No one could have imagined when we started the 2020 legislative session we would be adjourning early to be home with our families during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. We left much work undone and dealt with considerable uncertainty as the budget sped through the process. As the session was drawing to a close, many of us began expressing significant doubts about the revenue projections as our state was entering uncharted economic waters. We asked for deeper cuts to discretionary spending in hopes we won’t have to slash budgets next session. Only time will tell what our state revenues look like, but one thing is certain: Without operating businesses, we will not be able to fully fund necessary government functions and agencies.
We must figure out how to begin reopening our businesses. People absolutely come first, don’t mistake anything I say to the contrary, but we must consider lives AND livelihood. The lives of those whose health is seriously impacted by the virus and the livelihood of those ravished and / or ruined by the economic devastation of the shutdown. We must be diligent in considering how people are going to make a living during and after this crisis. Nothing is more degrading to a man or woman who provides for their family than not to be able to. Some are content saying, “the government will take care of me” but the vast majority desire to take care of themselves and their families. Many have businesses that have been forced to shutter, laying off or furloughing tens of thousands of employees. Is there a way where we can protect the elderly and most vulnerable while getting others back to work? Can we reopen sections of the state not directly impacted by the virus? The data continues to stream in daily to help us answer this and many other questions. As a business owner myself, I pledge to work with House leadership and the governor’s office to get everyone back to work as soon as feasible and safe to do so.
As this shutdown has continued, I’ve found it frustrating that many want to use this crisis to ignore our system of checks and balances and stomp out dissent. The refrains are repeated over and over: “Let the governor do her job.” “Stop playing politics.” “This is an emergency, we don’t have time for this stuff.” Our system of government requires checks and balances and our citizens deserve legislators who do their jobs. The governor has done many things I agree with and a number of things I disagree with. However, she was elected to be OUR governor. There is a reason we have different political parties and three branches of government. Checks and balances are essential in ensuring we never allow too much power to concentrate in the hands of one person.
I’ve been criticized over the past three weeks for insisting that any stay-at-home orders must not impede on the Second Amendment or religious liberty as well as raising privacy concerns related to using cellphone data to monitor the movements of Kansans. We must remember that liberty is the norm, not the exception. Our constitution is the cornerstone of our society. Our freedoms were not conditional on how the next crisis unfolds. We are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We must stand firm in our resolve to protect our freedoms and ensure we never sit quietly while the government (even if temporarily) suspends liberty. Suppression of freedom must NEVER be the norm.
I will continue to do my job by representing my constituents, honoring my values, looking unto God for guidance and standing in defense of our constitution. It doesn’t matter if the governor is Laura Kelly, Sam Brownback or Oprah Winfrey; a time of crisis is not an excuse to throw out our constitution and system of government.
— Stephen Owens, R-Hesston, serves as the Kansas state representative in the 26th District, which includes Hesston and Harvey County. He can be reached at Stephen.Owens@house.ks.gov.