Grassroots can be the difference

This week we have invited Stand Up Blue Valley to give us an update on the critical races going on in their neighborhoods. Grass roots organizations like SUBV, Education First Shawnee Mission, the Olathe Public Education Network, and Game on For Kansas Schools are making all the difference in contested races in Johnson County, connecting voters and issues to legislators and candidates. We value Stand Up Blue Valley as a strong partner in our effort to get more Kansans engaged to fight for quality public education.

When we formed Stand Up Blue Valley, we realized that it’s hard for voters in the Blue Valley area to get any information—much less accurate information—about candidates for state level offices. These candidates aren’t covered in depth in any media source, and many of them are eager to say they “support our schools” while voting against our schools. We wanted to give voters a place to go for accurate information.

We also realized that groups with normal-sounding names like “The Kansas Chamber,” and bottomless pits of dark money like Americans for Prosperity would be factoring heavily in our area races, and we’d have to combat their false narratives and rhetoric.

Stand Up Blue Valley came together in 2015 when Americans for Prosperity backed a candidate for our local Blue Valley Board of Education. What was AFP doing sending out mailers in support of a candidate who was making false and misleading claims about our Blue Valley schools, whose own school-age children didn’t even attend BV schools? At that time, it’s safe to say many in our community didn’t know about AFP and its motives. Our steering committee “met” each other on Facebook, working to combat false narratives from the ultracon candidate and her AFP support. After we helped re-elect our pro-public education school board representative, we went out for a beer and looked at each other and said, “They’ll be back...Somebody has to do something.” We decided we were somebody.

In 2016, our community saw a deluge of mailers for ultraconservative incumbents and against moderate challengers. AFP was probably the largest contributor, but our area was also targeted by the Kansas Chamber PAC, with their sneaky “Main Street Coalition” front, and others. We started posting the daily mailers on our Facebook page, calling out who was behind them (and why voters can’t know who funds them), and rebutting their messaging. A more experienced person told us to be sure to mark the mailer in such a way that a person can’t simply scroll past it on Facebook and think we support it. So we found a red “X” online and started splashing it on the mailers when we post them. Soon, we had voters from all over Blue Valley messaging our page or texting one of us with a photo of the mailer they got that day. We found that AFP might send the same mailer against all of our moderate candidates, just changing the candidate’s name. So we pointed that out to voters, too.

Rep. Patty Markley's Negative Mailer Christmas TreeIt turns out it’s not that hard to rebut the false narratives and rhetoric. They likely have an office full of paid employees working to research votes, come up with misleading facts and figures, design mailers with graphics like scary dinosaurs and people holding their heads in their hands. But once we boiled it down to the messaging, they only have a small collection of material to draw from. Every day, we’d get a mailer and have a quick conference call or text or email meeting and figure out how to explain to Blue Valley voters why their rhetoric was anti-public education and didn’t make sense for Blue Valley. It was almost a game to see how quickly we could have a red-X rebuttal up on Facebook after a mailer hit the mailboxes.

The mailers kept coming after moderates were elected - our moderates were postcarded so many times in 2017 that Rep. Patty Markley made a “negative mailer Christmas tree” that year with all of hers. We kept educating and informing voters with the red X posts.

Now, in the 2018 election season, we haven’t seen quite as many mailers blanketing our community as before. Certain individuals did get mailers, and shared them with us. We believe they were targeted based on their voting record or even more sophisticated information like their social media activity. And AFP has paid workers to walk neighborhoods and place door hangers, again only on targeted doors, we believe to make it harder for us to get our hands on them.

Through our educational efforts, we hope our members know how important it is to consider the source when viewing any information for or against a political candidate. New dark-money sources will pop up, we’re sure, and we hope Blue Valley voters now know to beware of any source until they research it. Or, as many have told us, they just junk every mailer and pull up our Voting Guide when they head to the polls. On races where we haven't made an endorsement, we refer them to Game On and MainStream. Blue Valley voters, keep sending us photos of mailers you find in your mailbox, and we will keep informing our area who’s behind the mailers and what their agenda is.

If you live in the Blue Valley school district, we urge you to visit Stand Up Blue Valley at their website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

It starts here. With you. Do more than vote.

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