Kansans United in Voice & Spirit to rally near Koch’s headquarters in Wichita

A group that drew more than 200 people to the steps of the Capitol last month to rally against Gov. Sam Brownback’s decisions plans to march near Koch Industry’s headquarters in north Wichita on Oct. 29, the group announced this evening.

Kansans United in Voice & Spirit, a nonpartisan organization based in Lawrence, says it represents the majority of Kansans “who personally live with the consequences of ideologues and outsiders who are well financed in a way that most Kansans are not.’

The announcement otherwise doesn’t say anything specific about Koch Industries. But the company and its founders have become a primary example of a company with powerful political influence and prolific financing of conservative candidates.

Asked by e-mail about its decision to rally at Koch, the group’s founders said people are starting to recognize the corporate influence on the federal, state and local levels “has threatened the intention and spirit of our democracy.”

“Koch Industries represent the epitome of corporate power,” they wrote.

“Through money and influence corporations such as Koch Industries have established an elaborate culture of fear and, through a vast network, have ensured that many programs and policies we hold dear as Kansans, and as Americans, are eliminated or destroyed in the name of corporate defined prosperity and lower taxes,” they wrote.

Koch spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia said the company doesn’t have a culture of fear.

“We respect all Americans’ rights to free speech and peaceably assemble,” she said in a prepared statement. “Koch employees 50,000 Americans, including more than 2,600 Kansans. These are jobs that create real value for real people — the same people who must bear the burden of excessive government spending, uncontrolled debt and onerous regulations.”

Cohlmia said the company will continue to promote policies that help grow the economy, foster free enterprise and create American jobs.

Most of Kansans United in Voice & Spirit’s other concerns tie back to the Capitol.

“Currently, the executive and legislative bodies of Kansas are making decisions that undermine the most basic needs of Kansans and are crippling the infrastructure of the state which directly impacts the most vulnerable citizens,” the group said in a news release.

Tamara Werth, a psychologist, and Crystal McComas, a clinical social worker, founded the Kansans United in Voice & Spirit. The rally comes during a trip with mobilization meetings in Kansas City, Lawrence, Wichita, Hays and Salina. A meeting slated for Hutchinson will be combined with the one in Wichita after the rally, which starts at 3 p.m. at 47th and North Oliver.

The group has highlighted the secretive nature of discussions among Brownback administration officials and business leaders on its forthcoming tax plan. But Sherriene Jones-Sontag, the governor’s spokeswoman, said many people seem to have a misconception that Brownback and Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan have appointed a tax task force.

“As Sec. Jordan travels throughout Kansas meeting with different groups he is constantly soliciting input,” Jones-Sontag said in an e-mail response to The Eagle. “His discussions have not been limited to a set group of people nor have they been scheduled on a regular basis.”

She estimated that more than a thousand people have provided input regarding tax policy during nine economic summits across the state. ”More people will be included as time goes on – especially once the proposal is made public sometime in November,” she wrote.

The input on tax policy and other topics of Brownback’s summits will be part of his legislative proposals for the upcoming session. “…And of course, any plan will be a proposal to be considered by the legislature in open session,” Jones-Sontag said.

She said Kansans are struggling and that the state has lost more than 25,000 private sector jobs in the past decade. That’s turning around with more than 13,000 jobs added since January, she said.

“But to make up for the lost decade of job growth we need a tax policy that encourages investment and rewards work,” she wrote. “Governor Brownback’s tax plan will help to create jobs.  The best anti-poverty program is a job.”