Freedom of the press is a necessary component of democracy

Window on the West
Opinion column

by Mary Rupert

The Founding Fathers recognized, when they added the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, that a free press is essential to a democracy.

We must be free to speak our opinions, to write what we choose, to debate candidates’ positions and to freely choose our candidates in order for democracy to flourish. Our American system was founded on the people’s right to a free press and free speech, and it presumes that the public will compare ideas and then choose the correct path for themselves.

We can only surmise that the frequent attacks from President Trump on the press over the last few years are designed to undermine our democracy’s two centuries of success.

Attacks on the press are nothing new – especially in dictatorships. One of the first things a dictator does is to destroy a free press and take control of all communications. Government control is censorship.

Our Founding Fathers were the opposite – they guaranteed freedom of speech and of the press because they feared tyrants.

Ben Franklin wrote, “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.”

It’s true that many of the presidents have had difficulties with the press, but most of them recognized the essential value of a free press to democracy. A lot of our presidents were not career politicians. They weren’t trying to be a king for life. They instinctively recognized that a free press is a check on a power grab by a dictator.

Here are some quotes from other leaders in history who recognized the role of the free press in a democracy:

“No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will.” – Thomas Jefferson

“The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.” – James Madison

“The freedom of the press should be inviolate.” – John Quincy Adams

“A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” – John F. Kennedy

Unfortunately, in recent years, because of economic conditions, we have lost many newspapers and media outlets that provide a mix of news and opinions, which formed the large marketplace of ideas for readers. We need more people, individuals, to step up and foster the growth of newspapers and media outlets, thus providing a stronger foundation for democracy in the future.

You can reach Mary Rupert, editor, at


Insights into tonight’s election

Supporters held campaign signs today for Sharice Davids, a candidate for U.S. Representative, 3rd District, across the street from a polling place on North 79th Street, north of State Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. (Staff photo)

As we’re waiting for results to come in from tonight’s election, here are some insights into what is at stake in this primary election.

Patrick Miller, assistant professor of political science at the University of Kansas, was asked about the election earlier today.

Questions: What is at stake in this election? What effect will the Trump endorsement have on the governor’s contest? Do you think that a Democrat will have a good chance to win in the 3rd District, U.S. House, in the fall?

Patrick Miller: “Most Republicans are Trump supporters, both in terms of liking him as a person and approving of the job that he’s doing in office. Clearly (Kris) Kobach is not cleaning up in the primary, so there are a lot of Trump-supporting Republicans who are backing other candidates, and there is not a one-to-one relationship between Trump and Kobach support. I would say that if you don’t like Trump and you’re a Republican, you’re probably already decided on voting for Jim Barnett, or at least holding your nose and voting strategically for (Gov. Jeff) Colyer to stop Kobach. I don’t see this hurting Kobach, but it’s hard to gauge where the endorsement falls between a neutral to a net positive. If this moves a hundred more Republicans to show up or decide that Kobach is their candidate, then it matters, especially in a close race. I think that’s about all we can say.

“On paper, (U.S. Rep. Kevin) Yoder is very vulnerable. He is a Republican with an extremely conservative voting record who represents a district that Hillary Clinton won and that has been trending more Democratic in general. He will not be easy to beat since he is an established politician and has a lot of money in the bank and super PAC support, but Democrats definitely have a chance. That said, Democrats can nominate a weaker or a stronger candidate. Brent Welder is likely the weakest of the major Democrats in the race. He did himself major damage when he sent out a fundraising email capitalizing on the murder of two sheriff’s deputies in the line of duty in KCK and chose to remain in the race. Republicans have been advertising for him to Democratic voters and it would seem that they prefer him as an opponent, probably due to that fundraising story and the very liberal image that he has cultivated. Conversely, Sharice Davids or Tom Niermann would likely be stronger candidates for the Democrats, though each with their own strengths that could lead to a winning coalition. So while Democrats will not win the 3rd District today, they could easily throw the race away by nominating a critically flawed candidate.

“In general the election today is critical for both parties for setting up the fall matchups. The individuals they nominate today will have a major impact on what the fall races are like and how competitive they will be.”

A supporter of Tony Martinez for judge held a campaign sign at 103rd and Leavenworth Road, Kansas City, Kansas, on Tuesday afternoon. He also had campaigned Tuesday in the Quindaro area. (Staff photo)

The Wizard comes to Wyandotte County

The Tin Man and Dorothy, Brian McKinley and Chelcie Abercrombie, in the production of “The Wizard of Oz” signed autographs Aug. 2 at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame, Bonner Springs. The live theater production was last week at the Providence Medical Center Amphitheater, 130th and State, Bonner Springs. (Photo by Steve Rupert)

Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

The recent live production of “The Wizard of Oz” at Providence Medical Center Amphitheater in Wyandotte County Park, Bonner Springs, brought back memories of what might have been if the Oz theme park would have come about.

The amphitheater, originally called Sandstone, was the brainchild of restaurateur Gus Fasone. Sandstone opened in 1984 and throughout the years attracted well-known entertainers including Elton John, Chicago, the Everly Brothers, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Frankie Laine, Patti Page, the Beach Boys, The Grateful Dead, Def Leppard, Michael Hedges and Duran Duran.

After Sandstone, Fasone was searching for his next project. He wanted to build a first-class hotel at Wyandotte County Lake. That proposal was summarily rejected by a citizen activist group called “Friends of the Lake.” That group found favor with then State Sen. B.D. Kanan who championed legislation that forbid a hotel at the lake.

Undaunted, Fasone moved his plans for a hotel to a location near I-435 and Parallel Parkway. He also later had plans for a nearby theme park based on The Wizard of Oz. Fasone reasoned that Kansas would be a natural place for an Oz theme park as everyone identified Oz with Kansas.

In the early 1990s, I remember attending a meeting at Fasone’s restaurant of local supporters and investment bankers from Little Rock, Arkansas. Would it be possible for then-President Bill Clinton, an Arkansas native, to come for the grand opening of the Oz theme park?

Fasone and his associates, including Robert Kory, a Los Angeles entertainment lawyer, and Skip Palmer, who had worked for the Disney organization, weren’t able to garner the support of elected officials, particularly Mayor Carol Marinovich. Besides, it was 1997 when the International Speedway Corp. came to Wyandotte County seeking to build what is now the Kansas Speedway. There simply wasn’t enough room for both the speedway and Oz.

Fasone and associates decided to move their development plans to the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in northwestern Johnson County near the city of DeSoto. The plant, nearly 11,000 acres, was established in 1941 to meet the demands of World War II. Western Wyandotte County, according to legend, was originally considered as a site for the plant, but there was not adequate acreage.

The Sunflower plant was considered excess property by the U.S. Army in 1997. The hitch for private sector development was the unknown cost of cleaning up the contaminated soil. The property was turned over to the state of Kansas and Johnson County in 2005.

Unfortunately, the Oz promoters encountered similar problems to those in Wyandotte County; they never garnered the support of Johnson County elected officials and grass-root residents. Bill Sheldon, an acquaintance from undergraduate journalism days in the 1960s at the University of Kansas at Lawrence, led fellow Johnson County residents in protesting the Oz development. The opponents called themselves Taxpayers Opposed To Oz—TOTO for short.

So, the Wizard finally did come to Wyandotte County—not as a theme park, but as a first-class musical production. The live entertainers were complemented with backscreen projections from the 1939 MGM movie production. The Theater League produced the show.

The Kansas City, Kansas, Convention and Visitors’ Bureau led in the promotion of the Oz musical by encouraging organizations including the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame, the Grinter Place Friends and the Wyandotte County Museum, to celebrate “The Summer of Oz.”

Critic Bob Evans, in his complimentary review of the Oz show, has suggested that other similar live shows may follow. That would be a very welcome addition.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is executive director of Business West.

Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” were on display at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs. “Wizard of Oz” displays were part of the “Summer of Oz” promotion in Wyandotte County, and a live theater production of “The Wizard of Oz” took place last week at the Providence Medical Center Amphitheater at 130th and State Avenue, Bonner Springs. (Photo by Steve Rupert)