The Rules of the Game are Becoming More Partisan – A Day in “Testimony”

This is a post by Harry McDonald, MainStream member and Co-Chair of Main*PAC, about his trip to testify in Topeka on Wednesday, February 11, 2015. He was testifying for MainStream in opposition to SB 171, designed to change elections to make them more partisan.

Against the will of most Kansans, the House Committee on Ethics and Elections is attempting to push through a game-changing bill (SB 171) that would rewrite local elections in the image of hyper partisan politics. I ventured to Topeka to provide oral testimony on behalf of MainStream Coalition in opposition to the bill.

Let me take a moment of your time to report on my experience "testifying" on Wednesday.

As might be expected, the hearing room was packed. The Committee Chair, Sen. Holmes, acknowledged immediately that there were more people scheduled to testify than time allotted.

At some State Board of Education hearings, when time was obviously short, the chair alternated speakers, pro and con.  Again, this would not ensure that all speakers are heard, but, combined with a time limit, would easily have demonstrated the overwhelming sentiment of the speakers when the proponents would have run out of speakers fairly early.  I have also experienced chairs, when testimony was all going to be taken, but some later in the day or the next day, determining who spoke first starting with those who weren't going to be able to stay or come back.  All of these methods suggest that the chair wants to hear all points of view and is respectful of those who have come to testify.

Sen. Holmes did not do any of this. With only 7 proponents, there must have been 10 times as many in opposition and that is a conservative estimate. I picked up 32 different testimonies before the hearing started and that was about half of the papers available. In the 32 I read through, not one was in support of SB 171 – all testimony I read was against.

In spite of the overwhelming opposition, Sen. Holmes started oral testimony with the 7 sole proponents of SB 171 -- which would move spring elections to the fall, make them partisan, and require schools be available as polling places giving students the day off and teachers a mandatory inservice day, to name a few concerns (read more here).

The first two proponents testified by Skype or something similar. They went on and on taking up a third of the available time. A third proponent was finally asked to end his comments, again by Skype, but he continued on for several minutes.

When this was done, Sen. Holmes only had time for two opponents. When they had spoken, he noted that time was up. He asked if anyone had anything new to add to what the two had said. I raised my hand as did several others. He then asked if we had submitted written testimony. When all said they had, he commented that not getting to speak was not a problem as they already had our testimony. 

After the meeting, I went up to talk to Sen. Holmes and was third in line. As he finished talking to the person in front of me, he neatly reversed his direction, walked around the table in the opposite direction and avoided having to speak to me.

In any case, that is why I put "testifying" in quotation marks in the first sentence. I never got to testify. The room was filled with school board members, superintendents, representatives from cities, counties, and the PTA. All conferees had taken the day off, driven to Topeka in expectation of their few moment to address the committee – only to be denied.

The table of testimony outside the committee room was loaded with written testimony. Among those organizations and individuals opposed included: Johnson County, the cities of Shawnee and Overland Park, Shawnee Mission and Olathe Boards of Education, and Johnson and Wyandotte Counties Council of Mayors, Kansas PTA, League of Kansas Municipalities, Kansas Association of Counties, Kansas-NEA, Kansas Association of School Boards, 19 Community College Presidents, Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, and the Kansas County Clerks and Election Officers Association. Mind you, I only picked up around half the papers, so no telling who else is opposed to this.

The will of the people of Kansas is clear on this bill, yet I won't bet against the bill getting passed out of committee, through both houses, and signed by the governor.

Nice day for a drive.


Harry E McDonald III
Educational Consultant
Olathe, KS 66062

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