Kultala talks voting, living the dream during visit to CMS
Despite being well below the legal voting age, Clark Middle School students were challenged Monday by state Sen. Kelly Kultala, D-Kansas City, to keep their eye on the state Legislature.
“Right now you should all be paying attention to what’s going on with the budget, because public education is being attacked and being cut,” said Kultala, who represents the 5th District in the Kansas Senate, which district includes parts of Bonner Springs and Kansas City, Kan.
Further cuts to education, Kultala said, could affect everything from classroom size to the availability of different classes and after-school programs. “I will not support cutting those (public education) budgets,” she added, “but there will be many legislators that will.”
Kultala, a first-term senator who already has said she will seek re-election in 2012, spoke Monday to students in sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade government classes, as well as the CMS Student Congress, as part of America’s Legislators Back to School Program. During the annual program, which runs throughout the school year, legislators visit elementary schools, middle schools and high schools across the country to talk to students about issues such as voting, how bills are passed and what a legislative session is actually like.
All of these issues were touched on by Kultala, who began her speech by sharing a little background on herself and breaking down the Kansas Legislature. The former Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., commissioner noted that in Kansas there are 40 state senators and 125 state representatives. Of the 40 state senators, Kultala said, eight are Democrats; 13 are women.
Kultala said she was the history maker.
“I am the first woman in Wyandotte County to be elected to the state Senate,” Kultala, said. “That’s hard to believe, isn’t it … It took us ’til 2008 to get a woman elected to the Senate from Wyandotte County.”
Kultala talked about some of the main issues that will come up during the next legislative session, scheduled to start Jan. 9. Those issues, she said, will include public education spending, Medicaid reform, the possibility of eliminating individual income tax and redistricting, which is done every 10 years after the census is taken.
Using “the perfect cookie” as an example, Kultala next demonstrated how bills are voted on and passed into law. She asked all the students to vote on not only their favorite type of cookie, but also what ingredients would be in it and what consistency it would have. The end result was a bill for the perfect cookie — in her example, a chocolate chip cookie with no nuts and a soft and chewy consistency — that would later be placed on a ballot for voting.
Kultala then separated the young audience into a large group made up of people who weren’t registered to vote, a smaller group made up of people who were registered to vote but hadn’t, and an even smaller group made up of people who were both registered and had voted. Her point was that every vote counts, and that the youngsters should urge their voting-age relatives to exercise their constitutional right.
“Even if you don’t think anybody’s listening, they are,” Kultala said. “We need you to go to the polls. We need you to vote. We don’t want this small group of people over here making decisions for everybody else. That’s why you need to vote.”
Kultala opened the floor for questions, which ranged from how she initially got into office to what being a senator is like. When the Legislature is in session, she said, she lives in Topeka Monday through Friday, coming home to her residence in Piper only on the weekends. A legislative session is 90 days, not including the veto session, and Kultala said her typical weekday during that time starts about 6:30 a.m. and ends about 9 p.m. When not in session, Kultala said she stayed busy responding to constituents’ questions and concerns and working part-time at Youthville’s Olathe office. Youthville is a child welfare agency.
Kultala also has been busy raising funds for her re-election campaign, she said. She filed for re-election in the summer.
The long hours and busy schedule are worth it, though, Kultala said, since being a senator is something she has wanted to do since she worked as an intern for the Kansas Senate in 1990 after graduating from Kansas University.
“I fell in love,” Kultala said. “It was the best thing ever.”
Kultala was even more forthcoming about her feelings regarding her position as a state senator when she was asked by a student whether she ever wanted to quit.
“No,” she said. “It can be frustrating and it can be rewarding and, honestly, I’m living my dream. And I wouldn’t give up my dream for anything.”
Monday’s visit to CMS was the second of recent public appearances Kultala made in Bonner Springs. She paid a visit Nov. 16 to the Bonner Springs City Library to read to youths as part of the Kansas Reads to Preschoolers event. The book she read was “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,” by Kansas author Bill Martin Jr.