump and Netanyahu Pushed Palestinians to A Corner
Farzana Versey
The Murder of Muslims
Kathy Kelly
At Every Door
David W. Pear
Venezuela Under Siege by U.S. Empire
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuelan Opposition Now Opposes the People
Uri Avnery
Soros’ Sorrows
Joseph Natoli
The Mythos Meme of Choice
Clark T. Scott
High Confidence and Low Methods
Missy Comley Beattie
Glioblastoma As Metaphor
Ann Garrison
Organizing Pennsylvania’s 197: Cheri Honkala on Frontline Communities
Ted Rall
What Happened When I Represented Myself as My Own Lawyer
Colin Todhunter
Codex Alimentarius and Monsanto’s Toxic Relations
Graham Peebles
Europe’s Shameful Refugee Policy
Louis Proyect
Reversals of Imperial Fortune: From the Comanche to Vietnam
Stephen Cooper
Gov. Kasich: “Amazing Grace” Starts With You! 
Jeffrey Wilson
Demolish! The Story of One Detroit Resident’s Home
REZA FIYOUZAT
Billionaire In Panic Over Dems’ Self-Destruct
David Penner
The Barbarism of Privatized Health Care
Yves Engler
Canada in Zambia
Ludwig Watzal
What Israel is Really All About
Randy Shields
Matters of National Insecurity
Vacy Vlanza
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Through Eyes of an Activist for Palestine
Cesar Chelala
Dr. Schweitzer’s Lost Message
Masturah Alatas
Becoming Italian
Martin Billheimer
Lessons Paid in Full
Charles R. Larson
Review: James Q. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model”
David Yearsley
The Brilliance of Velasquez
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail