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Democracy at the Local Level

Tuesday was an election day here in Wichita, with the primary for mayor and three city council seats and an at-large seat on the school board at stake, so of course we did our civic duty and drove several blocks to a church up in North Riverside to cast our vote. Voting is a long ingrained habit of ours, even in these low turnout contests, and we are creatures of habit.
There’s always a certain satisfaction in exercising one’s franchise, but it’s changed over the years. When we were kids our elementary school was a voting place, and the Monday before every election day we’d get to go into the booths with the red handle that closed the curtains and click on the levers to cast our mock ballots for the candidates our parents had endorsed. Back then no one doubted the election results, and everyone accepted them no matter how it turned out, and there was something very Norman Rockwell about the process.
Nowadays you need a driver’s license or some other sort of photographic identification that they scan through a machine, which is fine by us, but we notice that doesn’t reassure those who are convinced illegal immigrants are deciding the elections. They also hand you a couple of computer printouts you run through a couple of computers in order to vote, which strikes us as rather convoluted, and we notice it also hasn’t done much to bolster public faith in the electoral process. The same anti-immigrant Secretary of State who got the photo ID requirement enacted resisted a system with a paper trail that could counter any foreign computerized meddling in Kansas elections, and we can’t blame our Democratic friends for being suspicious about that.
Another thing that’s changed is the media landscape, which is not as useful as it used to be in making our choices. The local newspaper is down to about 20 newsroom employees, the three local television statements are similarly understaffed and preoccupied with car wrecks and local crimes, and it’s hard to find any information about the various candidates. They still do the thumbnail sketches where the candidates get to say all the same things about good government and honest dealing, but that’s about it. Somehow we were unaware of the race for the at-large seat on the school board, which we care about even though we’re long out of school and have no kids, and were embarrassed to cast no vote in the race.
We follow local politics as best we can, though, and made our choice accordingly. One of the mayoral candidates ran ads on the talk radio stations that described a platform of repairing the city’s sidewalks and making Wichita a sanctuary city for the unborn, but we’ve not noticed the sidewalks in a state of disrepair and wonder how fetuses might find their way to sanctuary here, and he flier that showed him next to an embarrassed-looking President Donald Trump was another reason to write him off. Several of the candidates were the usual kooks who always run for local office, and only the incumbent and a couple of challengers seemed like serious people with relevant credentials.
Incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell has generally done a good job, and Wichita being such a small town and ourselves being so well connected ¬†we personally know him to be a nice enough guy with a very charming wife, but he tore down our beloved Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and ran off our beloved Wichita Wingnuts to build a shiny new ballpark and attract a Major League-affiliated team, in a deal that gave some businessman or another some recently hot Delano property for a dollar a lot, and there’s no forgiving that. The two non-kook challengers were Lyndy Wells and Brandon Whipple, both businessmen with long lists of the boards and commissions of local agencies and charities they’ve served on. A former city councilwoman we always thought too liberal for our tastes but whose honesty we never doubted knocked on our door to to make a pitch for Wells, our very conservative businessman friend “Hatman” Jack Kellogg, who has lots of dealings with the city government, also endorsed Wells, and when a couple of trusted ¬†realtor friends made the same recommendation we settled on Wells.
Not that we had anything against Whipple, who wound up slightly behind Longwell in the race for the two slots in November’s run-off. We can’t be sure that Whipple was a Wingnuts fan, or that he’ll be any less likely than the usual Wichita politician to go knocking down perfectly good buildings to erect something more shiny or new, but except in the unlikely case that what’s left of the local media comes up with some pretty serious dirt on him he’ll probably get our vote. If Longwell wins we figure Wichita could do a lot worst, as so many big cities seem to do.
So long as we get to vote, we’ll retain an optimistic feeling. While voting we ran into a longtime friend who lives down the street who had come to vote and brought his soon-to-be-third-grade son along to demonstrate what civic-minded citizens do on election day, and when they accepted a cookie and an “I voted” sticker from the nice lady at the door he thanked her for volunteering her time to democracy and had his son do the same, and that also gave us a hopeful feeling.
Here’s hoping the kid winds up with the best possible person serving in the at-large seat on the school board, no thanks to us or the local media.

— Bud Norman

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An Almost Perfect Evening at the Ballpark

Tuesday provided us an almost perfect evening of Americana at the elegantly aging old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, just across the swelling Arkansas River from downtown Wichita.

The temperature was appropriately but not excessively high as the Sioux Falls Canaries took a worrisome lead at the top of the first, but as the Wichita Wingnuts kept within striking distance over the subsequent innings a picturesque prairie sunset descended upon the hallowed field and the clean Kansas air achieved an optimum warmth. We enjoyed hearing the familiar corny advertising promos that accompany almost every possible play of minor league baseball as we sat in the sun-blinding smoking section with a couple of stogie-loving pals, chatted amiably with a couple of late-arriving friends about some of the city’s more notorious crime stories of the past few decades in between our game commentary, and amused ourselves by annoying the more stridently liberal of the two with our speculation that a black baserunner on the opposing team was a threat to steal second. At the top of the eighth we overhead a young mother consoling her adorably chubby and mitt-wearing daughter that one doesn’t get to take home a foul ball every game, and in the bottom of the inning a sharply hit foul bonked off the head of our liberal friend’s sister and landed softly in the hands of that very girl. Better yet, the hometown team took its first lead, and the only one it needed, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
The combined talents of Norman Rockwell and George M. Cohan could not have concocted a more satisfyingly old-fashioned American night, and with the free admission coupon we obtained from a local convenience store chain it was a bargain despite the over-priced beer, but it was made infuriatingly imperfect from the moment we had to pass through a wand-weilding security guard to gain admittance. Security at the elegantly aging old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium isn’t so intrusive and insulting as what the jet set routinely endures, but it entails a pat on the pants pockets and is annoying enough to spoil the illusion that we’re still living in the old America of the brave and free.
There’s no telling why such measures are thought necessary by the ballpark’s otherwise astute management. Even the most unambitious jihadist is unlikely to bomb an elegantly aging old ballpark where an unaffiliated double-A team called the Wingnuts is battling a team called the Canaries, and even the most culturally savvy of them would be unlikely to realize what a pregnantly symbolic target it would be. If those heavily-armed and rather ferocious-looking guards are concerned that a unmedicated nutcase is going to start abusing his concealed-carry permit they should spend some time in the stands, where the folks are both reassuringly normal by modern standards and yet somehow still well-equipped to take care of things in any contingency even by old-fashioned standards. The Wichita Wingnuts draw their rather modest crowds mostly from the inelegantly aging white working class near-westside neighborhood that abuts the ballpark, an area that was once one of the Wild West’s wildest townships, and it’s an intriguing mix of family values and biker tattoos that we sit among with complete confidence that they won’t attempt mass murder nor put up with any such nonsense.
Perhaps the Wingnuts’ management is following the lead of the far more fabled and lucrative Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad, which subjects its more aged and well-heeled and less likely to defend themselves fans to the same inexplicable scrutiny, Anything governmental around here is even nosier, and more behavior-altering. Our country boy Pop once inculcated in us the habit of carrying a Swiss Army knife, but we long ago abandoned that useful trait because of the Osama Bin Laden-like treatment we got from those guards at the city and county halls and federal courtrooms we were required by our profession to cover. Sometimes we find ourselves in need of the scissors or corkscrews that those devices put at our disposal, and we long for a bygone era.
Wingnuts games always draw a lot of cute young all-American kids, usually accompanied by parents who look as if they would otherwise be in one of the nearby dives, and it does our heart good to see them playing catch in between innings by the beer stand as we head off to a post-game beer with our pal at a local dive. Satchel Paige and Ron Guidry and Arky Vaughn and the all-steroid outfield of Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, and Pete Incaviglia once played in that ballpark, and we like to think those urchins are feeling some connection to those happier days. We think it would be good if they could take their own kids to a ballgame some day, and to walk in unmolested by the irrational fears that pervaded their childhoods, sure in the good intentions of their fellow Americans.

— Bud Norman