The departure of Tom Phillips from the state legislature is a loss for Kansas, and a loss for Manhattan. At least as importantly, it’s a loss for the cause of moderation and compromise.
Mr. Phillips, who has served as the state representative from the west side of Manhattan for more than four terms, announced Tuesday that he’s not going to run for office this fall. In doing so, he told The Mercury: “As a moderate Republican, the political middle ground is shrinking, both at the state and national level,” he said. “It’s just becoming more and more difficult to be successful in the middle space of our political arena, and that’s where I operate.”
That’s sadly true, and the departure of Mr. Phillips from the office makes the middle ground even more tenuous. We certainly hope Republicans and Democrats can nominate candidates who could stand there going forward.
Mr. Phillips served first on the Manhattan planning board, and then the City Commission, in non-partisan positions that introduced him to local politics. That’s a good starting point, in the sense that the job is really about making nuts-and-bolts decisions about things that affect people’s day-to-day lives. You have to read the background material, and you have to listen to people, and the answers are not dictated by some political action committee.
Well, that’s not entirely true. All decisions are political decisions. Always.
But they are not necessarily partisan issues. They don’t divide along lines pre-determined in Washington, depending on whether they benefit the current occupant of the White House or not.
The thing is, the state Legislature has unfortunately increasingly cleaved along party lines, and it’s tough to fit into that template if what you really care about is solving problems and adhering to common sense. It’s not that it’s impossible — it’s that it’s increasingly difficult.
We salute Mr. Phillips for his time in office trying to take a common-sense approach. We all owe him a debt of gratitude. Hopefully, his successor — whichever party that person comes from — will follow a similar path. Kansas will be better off if that’s the case.