Last week gave us a prime example to use when discussing election year politics in Kansas. We have pressing problems, including a state budget that continues to crater, bringing down our public schools and state infrastructure, and a moral vacuum in Topeka that knocks people off welfare onto the street and calls it success.
Some of the week was spent on education bills, and MainStream supported our partners in their testimony and testified ourselves against bills that would criminalize teachers and give $12.5 million in taxpayer money to pay for private, religious schools.
These and other legitimate issues need our government's attention. But instead of doing that, the legislative leadership took its cues from Governor Brownback and spent three days trying to acquire the last bit of power he has not yet achieved.
House Concurrent Resolution 5005, an amendment to the Kansas Constitution, would have allowed the Governor to appoint Kansas Supreme Court Justices. Right now, a slate of three candidates is chosen by a panel of judicial experts who have schooling, and training, and experience in the field (we call them lawyers) and non-lawyer citizens (four of whom are appointed by the Governor) and then that slate is passed to... the Governor, for his final choice. It doesn't seem like a system fraught with special interests or devoid of the Governor's input.
And yet, in a party caucus meeting the day before the first vote, Republican legislators were threatened with election year tactics if they did not support this power grab. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park) tweeted, "But, here’s the thing: I wasn’t elected so I could come to Topeka and vote for corrupt legislation out of fear of a postcard."
In the first debate, Brownback's cronies stood up and argued that the current system (remember, citizens and experts pick a slate of three, the Governor appoints one of them) is corrupt and does not represent the people. This was a system put in place by constitutional amendment over fifty years ago by the Kansas people, after a shady series of events got a lame-duck Governor appointed to the KS Supreme Court by his own Lieutenant Governor after resigning with eleven days to spare in his term. (Source: Kansas Memory) That's the kind of abuse of the checks and balances that Brownback wanted to put back in place.
But MainStream and other partners urged their supporters to raise a cry, and you contacted your legislators, and they stood fast. By one count, call and emails were running 100 to 1 to block this amendment. And those legislators who stood up included some that are known moderates, but also some who recognized this for what it was: election year politics designed to bully, and if unsuccessful, then slander these legislators with postcards during the election.
One particular interest group was Kansans for Life, a pro-life organization that has taken on the judicial selection issue as their primary cause. They called and emailed, as one conservative legislator related from the debate, and he was offended they would threaten him over this. He is pro-life, has voted pro-life in every vote, but stood up and voted no to this amendment. As several lawmakers said, when you disagree with a court's ruling, you don't throw out the tenets of democracy to get your way.
So, thank you, our supporters, for stepping up when you are needed.
Moderate legislators, and moderate candidates running for office, will need the support of people like you come the election, to counter the postcards and the lies they will carry.
Your vote is important, but your action more so. Do more than vote.