The elections of 2010 are history, but on Tuesday a new group, Barton County Progressives, held its first meeting.
It was spearheaded by Marty Keenan and Christina Stein. In addition to being Democrats, one thing they have in common is that they’ve both run for state office and lost, Keenan said by way of introduction.
"When the election ends and you’re not successful, what do you do now?" Keenan said. "This is not about political parties. This is about moving Barton County forward and trying to make it healthier, safer and more prosperous."
The group plans to meet at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month. For now, its meeting place is the Burnside Room of the Great Bend Recreation Center.
Asked to explain the purpose of the new group, Keenan said it’s "to educate people and to discuss ideas." People with minority viewpoints shouldn’t only get together during elections, he added.
Eighteen people attended the first meeting — a turnout Keenan said he was happy with considering there happened to be a basketball game going on between KU and Memphis. April 7, 2008, KU defeated Memphis 75-68 in overtime for the NCAA men’s championship.
With no one stumping for office, the group’s first speaker was the Rev. Seth Svaty from Sterling. Svaty said he and his brother, Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty, have considered putting together a book based on his presentation, which was titled, "Jesus the Democrat/Christ the Republican: How Ancient Theological Debates Influence Contemporary Political Dichotomy."
"I don’t like the language of ‘God being on our side,’ no matter who uses it," Svaty said. Like the early Christians, who struggled with a belief that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, Americans face the struggle of two political parties in one nation under God — and so they draw distinctions along key ideologies.
In the end, Svaty said, "Jesus is not a Democrat; Christ is not a Republican. Christ is one, and we as Democrats and Republicans are one nation."
Discussion in the group ranged from the environment to illegal immigration, and revealed what Svaty called the "plethora of nuances" among those who may consider themselves aligned with one party or another. Participants questioned whether a third political party could change the status quo, and whether the grass-roots Tea Party is an attempt to recapture traditionally Republican ideals, or represents something more radical. "Right now I don’t feel like either party is interested in issues and actually working for people," one participant said.
"I wish I had an easy answer," Svaty said. "Thanks for being involved, and (to a woman who expressed a differing view on illegal immigration) thanks for disagreeing."
Stein described the Barton County Progressives as "a bipartisan group that will watch legislation and discuss how it will affect our area -- holding politicians accountable for promises of bringing in good business, maintaining education and fiscal responsibility."
Stein said people can find more information on the "Barton County Progressives" Facebook page.