Service is a big part of our rural communities across Kansas and our nation; it’s also a key component to the democracy of our country. While there are many ways to be involved in service to our democracy — from joining the military, serving as a poll worker, fulfilling your civic duty by voting, to running for elected office — it takes all of us to make it work.
And during these especially difficult times, we appreciate those willing to serve their communities in elected offices. From local school boards to statewide and federal offices, those willing to put their names on the ballot deserve recognition for stepping up in service to their communities through a process that can sometimes be brutal. If victorious in their efforts, those elected make tough decisions, oftentimes with limited subject-area knowledge.
It’s true that representative democracy means that those who hold public office represent the general population, and while these professionals have extensive backgrounds in one or even several areas, they are expected to make wide-sweeping choices that can impact large groups of constituencies and businesses.
That’s why Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc., along with your local electric cooperatives, work to inform, educate and build a relationship with candidates who are on the ballot through our statewide Co-ops Vote initiative.
These messages are crucially important at a time when Kansas is seeing a shift in rural population trends that equate to growth in urban cores. Currently, 32 of the 125 Kansas house members and 10 of the 40 state senators who serve are from Johnson and Wyandotte counties. These are the only two counties across the state not served by a rural electric cooperative. Those statistics are further reflected in the percentages that serve on committees and in the legislative leadership becoming increasingly more likely to be from urban centers.
Without a coordinated effort to educate policymakers who have no rural ties or historical perspective of how our parents and grandparents successfully worked together to electrify rural Kansas, we can’t presume policy decisions made in Topeka or Washington, D.C., will be able to effectively reflect the unique needs of rural Kansas.
Meanwhile the number of legislators who reside outside of urban areas is likely to continue to decline as 2021 marks the decennial redistricting process. The process, which is based on census data, is likely to mean less rural representation in the state legislature, which makes educating, informing, and building relationships vitally important. It also means we need to work to ensure that each and every person in rural Kansas is counted in the 2020 census.
As of the time of this writing only 66.7% of Kansans had completed their census. For every 1% uncounted in the 2020 census, the state could miss receiving approximately $603,990,400 in federal funding over the next 10 years and lose critical representation in the process.
We encourage every Kansan to participate in the census as a crucial act of service that respects the representation of those willing to put their name on the ballot for the overall health of our democracy. Let’s thank them for serving us by filling out our census. You can complete your census by either visiting https://my2020census.gov or calling 844-330-2020.
Lee Tafanelli is Chief Executive Officer of Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. in Topeka.