TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate’s confirmation committee waded into the latest front of the political culture war with questions about critical race theory before voting to recommend approval of Gov. Laura Kelly’s three nominees to the state’s bipartisan higher education governance board.
Senate President Ty Masterson secured a 48-hour delay Monday in the committee’s vote on nominees to the Kansas Board of Regents to carve out more time to consider responses to questions about college-level instruction of systemic racism in the United States.
Masterson had asked attorney Wint Winter, a former bank president who represented Lawrence in the Kansas Senate; Cynthia Lane, former superintendent of public schools in Kansas City, Kansas; and Carl Ice, retired president of BNSF Railway, to share their views.
While convening remotely by video at the follow-up meeting Wednesday, the Senate committee unanimously voted to recommend confirmation by the full Senate of the trio put forward by the Democratic governor. The nine-member Board of Regents has jurisdiction over the six state universities and a coordinating role with the public community and technical colleges.
Masterson, an Andover Republican, asked Ice, Lane and Winter to respond to a broad question about potential of educators to indoctrinate young people with heightened emphasis on race at a formidable stage of students’ lives. The concept of critical race theory has become a flash point as Republicans object to it being taught in U.S. schools and prepare to make it an issue in the 2022 election cycle.
“What I think our institutions of higher learning do and should keep doing is teach people how to think,” said Ice, who graduated from Coffeyville Community College and Kansas State University. “Help them with how to think as opposed to what to think.”
Ice retired from BNSF Railway in 2020 after 42 years with the company. He serves on the KSU Foundation’s board of directors.
Masterson asked Lane about politically based theories on race and indicated the topic of critical race theory would be on the GOP’s agenda during the 2022 legislative session.
Lane, who holds a doctorate in education from the University of Kansas, said people had dramatically different life experiences that inevitably influenced their thoughts on complex topics. Race, culture, ancestry, health and wealth of individuals played a role in how a person considered the world, she said.
“I’ll go straight to it, again, to the politics,” Masterson said when it was Winter’s turn to testify before the committee. “You probably, if not the most, are one of the most politically engaged people we’ve ever had stand before us as an appointee.”
Winter earned degrees at KU and was a member of the Senate for a decade. He was an organizer of Republicans for Kansas Values that worked to influence public opinion about the 2012 income tax cuts implemented by then-Gov. Sam Brownback. The tax policy slashed state revenue and created budget problems because spending wasn’t reduced an equivalent amount. The attempt by Brownback to drive state income taxes to zero was largely repealed by the GOP-led House and Senate in 2017.
Winter said he wasn’t a fan of teaching critical race theory in higher education, preferring to concentrate on facts about the nation’s long struggle for equal rights. The history of slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, the Tulsa massacre and the Brown v. Board of Education case are pivotal to understanding America, he said.
“Where we have the opportunity to teach not theories but facts, we should teach facts,” Winter said. “In my opinion, there’s nothing more powerful than teaching these sad facts about the history of our country.”
Former Gov. Jeff Colyer and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, both candidates for the GOP nomination for governor in 2022, signed a pledge to oppose teaching of critical race theory in Kansas schools.
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