Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Importance of Respect in Building a Conservative Movement

As the calendar approaches Labor Day, one could say that politically speaking, we are in the calm before the storm.  With people taking their last opportunity at vacation, school starting, and football games occupying people's time on weekends, politics is taking a bit of a back seat.   This is a good thing, because in politics as in all areas of life, people sometimes need time to breathe and relax before things intensify again.

And, things will indeed ramp back up soon.  On a national level, with Rick Perry just entering the race and Sarah Palin considering a bid, things are going to heat up quickly with five debates in six weeks beginning September 7.   Over the next few months, candidates will begin to emerge for U.S. Senate races and the newly drawn Congressional seats all across the country, including here in Kansaas.  At the state level, battle lines are currently being drawn for what will surely be an historical attempt by conservatives to take the Kansas Senate, with a slate of exceptionally strong conservatives taking on both Democrats and the most left wing of the Republican caucus.  Here at Kaw & Border, we will of course be covering this.

Given the heated nature of those races just over the horizon, we should take this down time not only to relax, but to look more broadly at the future of the conservative movement in Kansas -- for if conservatives are indeed successful in both August and November of 2012, a "new normal" will emerge in Kansas like none we have ever seen before -- one with conservatives in control of the House, the Senate, the Governorship and most every statewide office save Insurance Commissioner.

Yes, conservatives will have finally won, and likely achieved victory in a political reality in which the fromer-moderate wing of the Republican Party is essentially killed off and where the Democratic Party is so weak it has little to no means of growth, at least in the next few years.  Of course, nothing in politics is permanent but if the conservatives should be successful of defending their 63 in the House and achieving 21 in the Senate, it they will likely have control for at least four years, if not longer.

However, while indeed such a victory should be cause for immense celebration because of the decades of blood, sweat, tears and prayers that would have taken to achieve, it will present new challenges as well.  Much like the dog who catches up with the car, conservatives will have to decide how to handle themselves once they achieve full control.

One of the realities of "absolute power" is that when you don't have anyone to beat up in the opposition, your opposition often becomes each other.  Certainly, disagreement is healthy and welcome, but if and when conservatives obtain complete control in Kansas, one of the key challenges will be to ensure that such disagreement is communicated with respect -- both from those communicating a disagreement and from those who would seek to stifle disagreement for the sake of unity.

We are raising this point because of a couple trends that are starting to creep into the political lexicon:

1. Overuse of the term "RINO".  Make no mistake, there are RINO's -- John Vratil, Tim Owens, Terrie Huntington, etc.   The list is not short.  However, too often, both at the national and local level, certain folks within the conservative movement are beginning to toss the "RINO" label at anyone who dare takes a different view on a particular issue, or even when there is an agrement on an issue and there is just a slightly different strategy for getting there.  

Case in point on this front is the recent debate over the debt ceiling hike.  We at Kaw & Border preferred the stance that Tim Huelskamp and Kevin Yoder took in voting no on debt hike.  However, Paul Ryan, Allan West, and others who voted yes are NOT RINO's, yet there were attempts by some in the conservative movement to label them as such..  Neither is John Boehner, Mike Pompeo, or Lynn Jenkins.  Wherever the "RINO line" is, those individuals are on the right side of it, not the RINO side.  We're all headed in the same general direction.

Now, this does NOT mean that conservatives can't or shouldn't express disagreement with those individuals over a particular issue such as the debt ceiling -- in fact, they should do so and do so in an EFFECTIVE and respectful way.  On the flip side, those who voted "less conservative" (using that term loosely) -- often referred to as the establishment -- should not seek silence or "penalize" those who voted no and take a more firm position on those issues.  What should happen is that there should be a vigorous debate and then we should keep marching forward. 

The point here is that if we overuse the term RINO to mean anyone who doesn't agree with a certain conservative take on an issue, we cheapen the term.  A RINO is someone who is truly not a Republican in any shape or form, and is only running as a Republican because they could not get elected as a Democrat in a state like Kansas.  The aforementioned Johnson County Senators are perfect examples. 

However, there are many great conservatives who may take a different stance on one issue or another but are NOT RINO's -- and we do a dissservice to the movement when they are labeled as such.

Again, it's all about respect.


2. Trying to Define Certain Positions on Issues as "THE Conservative Position".   This trend is a little harder to define but is likely to play out once conservatives gain control of a state's branches of government.   Conservatives will theoretically have the votes to pass anything they want, but there will be disagreements on how to move forward, and there will be natural tendencies -- tendencies that need to be resisted -- for some to call their own position as "the" conservative position, when in fact there may be two or more different approaches to the same issue, with both viewpoints representing solid conservative princiles.

Now, there will be some issues -- the life issue for example -- where people are generally unified, and where conservatives should be expected to largely hold the line.  We mentioned the life issue.  We also believe that the same should hold true for marriage, a general reduction in spending, a general movement towards lowering taxes, etc.  And, certainly there will be a need to ask for those principles to be adhered to and to encourage legislators to not drift with the political winds for fear of re-election.   However, there WILL BE disagreements, sometimes strong ones, over the particulars of such legislation and we'll need to be respectful of those disagreements.  There is a large difference between voting a different way on a particular bill or issue because of political reasons and voting a different way because you legitimately have a disagreement -- and we need to learn to distinguish the two.

Here are a few issues where we could see this playing out:

1. Alcohol Sales.  There are some conservatives who want to allow hard liquor to be sold in grocery stores and convenience stores, as they see it as a free market issue.  There are some conservatives who want to keep the laws as they are, who see that the "liquor store" model for such products to be a good compromise between easy access and consumption.    There is also the separate economic argument about not harming liquor store owners who have been used to the laws in this state for decades.  The core issue here is how conservatives approach both economics as well as social policy on alcohol.  Those on the more 'libertarian side' should refrain from calling those on the other side as extremists who are backwards thinking, and those on the more 'anti-booze' side should refrain from labeling those on the more libertarian side with similar unfair terms.  There are two sides to this issue -- both with merit, both coming from conservative principles, and that debate needs to be held with vigor, free from labels which demean deeply held viewpoints.

2. Taxes.  There is not one conservative approach to tax reform.  Generally, we all want lower taxes.  However, there will be disagreement on tax REFORM and how to get there.  Some want a FairTax model, which moves away from the income tax and more towards sales taxes.  Some prefer a flat tax model which throws up the caution flag on moving to a sales tax model for fear of regressiveness, stifling sales in general, and increasing government involvement in transactions between individuals and business and between two businesses.  Some want to lower both sales and income taxes, keeping both in place but both at a lower level.  All of these positions deserve a hearing and vigorous debate.  Those promoting a FairTax like model should not call those opposed to the FairTax RINO's because they support retaining the income tax (though a lower one) and those who oppose the FairTax shouldn't label FairTax people as crazy or unrealistic, because they bring a well thought out position to the table. 

 3. Libertarianism vs. Traditional Conservatism.  This is a broader concept, but it's one that could likely start to play out over time as libertarian thinking begins to make its way into the conservative movement.   While we believe any efforts to undermine the definition of marriage should be resisted, there is room for disagreement on other issues, particularly economic type issues.  Now, this blog is generally going to lean towards the traditional conservative line of thinking, but we also believe that the libertarian thinking shouldn't be excluded or shunned -- but welcomed.  Let the debate play out.

Again, it's all about respect and being able to debate issues without tossing labels at each other within the conservative movement.  Remember, there are long term consequences if we don't go this path -- the movement could splinter, which could lead to a lack of progress on issues we care about while also providing an opening for our liberal opponents to regroup and make gains in a direction none of us want.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't ever have a conservative vs. conservative primary, but it also doesn't mean we should ever completely fracture either.  Our disagreements need to be communicated with humility and reason, not emotion or vindictiveness.

If they choose the right approach, conservatives, should they continue to win, could be in power for a long time to come and we'll have a better state and nation as a result.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Fractured Party? Hardly.

This week when I received my Johnson County Sun in the mail, I initially thought that perhaps I had been sent a paper from 2001, not 2011.  The reason was this headline:

Some fear GOP could fracture

Naturally, as a blog writer which focuses on area politics, this headline grabbed my attention -- what inside story was I missing, perhaps? 

The article by Loren Stanton, which focused on what was a 1990's/early 2000's era mantra that the Republican Party, particularly within Johnson County, was hopelessly split along conservative/moderate lines , though written fairly well, deserves an "F" for its analytical and factual value. 

The chief clue that Stanton had a particular purpose in mind -- to "create news" that there was discord within the Republican Party and make conservatives look terrible -- was the picture that accompanied the article:  that of "Republican" Senator John Vratil, who was quoted extensively within the piece.  Stanton -- and the editors at the Sun who approved the piece -- are clearly trying to create controversy around the fact that Vratil and what's left of his remaining liberal friends who are still technically Republicans -- are being targeted by conservatives in hopes of turning the liberal-leaning (despite its wide Republican majority) Senate more conservative in 2012. 

By making these conservatives look "radical" (as Vratil calls them), Stanton and company are attempting to build up a strawman that a bunch of right-wing wackos are going after "reasonable" moderate Senators, and in doing so, they might "destroy" the party.

However, there are several holes in this made-up theory that the party is fractured -- specifically election results as well as the voting record of the so-called "moderate" members in question.  Stanton would have done himself well to interview elected officials other than John Vratil and Tim Owens -- there are 20 conservatives in the Johnson County delegation, yet Stanton didn't quote one -- only two party officials (Ronnie Metsker and Clay Barker) and Steve Shute, head of the Union of Patriots.

Stanton's article would have been more relevant if it was written ten years ago, back when then the Republican Party still had large segments of so-called moderates.  If one remembers, it was in 2002 that the liberal members of the party made an aggressive push against conservatives over education, sending a few home in primaries.  Moderates still made an aggressive push in precinct committee races, and the control of the party was always in question.  It was also at the tail end of the Graves Administration, a moderate Governor, and at a time when no conservatives held statewide office.   A look at the Johnson County legislative delegation in 2003, indeed, revealed a moderate majority, as liberal Republicans masquerading as moderates had taken over previously held conservative seats in Districts 16 and 18, and won a newly created seat in District 38, and held many other seats throughout the county except in Olathe and southern Overland Park.   Mark Parkinson, of all people, was State Chair for a period of time.  Phill Kline did win in 2002, but only by a narrow margin.

However, a lot has changed since the early 2000's, which Stanton falls far short of explaining to readers:

- Many of the so-called moderate Republicans holding office ten years ago have switched to the Democratic Party -- Lisa Benlon, Paul Morrison, Delores Furtado, Cindy Neighbor, Ron Wimmer, not to mention former GOP Chair Mark Parkinson -- trying to take advantage of the brief-but-fake (they went up to 6 House seats in JoCo in 2008, only to fall back to 1 in 2010) Democratic wave in the mid-2000's due to the popularity of Kathleen Sebelius and lack of a credible GOP heavyweight to challenge her.  The fact that these "former moderates" felt comfortable in the left-wing Democratic Party should be worth mentioning -- as should the fact that not one of them remains in office.  Stanton might have a point if these figures were replaced by "moderate Republicans" -- but every office formerly held by a Republican-turned-Democrat is now held by someone considered at least reasonably conservative, if not very conservative.

- Furthering that point, conservatives, in the last ten years, have expanded beyond their former strongholds of Olathe and southern Overland Park.  In 2003,  conservatives only held House Districts 14, 15, 23, 26, 27, 28, 29, 48, and 49; while holding Senate Districts 9, 10, 23 and 37, as they do now.  In 2011, conservatives hold 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 26, 27, 38, 39, 43, 48, and 49,.  They fell 30 votes short of reclaiming District 29 and didn't field candidates in the other seats.  In the seven Senate seats, which elects all of its members every four years, the split is 4-3, but hasn't had an election since conservatives have been on a surge -- hence, the effort to take on the remaining moderates in 2012.  Statewide in Kansas, conservatives now control every statewide office except Insurance Commissioner -- and so-called "lightning rod" and the bogeyman of the left, Kris Kobach, won with nearly 60% of the vote, and did carry 60% in supposedly moderate Johnson County.   Kevin Yoder campaigned as a conservative and crushed Stephene Moore by a ridiculous margin.

- "Moderates" have largely stopped fielding challengers against conservatives who are incumbents, or even in open seats -- they took a pass on every House seat in 2010, for instance, except the seats they held.  They largely have given up fielding a large field of candidates for precinct committee races.  Even in open seats, when they do field someone, they get crushed.  In 2008, a Democratic year overall, Mary Pilcher-Cook crushed Sue Gamble, a well known moderate, in the primary.  Some thought she might be at risk in the general, with the so-called coalition of moderates and Democrats coming together to defeat her.  Instead, she won again -- securing 55% of the vote, doing 1% better than the supposedly more-acceptable Terrie Huntington and Tim Owens.  Senator Julia Lynn (a two year incumbent but she had not yet been on the ballot), who campaigned aggressively as a conservative, won 55% against a former Superintendent and "icon" Ron Wimmer, who had switched parties after losing to Lynn in 2006 in a special convention to replace Kay O'Connor. 

- Moderates have even started losing ground in areas they held for a long time.  District 17 is a perfect example, held by left-wing Republicans Lisa Benlon, Stephanie Sharp, and Jill Quigley.  It's partially in older Lenexa, where moderates have historically done well.  Kelly Meigs, a political newcomer, challenged Quigley and won handily, for a primary challenge.    Districts 19 and 20 are held by members considered to be conservative.  Democrats considered "moderate" by the media are losing -- Cindy Neighbor lost 59-41.  Gene Rardin lost 55-45.  Milack Talia lost 54-46.   Conservative-with-no-money Jason Osterhaus defeated moderate icon Larry Winn in a general election in a seat previously held by Ed Eilert and Delores Furtado.  The list goes on and on.  If "conservatives" were "destroying" the party as Vratil claims, they would be losing seats -- in fact, as the party goes more to the right, it is gaining seats.  That fact is ignored in the article.

- As Johnson County grows, it is becoming more conservative.  The growth areas are Olathe, western Johnson County, and southern Overland Park -- completely dominated by not just conservative legislators, but very conservative legislators -- all whom won general elections in 2010 by margins approaching or even surpassing 70% of the vote.   There will likely be 4 new House seats and 1 1/2 new Senate seats in 2012 -- all will be from the newer, very conservative areas. 

- Finally, and this is the most important point Stanton ignores, the individuals he calls "moderates" are anything but -- and the public is catching on.  Vratil and company have a decidedly liberal voting record by any reasonable standard, and the public, when it has a chance, is largely rejecting that record.  Make no mistake, during the Sebelius regime, there was no greater friend of the Governor than John Vratil and his friends.  Now, under the relatively "mainstream" governorship of Republican Sam Brownback, Vratil and Owens have done their best to criticize or outright block his initiatives.  They are, by any reasonable standard, as left wing as Democrats, but they are now back to the reality that one must be a Republican in JoCo to hold a seat, despite notions a few years ago that being a Democrat had long term viability in Kansas.

Indeed, in the article, Stanton talks about the math, which Vratil recognizes -- the moderates, when combined with the 8 Democrats, have enough votes to control the chamber on a host of issues, stopping quality conservative legislation from being passed.  What Stanton omits, however, is what that legislation was, in an attempt to have the public believe it was extreme.  The legislation was largely around income tax relief for businesses and individuals, as well as judicial selection reform, where Kansas sits anywhere but the mainstream, being the only state in the country to have the system it has.   The 'conservative' legislation that did pass -- such as several pro-life bills, etc -- was largely opposed by Vratil, Huntington, and Owens -- the three figures mentioned in the article.

The point of this is to say that the party is anything but fractured -- unless you are one of those remaining liberal relics of the past who is being targeted.  In fact, any reporter who did actual research and had his "ear to the ground" would pick upon the fact that the vast majority of Republicans, even those not super conservative, are completely tired of trying to make room in the "tent" for those like John Vratil and Tim Owens, because if the tent were that big, it would have no meaning.   In fact, if there is one thing that unifies most in the party, it is a desire to see the party actually be more than a group of people running for office -- it has to be defined by a set of common beliefs -- and while differences will be respected and occur, the larger principles are largely headed the same direction.   Vratil, Owens, Huntington, and the remaining six moderates/Dems in the House from JoCo are wanting to go a completely opposite direction, which is why they are being "targeted".

Indeed, what is happening in Johnson County is a shift -- no longer is the split between individuals who call themselves moderates but are indeed liberal and conservatives, a split which existed because the gap was simply too large to bridge.  How can one bridge a gap between those who want to increase taxes and those who want to cut them?  How can one bridge a gap between those who want abortion on demand and those who are very pro-life?   We could go on and on -- the point is, Kansans, or at least Kansas Republicans, slowly, election by election, are making clear where they stand -- and it's not with left wing Republicans.

Instead, what is replacing the past political reality is one where there are still differences, but the differences, as noted before, are largely on details but not on the overall principles.  For example, one could certainly argue that Lance Kinzer is more conservative than say, Rob Bruchman, but there is no question BOTH are conservative and both largely agree on most issues.  One is just more aggressive in conservative advocacy than the other.

Another slight "difference" emerging is between more "libertarian" conservatives and those who are less so -- again, however, they are both largely in agreement on overall principles.  The result on both of these fronts is maybe a simple disagreement on Issue A or Issue B, but none of the past fractures that Stanton is trying to create. 

Evidence of this -- Shute's Union of Patriots and other groups aren't targeting Senators or Reps who are not as conservative as they are -- they're targeting liberals hiding in Republican clothing.  If the party was truly fractured, they would be fielding candidates against incumbents who weren't towing the exact line.  Yes, there are some elements of the conservative movement who don't trust Brownback completely, but such talk is limited and only among a few -- and even those individuals, if you truly asked them, would admit the Governor is doing a great job and is a breath of fresh air over the entire history of Kansas Governors.

Of course, the reason the Johnson County Sun and John Vratil ignore these facts is very basic -- they don't like them!   Which is clear if you read between the lines of the last three paragraphs of this article:

Senate Minority Anthony Hensley of Topeka said he agrees with Vratil (K&B: Shocker!) that a more conservative push would lead to policies most Kansans would oppose. (K&B: If that is the case, Kansans wouldn't elect them, would they?)  Of course, Democratic legislators must rely on forming a coalition (K&B: As they have for decades) with Republican moderates (K&B: liberals) to achieve their goals.

"We have a mainly moderate majority in the Senate.  Our role is not to push an agenda that is right or left, but to prevent things (from either extreme) from becoming law," Hensley said. (K&B: Since when is Hensley a road block to extreme liberal legislation?)

The U.S. Congress, Hensley believes, could take a lesson from Kansas Senators in how to form an effective bipartisan coalition.  If the next election shifts the Senate to a conservative majority, however, Hensley fears that example of cooperation will be lost.

Hensley's fear-- that a conservative majority may be coming -- flies in the face of his contention the public doesn't want it.   It can't come if the public doesn't want it, particularly if the media is continually pushing against it, as it is in this article.

One of the first rules in politics is if you don't like the truth of what's going on, try to change the narrative to fit your agenda, and hope the public buys it.  One way to do so by is inventing fear-mongering headlines (Some fear GOP could fracture) by creating a storyline where there is none (the party is being destroyed!!), done by erecting the biggest strawman you can find (these conservatives are radicals and want to take out reasonable "thinking" moderates), and then beat that strawman up like there is no tomorrow. (we must save the state by stopping them!)

Which stands to reason, because the problem for liberals like Hensley and Vratil is absent this false narrative, and when their liberal record is exposed and the electorate weighs in, there will be no tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Bad Yet (Increasingly) Popular Idea: Ending Government Licensing of Marriage

This post is the second in a series of ten -- five covering "good but unpopular ideas" and five covering "bad but popular ideas" -- all with the theme at looking at the long term direction of the conservative movement.

A few weeks ago, at the first Republican Presidential debate, Congressman and Presidential candidate Ron Paul was asked about his stance on marriage -- and his answer was an unusual one -- rather than outlawing gay marriage or supporting gay marriage, he wanted to simply get government out of the marriage business completely.  Here is what he said:

"Well, as a matter of fact I spent a whole chapter in a new book I’ve written on marriage, and I think that it’s very important, seeing that I’ve been married for 53, 54 years now. But I think the government should just be out of it. I think it should be done by the church or private contract, and we shouldn’t have this argument — who’s married and who isn’t married. I have my standards, but I shouldn’t impose my standards on others. Others have standards, and they have no right to impose their marriage standards on me. I just don’t like it."

Basically, that's the ultimate libertarian way out of the marriage debate.  Rather than endorse gay marriage, say that you have your "own standards" and that you want to do with government involvement in marriage completely, that everything should be by private contract.

It is an attractive viewpoint for the social libertarian or the personal social conservative who doesn't want to "impose their views" on others -- a way, in a sense, to be a moderate while at the same time supposedly maintaining your own personal moral beliefs by relegating these decisions to churches and "contracts".

This is a viewpoint, in the eyes of this blog, that is slowly creeping its way into more libertarian aspects of the conservative movement -- those who want to disassociate government from anything that they see as not the role of government or involves government placing a definition or limits on what is a personal act that doesn't impact the rights of others.

This should not be unexpected, as this worldview can be found on the specific issues of drug laws, gambling, drinking laws, sexually-oriented businesses, and other areas where the government places a limit on personal behavior.   Given that the "definition of marriage" is now apparently up for debate, rather than being a fundamental truth, this line of thinking has now found its way to the issue of marriage.

So, in Ron Paul's world, if Jack and Jill want to get married, they can sign a contract or have a ceremony, but there would be no obtaining of a marriage license, no actual government recognition of their marriage -- in the eyes of the state, they'd be two individuals. 

Others who may believe in traditional marriage or even restrictions in other "behavior-related" areas of state law may also be susceptible to the "slippery slope" argument -- that is, if we pass a law on something like marriage or sexually-oriented businesses, therefore it is harder for us to defend opposing laws on limiting things such as soft drinks and fatty foods. 

While, indeed, conservatives are wise to think through the consequences and wisdom of passing any law, particularly those which, at their core, do involve the government in social policy, that does not mean it is not wise to do so in all cases.  In our view, conservatives should be capable of adopting a case-by-case approach to such laws and not an all-or-nothing one.  That is, in our eyes, the definition of good legislating -- there may be good reasons to restrict alcohol sales but not restrict soda sales, for instance.  Legislators will, of course, have different views depending on the particular issue being discussed, but the judgment should not be "get government of social policy completely."

Specifically related to marriage, it is our view that though increasingly popular with libertarian-thinking conservatives and likely to be an increasingly popular view among younger Americans, we should avoid any notion of getting government out of the marriage business completely, as Ron Paul advocates.  Such a movement is problematic for several reasons:

1. Marriage is not just a private matter -- it is a public matter as well.   Government does have a role in reflecting the mores and values of the society it governs -- i.e., establishing some notion of law and order.  Marriage is a critical part of that, as it should be and historically has been over centuries, backed up by cultural evidence that healthy marriages are an ideal for which any society/civilization should aim to promote and cherish.  By getting government out of the marriage business entirely, the civilization which that government represents is essentially saying marriage does not matter in the organization of a civilization -- a notion that in our view, would lead to cultural anarchy.

2. Marriage is marriage -- it is not just an evolving concept.  Marriage IS between a man and a woman.  It always will be.  No government, church, or contract can change that. Yes, they can create laws and ordinances and pieces of paper that say otherwise, but that doesn't make it so.  Truth is truth.   Moreover, marriage also exists as an institution in which families are created and prosper.  Now, that doesn't mean that all marriages must produce children or that all children are produced out of great marriages, but certainly ample evidence exists to show that children are raised best in a household involving a married man and woman.  That is the ideal, and that there is nothing wrong with having an ideal, even if sometimes we fall short.  Government, of course, has an interest in ensuring that its populations prosper and that children grow up to be productive adults.  Marriage is a part of that, and it should be encouraged and defined as what it is in law, not what some think it should be, nor should it be dealt away with completely simply because some don't want to define it in law. 

3. Strong marriages help keep people off government dependency.  Broken families are unquestionably one of the chief reasons for poverty in this country, and poverty leads to dependence on government services, both for children and adults.  If government were to get out of the marriage business, it would be endorsing a society in which it has no stance on the structure of families -- which could lead to the further erosion of the family and marital unit, even beyond what we have seen up to this point.  Social anarchy will lead to dependence on government will lead to welfare states which will lead to busted budgets -- look no further than Europe for an example of such.

4. It is fiscally conservative to support marriage.  This is related to our previous point -- many libertarian-leaning conservatives primarily focus on fiscal responsibility and government spending.  While those efforts are important, one key component in reducing spending is reducing the outcry from the public for such spending.  While again, marriage is certainly not an automatic ticket to prosperity, broken families certainly increase the likelihood that a child will end up in poverty or, at least, in a position where they are at one point, reliant on government for one service or another.  Stronger families -- backed up by strong marriages -- will lessen the likelihood of such dependence and thus, provide less of a demand for public services.

5. No one is forcing anyone to marry.  One thing Ron Paul and other advocates of getting government out of marriage is that no one is forcing anyone to marry "legally" in the first place.  If Jack and Jill or Jack and John want to have a relationship, no one is saying they can't.   Moreover, for "covenant marriage" laws such as the one that exists in Arkansas or that was proposed in Kansas previously -- no one is forcing anyone to enter into those either.  It is a choice, but in our view, it is a choice that should not be taken away.  Some, like Dr. Paul, like to often state that government shouldn't impose marriage on everyone -- when people are free not to marry -- but isn't doing away with marriage laws entirely essentially amount to Dr. Paul and company imposing their libertarian no-marriage-law worldview on society?

Essentially, we feel strongly that doing away with marriage laws would be a dangerous step for governments -- at any level -- to take, because government, whether we like it or not, does and in our opinion, should, reflect the culture it represents and should seek to encourage a culture in which families prosper and children thrive.  Marriage, even if imperfect, is a part of that -- and it would be a sad day if the state of marriage reached a point where government essentially threw its arms up and said "it just doesn't matter anymore".

It does matter.  We all know it matters.  There is too much empirical and statistical evidence to suggest otherwise.

In fact, in our view, there are stronger arguments on the side of enhancing and strengthening marriage laws, and embracing a culture in which the man-woman marital union is embraced as ideal, and not treated as one of many array of lifestyles one can choose from, almost like trying to pick out car insurance.  We'd like to see states from coast-to-coast adopt covenant marriage laws, in which divorce is more difficult.  We'd like to see culture, in general, both in schools and churches, embrace the institution of marriage between one man and one woman.  We'd like to explore the reasons why marriages fail, and seek ways to ensure that rate drops.

The reason is simple -- a civilization in which marriage is the social and cultural centerpiece is much more likely to prosper, both economically and culturally, than one that does not.  Conservatives of all stripes should embrace this -- and avoid advocating for a profound change in social policy that would undermine everything we are fighting for.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

An Unpopular But Good Idea: Raising Legislative Salaries

In our last post, we talked about the upcoming battle of ideas within the conservative movement.  Along those same lines, in that post, we discussed that over the next few weeks and months, this blog would be discussing some ideas in greater detail -- 5 generally popular ideas that we think are bad ideas, as well as 5 generally unpopular ideas that we think would be good.

We have decided to start off that series by tackling an idea which would fall within the latter set -- the generally quite unpopular notion that state legislative salaries should be increased.

Yes, even in the age of cuts to state government, including state employees, we feel that it would be wise for the salaries of state legislators to be increased -- in fact, quite dramatically.  In addition, it is our opinion that state legislators, beyond leadership, should be given some degree of a budget -- or, perhaps, campaign contribution limits lifted -- in order to better maintain constituent communications. 

This issue came to our attention as a result of actions in this most recent session which included proposals to reduce the pay of state employees, including state legislators.  It also came to our attention again when as the veto session was wrapping up, there was talk of not paying legislators for days past the statutory 90-day limit.

Putting aside the notion that these proposals were symbolic in nature, with no real substance, we feel that such ideas are actually contrary to the very purpose by which the lower salaries were enacted in the first place -- to maintain a citizen legislature.  

The reasons for our proposals to increase legislative pay and also allow a staffing budget  can be summed up in three simple arguments:

1. The level and structure of pay is so low for state legislators that it discourages good people from running; and, even if they do run, it also encourages good people to leave office before they would. 

2. The level and cycle of pay also ends up creating a "false clock" where too often we have seen that the primary concern come the veto session is for legislators to get home rather than pass a good budget-- this is understandable if pay is going to be stopped and when jobs at home demand attention.   

3. Legislators are overwhelmed and unable to respond or interact with constituents in a way that should be expected.  This is partially due to the fact that for 9 months out of the year, legislators barely receive anything pay wise, and they receive no staff help beyond a legislative secretary for 3 months, unless they decide to pay for it out of pocket.  While they are free to pay for help out of campaign funds, those funds are also limited because of contribution limits.  So, most legislators do not have such help, and this limits their ability to represent their constituents.

Now, at first blush, increasing legislative pay and/or staff allowances might run contrary to the notion of limited government.  And, certainly, there is a level of pay by which such a threshold would be reached, without a doubt.  But, the truth is, we are nowhere near that in Kansas.  In fact, it is our view that having a system which incentivizes legislators to adjourn because of an artificial clock leads to bad governing, and too often bad governing leads to big government -- as it is easier to vote yes for a budget that grows than it is to vote no and delay the budget process further.   Simply put, the easiest way for a legislator to go home "on time" is to vote yes on the budget.

And, to be sure, there is a level of state legislative pay and staff assistance which would trigger a threshold which wouldn't be appropriate.  And, as seen by California's state legislative pay of $115K a year, there is no "tie" of higher salaries to better government, necessarily.  But, Kansas is nowhere near that level..but, we do feel that when quality people are discouraged from running for office -- and we, as a blog, know of several anecdotal cases where a quality individual would have ran if not for the low pay -- that is not a good system.  Most Kansas legislators receive, in real pay, only around $13,000 a year or so in pay.  Aside from leadership, they have no staff.   At $86/day, Kansas is near the bottom of state legislative salaries (though not the lowest).

The truth is the fifty states run the full spectrum of pay, from the aforementioned California on one end to Texas at the other.  In our opinion, we would favor something in the middle -- like Missouri or Minnesota, who pay their legislators 31,000 a year.  Oklahoma, another neighboring state, pays theirs $38,000 a year.  Iowa pays $25,000.  Colorado pays $30,000.  While the 25-40k range (we'd advocate around $25-30K) is not one high enough to be an incentive for someone tor run, it is high enough that it is likely not a disincentive, at least for someone who truly wanted to be a citizen legislator. 

Salaries in that range would be appropriate and not represent a major hike in the state budget either.  If each legislator, for instance, were paid $15,000, that would be a $1.875 million hike in salaries.  That would take legislator salaries near the $30,000 mark.

The concept of a staff allowance is more problematic as a result of fact you're talking about additional state employees, all of which would have a decent salary, most likely.  Current legislative staffers for leadership make in the $40-60K range.  However, we don't feel this is necessary. There is actually another solution to the issue of "staff" help -- a bit of a hybrid solution: 

One, provide each legislator a $10,000 budget for hiring staff during the session, which for all practical purposes, 90 day limit aside, lasts from January 1 to June 1, so that would amount to $2,000 a month.  In addition, the state would also raise or completely lift contribution limits to campaigns -- a concept we favor anyway, for other reasons -- and this would allow legislators to raise their own money to make up the difference. 

If the $10,000 allowance proposal plus the $15,000 hike in legislative pay were both enacted, you'd have an annual increase of $3 million a year, approximately, which we believe can surely be found in a $6 billion budget.

Of course, some will question the wisdom of this...to combat those arguments, we will address the three points we made before in further detail:

1. A citizen legislature is indeed a good notion, but a citizen legislature doesn't mean an unpaid or poorly paid citizen legislature.    Right now, the current system basically restricts those who will seek office to independent businesspeople who have an ongoing source of income, retired individuals, lawyers, or ranchers/farmers...and while there is nothing wrong with any of these, it would be nice to broaden it.   Certainly, to some degree, state legislatures will always somewhat be limited talent-wise due to the time-factor as well as the modest pay factor (even in a system in which salaries were higher)  -- a system in which a legislator was paid $25-40,000 would be high enough not to discourage someone who is in a modest job from seeking office, and furthermore, for entrepreneurs who would have the time flexibility, it wouldn't discourage them either, as $25-40,000 would be high enough to offset some of the income loss, whereas the current figure is too low to do so. 

2. If we were to get rid of the 90 day limit and generally increase pay, state legislators wouldn't pay as much attention to the legislative clock and the need to get home, and likely be willing to stick out tough battles such as we saw this year over the budget.   For example, a wavering conservative state legislator who would like to vote no on a bad budget might be more likely to do so if he had the peace of mind in knowing he didn't have to get home soon to get back to work in his normal paid job.  While that is indeed a good thing -- we believe the current system places too much emphasis on it, making "getting home" the paramount concern over good legislating. 

Related to this is the whole notion of the 90-day calendar anyway, something we feel should be explored as well.  We believe that coupled with any pay hike should be more sessions in other parts of the year.  Too often committee chairmen who don't want to hear bills will essentially pocket veto them by using the short legislative calendar as a weapon.  This is tied to the issue of legislative pay, obviously, but we believe that a legislature which doesn't operate 9 months of the year, including seven months straight sets itself up for a system where good legislation will be delayed without a good reason...yes, special sessions are always possible, but they are quite rare.  We believe a system should be explored where there would be both a summer and fall session -- at least in non-election years.  That way, pocket vetoing legislation would be put to an end,  and we could get more year round reviews of agency and school budgets, which would be a very good thing.

3. As we noted before, the state deals with a number of important issues, from education to taxation to regulations, all of which have a profound impact on the lives of Kansans.  As such, citizens have a great deal of input that deserves to be heard and responded to by state legislators.  However, it is nearly impossible for legislators to handle this on their own, and as such, often times the level of representation is less than it should be.  The tasks done by a legislative office are tasks which require human assistance, and such human assistance would not only help the legislators in office, it would also encourage more individuals to become more interested and more involved in the operation of state government. 

Such human assistance, which would be acting in the best interest of the legislator and that legislator's constituents, would also help legislators rely less upon lobbyists who by definition, representing some kind of an agenda.   Let's keep in mind that most state agencies have staffers which are, of course, looking for reasons to increase funds to their agency -- perhaps more legislative staff would help root out money that could be saved, given the legislature, by definition, is the oversight agency of executive agencies.  And, this concept is not foreign -- in other states, such as Florida, State Reps have district offices, even.  And while some would say 'well, yes, that's Florida -- a big state -- are the lives of Floridians somehow more important than those of Kansans?  In our view, the only difference is that in Florida, there would need to be more staffers due to the size of the state, but that doesn't mean Kansans should have none.

Of course, enacting this reform will be difficult, even if most legislators felt it was a good idea.  Reason being, most Kansans simply don't realize how low legislative pay is, nor do they realize they don't have staff.  All the voter sees is a "legislature hikes salaries" headline, and candidates are afraid their opponents will use it against them. 

We have two answers to this:

1. Legislative pay hikes do not take effect for an individual legislator until that person is re-elected.  So, a legislator must pass an election cycle in order for a salary hike.  This is a built in protection.

2. To prevent the political question, Democrats and Republicans should vote as a unit -- 125-0 and 40-0 -- for the above proposals, as they are not partisan in nature -- everyone would benefit, as the principles we have expressed would apply equally.  While there would be a story and perhaps a little pushback towards any such pay hike, we believe if done unanimously, the shelf life would be limited and end up having limited impact at the election, even if an opponent tried to use it.

At the end of the day, our goal is what most envision in a state legislature -- a citizen legislature -- and we feel that the reforms mentioned here will help achieve that aim.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Coming Battle of Ideas

Last week, the 2012 Presidential Campaign began with the first presidential debate among some of the prospects for the Republican nomination. On the stage were Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, and Gary Johnson. Absent were Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump, as well as possible candidates Mitch Daniels, Jon Huntsman, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin.

What struck us was not the debate or the candidates themselves, but what they represented, which was perhaps the widest divergence of views within the conservative movement we have ever seen.

In the past 23 years, there have been four cycles -- 1988, 1996, 2000, 2008 -- when there was a contested Republican primary field. In the other two years -- 1992 and 2004 -- we had an incumbent President, both named Bush. However, it's worth noting that in 1992, Pat Buchanan challenged President George Bush.

In the other four years with contested primaries, the makeup was very similar -- all were hawkish on the military, all but maybe one was pro-life, all but one or two were socially conservative (though all claimed to be somewhat), and all were for somewhat limited government and lower taxes. In some cases, you might have someone very socially conservative (like Robertson in 1988 and Quayle in 2000), or someone more protectionist (like Buchanan in 1992, 1996 and 2000), or someone more focused on economics (Gramm in 1996 or Forbes in 2000), but largely the candidates were the same. Two candidates who were somewhat moderate on social issues -- Arlen Specter in 1996 and Rudy Guiliani in 2008 -- went nowhere.

Even in the last cycle, 2008 -- the candidates all pretty much preached similar messages. Fred Thompson was perhaps the most honest of the bunch, speaking boldly about the need to reform entitlements. But, Fred, Huckabee, Romney, Rudy, McCain -- all were the same -- hawkish on defense, generally fiscally conservative, generally socially conservative (Rudy less so). The exception was Ron Paul, who with his small but intense army, stayed in the race til the end, offering a different view on almost every subject -- end the wars overseas, social libertarianism, and economic libertarianism, going much further than most conservatives are willing to go. But largely, Paul was a distraction.

The end result of all four cycles was also the same -- the establishment "next choice" won out -- Bush in 1988, Dole in 1996, Bush in 2000, and McCain in 2008. We went 2-2 in those four, by the way.

However, this year -- in 2012, we are beginning to see the emergence of a conservative movement -- and as such, a Republican party -- with a wide variety of views that are now playing themselves out on the presidential stage.

Ron Paul and Gary Johnson are anti-drug war, anti-war, fiscal conservatives who are increasingly arguing for social libertarianism as well -- essentially, they are arguing for a "get the government out of everything" message.

Rick Santorum, on the other hand, brings a message of pro-life, socially conservative views that he is not afraid to express, perhaps less afraid than any major presidential candidate since Pat Robertson, even more so than Mike Huckabee. Rick Santorum has made a point of saying that if the conservative movement, and the country as well, lose their social values, then we aren't really a movement anymore. Santorum, however, is in favor of limited government fiscally and is a traditional hawk on foreign policy.

Herman Cain is a social conservative, but less so than Santorum, seems to be somewhat hawkish on the military, but offers a new viewpoint on tax policy -- advocating very strongly for the Fair Tax. He's not the first to do so -- Huckabee did in 2008 and one wonders if Huckabee and Cain can't go very far if they are both in the same field - and Cain also offers a persona appealing to tea party types -- he makes a big deal about never holding elected office, something that really we've not heard from a serious candidate since perhaps Steve Forbes, and in our view, Cain is more appealing personally than Forbes ever was, even though this blog prefers Forbes' flat tax to Cain's Fair Tax.

Finally there is Tim Pawlenty, who represents the Lamar Alexander/George W. Bush message of past cycles. He would be what Republican nominees for most officers are -- decent fiscal conservative, decent social conservative, hawkish on the military -- but not a passionate advocate for any, with a bit more of a moderate tone that might appeal to swing voters.

Looking beyond the five that participated -- you have the queen of the Tea Party, Michele Bachmann, the darling of conservatives in 2008 in Sarah Palin, the establishment king Mitt Romney, the intellectual Newt Gingrich, whose personal "issues" would have (and may still) disqualified him from past fields, and the interesting, and perhaps eventual compromise choice in Mitch Daniels, who on one hand, called for a "truce" on social issues, yet on the other, signed a major pro-life bill just a couple of weeks ago. Of course, you also have Donald Trump, who is a wild card of views and personality all his own...yet one who is in the Top 2 or 3 of most early polls among the GOP field.

Without getting into too much more detail about the candidates themselves, what is striking is how what is playing out here is an emerging battle of ideas within the conservative movement, where we will be debating the following four key broad policy questions:

1. Are we hawkish on defense and terrorism or do we want to pull back? Though most candidates seem to continue to push for a hawkish viewpoint, there seems to be an ever-growing call within certain sections of the tea party and conservative movement, people who are now beyond Ron Paul types, who are advocating for getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan, no intervention in Libya, and even pulling back foreign aid from countries that were previously considered vital national security interests. Some of this stems from views of limited government, some of it is Pat Buchanan protectionism, while some of it is simply saying "its none of our business".

2. Beyond the pro-life issue, are we going to be socially conservative? Will we defend the family? The abortion issue continues to be front and center within the conservative movement, as even libertarians are often pro-life, arguing (justifiably) that the individual unborn child has liberty. So, in our view, the pro-life movement is still going strong, as evidenced here in Kansas and also in Indiana, as well as other states, by the passage of fetal pain legislation. Though slow moving battle, it seems that the country is certainly moving in the direction of upholding life.

However, beyond the life issue, it is an open question whether the country, and even the conservative movement, is moving away from social conservatism on issues like marriage, acceptance or non-acceptance of alternative lifestyles, religion, and even the family unit itself. Ron Paul argued for the government getting out of the marriage business entirely last week, a concept that would have gotten him booed off the stage in past cycles, but one that drew applause this time. Here in Kansas, the Republican dominated state legislature didn't pass the Community Defense Act, which would have restricted sex shops. Nationally, the marriage issue is losing some ground -- marriage laws continue to be passed, but concepts like civil unions are gaining more favor. Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed. Family units other than the nuclear family are being accepted as mainstream for reasons other than necessity, but rather, by choice. It is also the observation of this blog that churches, though large in numbers, are more luke warm than ever before, talking more exclusively about broad concepts of spirituality and salvation (both essential, of course) and less willing to engage the culture -- for example, in 2008, the Pastor at the very large Church of the Resurrection didn't come out against the Missouri ballot initiative to allow funding for embryonic stem cell research.

So, it remains an open question as to whether or not traditional values will be part of the conservative movement or not, and whether the government will have any role in defining certain moral parameters, which of course, are largely a reflection in which the government is in. Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and others will argue it should. Others will either call for a truce or say it shouldn't.

3. What is the role of government? This goes beyond issues of social conservatism, but even economics and government assistance. Should we have a war on drugs? Should substances like marijuana be banned? What's the role of government in education, even at the state and local level? Should there be consumer protections? Even if we all agree many environmental laws go too far, should we have environmental laws at all? Should there be a safety net, at all? Should we even have things like unemployment insurance? This doesn't even get into issues like funding for the arts, etc, where conservatives are largely moving against. On this front, it could very well depend on the issue, but some certainly argue for either none or extremely limited government -- and increasingly, it's harder to find conservatives willing to make a case for at least some government.

4. What is our tax policy going to be? There seems to be an increasing push/acceptance of the Fair Tax, almost to the point where other viewpoints are ostracized, even though there might be good arguments why we shouldn't have the federal government involved in transactions between individuals and businesses, and why taxing services might be problematic, and why a system of prebates might be a road to hell paved with good intentions. What about the flat tax? Should we have any kind of tax on businesses or property?

It seems that in the wake of the tea party movement, the conservative movement is in a phase of what coaches in sports often refer to as "finding ourselves". This is, by the way, in our view, a healthy and productive task, as debate is very healthy as even those who hold firmly to certain viewpoints within those four areas would be wise to have their thoughts challenged from time to time, before running full steam ahead.

Related to this, in the next several weeks and even months, we at Kaw & Border will be exploring these questions in more detail -- including reviewing two lists -- one of five items we think are terrible, but popular ideas -- and one list of five items that are worthy, but unpopular ideas.

Our analysis on the details aside, it is our view that how the conservative movement addresses these questions will have a lasting impact for the next decade and perhaps even the next generation. The answer to these questions could very well decide if certain issues even remain in the mainstream public debate, which in our view, depending on the issue, could be a very good or a very bad thing for the country.

And as these debates play themselves out politically, particularly in the presidential campaign, they could very well have an impact sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

They're Trying to Save Kansas

The November 2010 election brought a great deal of new hope to many in Kansas who have long dreamed about a state government that would be truly reflective of its citizens -- socially and fiscally conservative, enacting legislation that would protect a culture of life, encourage marriage and traditional values, defend liberty and freedom, uphold the rule of law, and promote economic prosperity and fiscal responsibility.

After all, after 8 years (Graves) of left-wing Republican leadership and 8 years (Sebelius/Parkinson) of left-wing Democratic leadership and over that same period, ongoing fights in both houses of the legislature where often conservatives seemed, at some points, to hold just a couple dozen or even fewer seats, 2010 seemed to represent the first proverbial "lights at the end of the tunnel" for those who have been fighting for conservative principles for some 10, 20, or even 30 years in Kansas, back to when social and fiscal conservatism were an after thought.

With a conservative House and a conservative Governor in Sam Brownback, the prospects for significant conservative progress seemed strong. Even with the more liberal leaning Senate still in the way, the hope was that at least some significant steps could be made in the first two years, and by 2013, a conservative leadership could take over the Senate, paving the way for more substantial reforms, particularly when concerning the state budget.

To be clear, significant progress has been made in some areas -- on the life issue, for example, two critical pieces of legislation on fetal pain, parental consent, and late term reporting requirements made it through both houses and have been signed by the Governor, with a bill on clinic licensure hopefully to make it through as well in the veto session. Critical Voter ID legislation, though slightly weakened from what would be ideal, made it through both houses and has been signed by the governor. Workers Compsensation legislation has as well. The Health Care Freedom Amendment picked up 17 more votes than it did in 2010, passing the House, but stalling in the Senate, at least for right now -- although a statutory version has made it. A bill reforming the judicial selection process for the Kansas Court of Appeals passed the House, but is stalled in the Senate. Still, that's progress.

This is all good and important. However, the big "elephant in the room", the Kansas budget crisis, remains. And, if there was anything that many conservatives and fiscally conservative independents thought was truly going to happen this session, it was going to be a House of Representatives holding the line on spending by passing a budget that would have, at the very least, 2 to 4% growth, if not an actual hold on spending. Yes, the Senate, with its liberal leadership, was still going to be an issue, but at least the House would lay the law down and pass a prudent budget that put Kansas back on the path to fiscal sanity. Right?

Wrong.

The first disappointment, fiscally, started out when the House decided to hold what can only be described as a "fake vote" on the repeal of the sales tax increase in 2010 -- the sales tax increase which has, when combined with local sales taxes, put some cities in Johnson County over the 10% mark on sales taxes. Without any form of a rebate or exemption for necessary products, not only does this hurt low and middle income Kansans, it also puts businesses near any of our neighbors, particularly Missouri, at a severe disadvantage.

But, at least that was partially rectified when they passed legislation that would eventually, given certain economic conditions, phase out the individual income tax. While this blog remains skeptical of a "fair tax" style approach in which sales taxes are dominant revenue generator, it is nonetheless a positive thing to reduce taxes of any kind, although we'd prefer to see have seen the sales tax repealed and the income tax reduced. That would be, after all, the fiscally conservative thing to do for a supposedly fiscally conservative House of Representatives, right?

Well, apparently not.

Because not only did the House fail to roll back the regressive sales tax hike, it also decided to pass a budget which really was only modestly different from budgets that Queen Kathleen and Parkinson offered in the past several years. The 6%+ hike in state spending, which came after a billion dollar increase in state spending over just the last two years, is simply not justified at this point in time. It would be one thing if the House were just like the Senate, which only has maybe 14 fiscally conservative votes. In past years, the House was a difficult place too, with a lot more Democrats and a few more moderate Republicans.

November 2010 supposedly fixed all that, with a new truck of 33 freshman, all of whom were conservative, all of whom rode the wave of the tea party movement and its fiscally conservative call to action.

Yet, when the budget bill came up for a vote, in a series of three votes, it was apparent that fiscal conservatism apparently doesn't mean the same thing to all Republicans.

Rep. Owen Donohoe offered an amendment to simply roll back spending to FY 2011 levels. That is, keep them the same. It only achieved 8 votes. EIGHT.

Rep. Lance Kinzer and Rep. Kasha Kelley offered an amendment to roll back the proposed budget by $100 million dollars, a modest amount which would still put state spending ahead of inflation+population growth. It only garnered 46 votes, 17 short of passage, and some may have voted for it simply because they know it would fail.

What's even sadder is that another amendment was offered which would have reduced the budget proposal by just $50 million. It only got 55 votes.

These staggering, disappointing, mystifying votes, particularly in light of the general election, come just before yet another report indicating that revenues are short of expectations, and that Kansas unemployment is really not getting any better.

The silver lining in these disappointments is a group of conservative Republicans, on both the House and Senate side, who are working their collective tails off to put Kansas back on the path to prosperity, reign in spending, reduce the growth of government, and push for meaningful reform to our state education system which will have long lasting effects.

These individuals are a mix of veterans and freshmen, and many of them are from right here in Johnson County. The veterans include State Representatives Lance Kinzer, Anthony Brown, Kasha Kelley, Owen Donohoe, Peggy Mast, and Brenda Landwehr on the House side, along with Senators Mary Pilcher-Cook, Julia Lynn, Ray Merrick, Ty Masterson, Rob Olson, Dennis Pyle, and Steve Abrams on the Senate side. The freshmen, mainly on the House side, include predominantly Johnson County figures, including Amanda Grosserode, John Rubin, Brett Hildabrand, Jim Denning, Greg Smith, Rob Bruchman, Charlotte O'Hara, Bob Montgomery, and Kelly Meigs.

This band of courageous conservatives are fighting the good fight, standing up to leadership and demanding fiscal responsibility and that conservatives actually do what they say they would do when they were walking door-to-door in November -- LEAD.

Sadly, what other Republicans seem to be doing is paying more attention to process and politics than policy and prudence, placing more importance on simply the act of passing a budget than passing a budget that truly puts us on the path that voters expect. These Republicans, in short, need a trip to the "principles office".

Make no mistake, if the efforts of folks like Kinzer, Pilcher-Cook, Brown, Meigs, Grosserode, Rubin, Hildabrand, Smith, Kelley, Lynn, and others are in vain, and all a "conservative" House and a "conservative" Governor means is that we are simply less egregious and socially conservative versions of our predecessors, we will have failed as a state and missed what was a shining opportunity to rescue Kansas from years of fiscal irresponsibility, unsustainable growth in government, and the continual propping up of an education system that is more about saving a system than it is educating children.

In our view, we have about two more sessions and one more election cycle to fix this. In the meantime, our profound thanks and enthusiastic support needs to be given to the above individuals and others like them.

Make no mistake, they're trying to save Kansas.

Monday, February 14, 2011

RINO Alert in the Kansas Senate

Today, it became apparent that this image is now the logo of the Republican leadership in the Kansas Senate:

Find out why in our RedCounty.com article entitled "32 Republicans in the Kansas Senate? Think again!" -- which you can read by clicking here.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Most Courageous Organization in Kansas

When this blog started, our goal was "telling the story behind the story of Kansas City area politics -- both of the politicians themselves as well as political operatives such as key individuals, PACs, and other groups of influence."

We've largely focused on key individuals, even governing bodies, but have not talked as much about the key organizations that play a role in both politics and policy making within the state of Kansas. There are many such groups in Kansas, on both the right and the left, from trade groups who want to lobby for their specific industry, to issue-specific groups like Kansans For Life, to broad-based organizations like the Kansas Chamber and Americans for Prosperity on the right to the National Education Association and Kansas Equality Coalition on the left.

Most of these groups have been around for many years, have a great deal of funding (or, at least, access to funding) and largely deal with issues that have a very large constituency, or are tackling issues that are high profile -- education, taxes, spending, abortion, etc.

On the conservative side of the ledger, apart from Kansans for Life, which has bravely fought on the issues of life for many, many years and is now enjoying the fruits of their labor, most of the conservative organizations have been centered around economic issues -- AFP in the last decade, the Kansas Chamber for many years, as well as groups like NFIB and even the FairTax folks.

There has been, until the last 3-4 years, a lack of attention or "organized, long-term, focus" on broader social issues. There are a couple exceptions to this -- in 2005, a coalition of individuals and groups came together to pass the Kansas Marriage Amendment, but that largely broke up after it passed with 70% of Kansans voting for it. In addition, Philip and Cathy Cosby of Olathe have been working very courageously on the issue of sexually-oriented businesses in both Kansas and Missouri.

However, when one considers that the tea party movement is largely (but not all, of course) economic-based, there has not been much attention on family "values voter" issues like marriage (not just on resisting gay marriage but promoting marriage in general), gambling, the radical gay agenda, and even alcohol, at least in long-term established way. In our opinion, particularly given the increasing reluctance of churches to engage the culture, at least at a governmental/political level and to divorce themselves from anything related to elections, this has left a giant void that threatens to leave our halls of government full of people who, aside from being pro-life, will tend to steer clear of values issues.

To help fill this void, in 2008, an organization was created -- the Kansas Family Policy Council. In our view, it is very important, for voters who do care about values and how our laws reflect on our culture, for organizations like KFPC to not only exist, but thrive. The core reason is that too often, the Kansas Family Policy Council is fighting battles on issues that other organizations will not touch. In some cases, they are actually on the opposite side of an issue from other "conservative" organizations, which makes the brave battles they engage in all the more difficult.

In our view, the Kansas Family Policy Council is the most courageous organization in Kansas. While organizations like Concerned Women of America have been around for years, they are focused nationally in many ways, and simply have not had the local focus necessary to really zero in on particularly issues like KFPC is. They are right now, or have in recent years, tackled three issues in Kansas that many will not touch:

1. Gambling. In 2007, Kansas passed the statewide casino legislation which authorized casinos in Kansas. While some opposed this simply because the state was involved, many others did because of the cultural impact. One of the requirements of the legislation was that for a casino to be built, it had to win the vote of the local electorate first. In the case of Wichita, due to the efforts of Donna Lippoldt, who heads up KFPC, the Wichita-area casino was defeated in an historic effort.

2. Liquor. This year, many grocery stores are convenience stores are pushing for legislation to allow them to sell hard liquor, which is currently restricted to liquor stores. We addressed this in our last post, "In Defense of Blue Laws". On this issue, KFPC finds itself opposite such big bats as the Kansas Chamber and AFP. As KFPC says, we can do better, because they recognize the severe harm that expanded availability of hard liquor can cause to families. Sadly, KFPC seems to be the only group saying this, leaving legislators without much of an alternative voice on this issue outside of liquor stores. Plus, if you're a conservative legislator, do you really want to oppose the Kansas Chamber and AFP, nor vote for something that seems to go against your "limited government" mindset, all in the time of family values?

3. Gay Agenda in Manhattan -- On Tuesday of this week, the Manhattan City Commission voted into law an ordinance that creates special protections for homosexual, bisexual and transgendered individuals. The Kansas Family Policy Council has been the organization resisting this effort, and is now engaged in a petition drive to overturn the new ordinance.

Let's be honest -- fighting issues like marriage, alcohol, gambling, and special rights for behavior is not a fun one. Liberals will try to find any evidence of hypocrisy in your life. Some will even go after your business -- see the radicals who threatened those who contributed to the pro-marriage proposition in California. Moderates will say you are trying to "legislate morality". Libertarians want the government out of everything, even some calling for the government to get out of the marriage business entirely. Plus, there is just the issue that on each of the above issues, each of us in the conservative know someone who is gay, enjoys frequent social drinking, has been divorced, or likes to gamble.

Increasingly, particularly given the economic focus of many in the tea party movement, many even in the conservative movement are wanting to steer clear of such issues, particularly given that some who believe in "limited government" when it comes to the economy or property extend that to the culture as well. Ron Paul supporters -- who just dominated CPAC by having their man win the straw poll -- are libertarians by nature. CPAC itself is controversial because of its inclusion of GOProud, a pro-gay rights group, as a sponsor. A trip to some prominent conservative blogs like race42012.com and others will reveal many comments from conservatives who want to not talk about these issues. Within the conservative movement, you will groups that take the opposite stance on a particular issue, like alcohol. Even Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who received wide-spread praise for his speech at CPAC, has called for a "truce" on social issues, a comment which he caught some heat for, but not enough.

So, on one hand, it's simply easier to leave these issues alone, or as Daniels says, have a "truce" and put those issues off until later, or as Daniels said, until our economic issues are resolved. In our opinion, this is a false notion simply because our economic issues never go away. The economy is too cyclical and one need to only take one look at the size of the federal budget or the tax code, or any state budget or tax code, to realize we are years from really "solving" our economic problems. Furthermore, even if they are "solved" there will always be liberals trying to "unsolve" them by increasing spending, taxes, or socialism in general.

Also, in our view, economic conservatism cannot simply exist without social conservatism. It's one thing for the shackles of government to be taken off the economy so people are not taxed to death and our government is not bankrupting itself on the backs of children and grand children. But, the future of our country and our families will not thrive if we simply have pro-growth tax policies and a smaller government. They will only thrive if our culture of thriving as well, and in our view that means we must never abandon social issues as well.

To be clear, as we stated in the post on liquor laws, this doesn't mean we only focus on the law-making sides of things. Certainly, in our opinion, our laws should reflect our values and "do no harm" to our culture nor to families. But, we also must engage with people on these issues on a personal, "hearts and minds" basis as well.

As we have found on the life issue, our cultural battles are not won simply by passing a law and having a governor sign it. They are won by engaging in the culture in a direct way and by making our arguments in a reasonable, humble, but direct way.

To reach that point, however, we simply must first be willing to engage cultural issues to begin with. To do so takes great courage and people willing to form and lead grassroots movements dedicated to doing so. In Kansas, the organization doing so is the Kansas Family Policy Council. They are quite courageous and deserve great praise, and it is our hope many Kansans will be inspired by their work.

The strength of Kansas families depends on it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In Defense of Blue Laws

Right now, in the Kansas Legislature, there is much debate about proposed legislation that would allow grocery stores like HyVee and convenience stores like QuikTrip to sell hard liquor. The proponents, largely made up of convenience stores and grocery stores, have put together a group called the "Coalition for Jobs and Consumer Choice" to advocate for this change.

The arguments that proponents are using for this bill are these:

Economic Impact. They argue that it will create 15,000 new jobs by spurring the creation of new convenience stores.

Current Law is a Monopoly for Liquor Stores. They argue it is not defensible to have a built in protection for liquor stores, and they say half of which would go out of business, according to this article.

Consumer Choice. Simply, this argument states that consumers should have the choice to purchase hard alcohol at a grocery store and not be forced to purchase it separately at a liquor store.

Blue Laws are Old Fashioned. This is an argument you often hear out of the more libertarian thinkers, who would make the argument that blue laws such as the current law are anti-liberty and anti-freedom and a relic of prohibition, and thus should be repealed. Basically, this is the "people drink anyway so why have the law" argument.

In the opinion of this blog, all of these arguments are solid and some are even true, in varying degrees. However, it is also our opinion that these arguments do not alone justify the change in the law, nor do they take into account the significant justifications for "blue laws" such as this.

In our view, there are significant cultural and even economic arguments for maintaining the law as is, and that socially conservative legislators would be wise to listen to the arguments of the Kansas Family Policy Council, which opposes the legislation.

Our arguments are as follows:

- The economic benefit is overstated. As stated in this article, it seems a stretch to say 15,000 new jobs will be created simply by changing this law. Will a grocery store or QuikTrip really add jobs simply because booze is available? Seems doubtful. While some convenience stores may pop up (as if there are not enough already) as a result, the proponents admit that around half of the liquor stores would close as a result, thereby slashing jobs and ending the livelihoods of hundreds of small business owners in Kansas. Is this really a good idea, at this time? (more on that in a minute)

- Even if there is economic benefit, it is not worth it. In order for there to be a true overall economic benefit to Kansas, the proposed change would have to result in the increased purchase of alcohol. This is likely to occur given that it would be readily available at places like HyVee and Quik Trip. Do we, as a state, and do Kansas legislators really want to encourage the increased purchase of hard liquor? Yes, we recognize there is a "libertarian" argument as to whether it's the government's business to regulate this anyway -- we'll talk about that in a moment.

- To be consistent, a social conservative should oppose this bill on cultural grounds. Many of us might remember the 2007 all-night debate over expanding gambling in the state of Kansas, which passed narrowly. Certainly, there were some who were opposed to the bill not because they were opposed to casinos, but to state-owned casinos. But, there were many social conservatives who made arguments against it on moral and societal grounds, and made impassioned pleas on the House floor, with readily available data which stated that expanded gaming in Kansas and proximity to a casino has a negative overall impact on families in Kansas. Similarly, many conservatives also oppose sex shops or at least support severe restrictions on there whereabouts and ability to advertise, also on the societal/family argument. Certainly, social conservatives would have to agree increased consumption of hard alcohol would have a negative impact on families and on individuals, period. One need only look at the dozens of studies on alcohol abuse or hear the testimonials of those who struggled with alcohol addiction to know that the availability of alcohol is a serious struggle. So, to be consistent, conservatives should also oppose laws which would increase the availability and temptation to purchase hard alcohol.

Of course, some proponents will say that it is available now, and that is very easy to purchase alcohol from a liquor store. That's true, but that isn't our point, as we are not advocating prohibition. What we are arguing is against increased availability of a product which clearly has a negative impact on families and our culture as a whole, which leads us to our next argument:

Kansas shouldn't promote alcoholism by encouraging the purchase of hard liquor. As a general rule of thumb, a state should not pursue policies which will encourage the increased purchase and sale of extremely harmful products, particularly when consumed in even mild excess, such as hard liquor. Clearly, this law would make hard liquor more available. That's the intent. Clearly, it would result in more consumption of alcohol; otherwise there would be no economic benefit. And while, yes, right now it is easy to walk into a liquor store and purchase booze, any person is much more likely to enter a QuikTrip or a HyVee on any given day than a liquor store. As such, that person is much more likely to purchase the bottle of hard liquor -- not only on that specific visit to the store, but also on repeat visits, as many people stop by a QuikTrip or a grocery store on a daily basis. As such, It isn't too much of a stretch to argue that this change would promote alcoholism by encouraging the repeated purchase of alcohol, particualrly given the severely addictive nature of hard alcohol, and the struggle many individuals have with abusing alcohol and the temptation to "fall of the wagon".

There is a negative economic impact on families. A great deal has been made about the economic benefits and potential job creation that could occur as a result of this legislation. Maybe so. But on the back of who? In an economic downturn such as we are in right now, it is families who are in the most stressful of situations, struggling to make ends meet while one or both try to find a job. It is in high stress situations alcohol is more likely to be consumed, and thus the availability of alcohol at a HyVee would make it all the more likely a husband, wife, parent, etc, would purchase that bottle of hard liquor instead of allocating that money to food, bills, debt, or other family needs. Given, again, the highly addictive nature of hard alcohol, have we truly considered, as a state, the negative economic impact this would have on families? While certainly, there is a large personal responsibility quotient to this, and the state cannot police everyone's behavior, it also should not be promoting said behavior. Point is this -- HyVee's economic benefit might be a family's economic devastation, particularly one struggling with alcohol addiction. We should choose families, first.

It's not fair to liquor stores. Yes, an argument can certainly be made that the current law protects liquor stores by allowing them to monopolize the sale of hard liquor. Fair enough. But, it is not the liquor store owner's fault that the law exists as it is. Given, again, the economic state we are in presently, is it really a good idea to change a decades-old law when the advocates of the change even admit it would close over 300 liquor stores? Like it or not, this is the law on the books and has been for a long time. While that doesn't necessarily mean we should not change it, it certainly would represent picking some some already existing winners (grocery stores and convenience stores) and some non existing winners (convenience stores that MIGHT open as a result) and losers, the long-existing liquor stores which would cease to exist. If this is going to be the centerpiece of a conservative's argument for changing the law -- perhaps it would be a good idea to at least wait until there was an economic upturn.

There is justification for the liquor store monopoly on hard liquor. Some economic conservatives will say there should the state should not protect the monopoly liquor stores have on selling hard liquor, which of course, as noted above, keeps many in business. That's a fair argument. However, sometimes, in law, created "exemptions" for an industry is wise -- often because of the very nature of the product or service. Major League Baseball, for example, has a federal antitrust exemption. Cable companies, often, have monopolies on service within a particular area, or in some cases, it's at least limited to two companies. In this case, we feel the nature of hard liquor justifies its "special product" category and sale at liquor stores only. The reasons are largely along the lines of what we stated above (the addictive nature of the product, the harm done if consumed in excess, etc) -- but also this -- there is an argument that hard liquor is okay for special occasions. Certainly, there is an argument to be made that is what hard liquor should be reserved for. By requiring a special trip to a liquor store to purchase it, we are emphasizing that the "special occasion" principle, and not something akin to a gallon of milk, a box of cereal, or the item typically found at a grocery store.

If we're going to get serious about our culture, we have to get serious about alcohol. Conservatives like to talk a lot, justifiably, about the protection of families and the importance of the culture in America. That's why we're conservatives, and not libertarians. That includes promoting a culture of life, protecting and enhancing marriage, restrictions on gaming, and the war on drugs. Even apart from any government action or solution, we want vibrant churches, quality schools, curriculum which reflects our values, and a society which encourages wise decision making. In all of this, sadly, there is a large elephant in the room and that is the ever presence of alcohol.

To be clear, this is not a case for prohibition, as that is not feasible nor does it work. However, that does not mean that we should be scared to examine not only governmental solutions but also not fear talking about this issue from a hearts-and-minds perspective as well.

One need only to go to any college campus or read any study or attend any athletic event to witness the profound impact alcohol has on our culture. And not just alcohol -- but the heavy consumption of alcohol. Even in our anti-drinking-and-driving campaigns, we seem to say that drinking excessively itself is perfectly okay, as long as you don't get behind the wheel -- nevermind the fact that excessive alcohol usage impairs good decision making nor the fact that excessive alcohol usage can have a destructive impact on one's life and family.

One has to, pardon the pun, be drunk as a skunk not to realize the fact that excessive alcohol consumption leads to depression, unwanted and teenage pregnancy, divorce, poor grades, destroyed families, auto and boating accidents, and too often, the injury or death of innocents. No further study needs to be done on this -- the negative impact of alcohol on culture is readily apparent and the evidence is ample -- in divorce proceedings, in college dropouts, in teenage pregnancies, and too often -- in the morgue.

Conservatives like to talk a great deal about protecting families and life, and justifiably so. But if we're going to seriously talk about improving the culture, we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room and that is alcohol. Yes, it will be a hard fight to win and a difficult discussion to even have, because so many people consume alcohol and so many people consume it regularly. Even those who consume it lightly still consume it -- and it's hard to be the one advocating against alcohol on one hand while having a glass of wine on the other. No one wants to be labeled a hypocrite.

Thus, no one, not religious, not moral, and certainly not political leaders whose parties and fundraisers are often fueled by booze -- wants to carry the flag on this issue. Even when it comes to resisting the increased availability of HARD liquor, it is hard to find a leader in Kansas who is willing to stand up and speak loudly on the issue.

That's not to say it's not a tough issue, it is, particularly as it pertains to specific laws such as the one in question here. There are legitimate "liberty" and limited government arguments for loosening these laws. But, in our eyes, those do not equal the incredible piles of evidence that weights against expanding the availability of hard liquor. And no matter what happens, it should not preclude us from having a broader, more long term cultural discussion about the impact of alcohol on our culture.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lenexa City Council Extends Terms of Three Members, Bypasses Election

In the past, this blog has covered some of the problems with the City of Lenexa, specifically the continual waste of time, energy, money and resources that is the unnecessary Lenexa City Center project. Here's a recap for those of you not keeping score at home:

- Turning a previously easy-to-drive one-mile section of Renner Road into a drivers' ed course by installing not one, not two, not three, but four roundabouts, plus several streetlights topped with odd blue lights illuminating nothing except possibly the deer trying to escape the government-funded hunt at Shawnee Mission Park.

- The failed Lenexa City Center East project, which originally was supposed to start sometime in the Reagan administration (okay, we're joking, but it was 7 years ago), which now has one completed building with one tenant, which probably can't attract any additional tenants because its neighbor is a one-tenth-completed blighted parking garage that serves as a concrete monument to why a city should not let itself bought off by developers. To date, the only other use of this property were billboard-sized Kevin Yoder and Jerry Moran signs.

- The failed Lenexa City Center "West" project, which has seen no action at all, unless there is an underground shopping mall for prairie dogs.

- The bankrupt City Center North project, which is home to nothing except an overpriced apartment complex that is close to nothing -- unless you have little leaguers playing at 3&2 or attend church at the Lenexa Christian Center.

- And, most recently, the utterly ridiculous and offensive "splitting" of 87th Street Parkway into east and west lanes -- yes, Lenexa is spending MILLIONS UPON MILLIONS of taxpayer dollars to move one lane of traffic a few feet to the south. Why? So it can put buildings IN BETWEEN THE LANES (why, we're not quite sure) and as to accomodate the thousands of visitors that will be coming to all the shops and entertainment that will be occurring at Lenexa City Center, of course -- which is, on its current pace, due to complete sometime in the 22nd Century.

Of course, despite the absurdity of these projects and the complete unwillingness of city leaders to admit that Lenexa City Center is an epic failure that perhaps needs rethinking before more tax dollars and city time is committed to "Tunnel Vision 2030", the only way the citizens of Lenexa could alter these plans is to well, throw out the City Council.

And, for a time, it seemed they might have that opportunity, because for a time, it seemed that seven of the eight Lenexa City Council positions would be open. Like most every city, Lenexa is divided into four wards. Each of those wards elects two councilmen to four year terms, elected in staggered years. So, four would be up (one in each ward) in 2011 and four would be up in 2013 (one in each ward).

However, due to the unfortunate death of one councilwoman (Klein) just before the April 2009 election and the subsequent resingations of two others (Sullivan and Green), all of which were councilmembers on the 2013 cycle, there were going to be three additions spots open in 2011.

Reason being is that in most governmental bodies, when a vacancy occurs in the first half of a four year term, there is a temporary appointment (in this case, made by Mayor Boehm) until the next regularly scheduled general election, in which the voters would then fill the remaining two years of the term. So, rather than there being just four spots up in 2011, there was going to be SEVEN. This is appropriate, given that the Lenexa City Council IS, after all, a body elected by the voters, and it's probably not wise to have a council that could have half or more of its members appointed for a long period of time -- particularly in this case, by the Mayor.

As a result, though unintentionally, 2011 was going to be a unique opportunity for Lenexans to choose the direction of their beloved city for the next several years. Literally, the entire focus of the city could change in a way that favored fiscal responsiblity and civic planning prudence rather than the incredible waste and road-to-nowhere-like projects that dominate the city talk now.

NOT ANYMORE.

The Lenexa City Council, in its infinite wisdom, chose to put their judgment in place of the will of the people, when in April of 2010, with little fanfare and no coverage, passed an ordiance doing away with the special elections in cases where a vacancy occurs prior to the two year point, thereby extending the terms of the appointment members an additional two years.

So, in the case of Joe Karlin, who was appointed shortly after the 2009 general election due to the death of Jane Klein (who actually was on the ballot in 2009), he will serve an entire four year term without ever having to face the voters.

If this policy holds, it means that in the case of the entire City Council, which for a time will have half its members appointed by Mayor Boehm (Lemons, Karlin, Serrone and whoever replaces Cindy Green), it means that if Lemons is elected in April, 3 of the 8 members of the Lenexa City Council, DESPITE AN INTERVENING ELECTION, will still have never faced the voters to which they are serving.

And, what's more rich is this -- the members who had been appointed actually voted to extend their own terms, rather than abstaining. Here is the minutes from the April, 2010 meeting where this all went down:

11 b. Ordinance amending City Code Section 1-4-A-3 by establishing requirements for vacancies in office and repealing Code Section 1-3-A-4. Ordinance No. 5140

City Attorney Harmison introduced this item indicating that it deals with vacancies and terms of office. In light of the City’s experience this past year, she recommended the Council consider amendments to its current ordinance. Staff presented two versions of this ordinance, recommending version “B” which is the same as version “A” with the exception that it changes the appointment term for Council Members back to state law whereby an appointed member filling a vacancy would serve out the remainder of the term. City Attorney Harmison advised that not only would the City be consistent with state law, but this amendment would avoid confusion with multiple candidates for one ward on the ballot at the same time.

City Attorney Harmison gave a brief history of the code changes and then highlighted some of the substantive provisions of the ordinance, including the provisions that the ordinance extends the time for the Mayor to make his recommendation to the Council; and it clarifies the definition of vacancy. It also addresses the term of office for appointees.

A Governing Body discussion followed. Council Member Serrone doesn’t believe the current law requiring standing for re-election sooner than the expiration of the term to which a Council Member is appointed makes sense in light of the Council’s ward configuration and staggered terms. He isn’t sure past Council’s understood the ramifications. He appreciates the history of its adoption, but he favors version “B”. Council Member Huckaba states he favors version “B” as he believes it is more stable and reduces voter confusion.

Council Member Karlin stated that he is one member that was appointed and he is one who will have to stand for re-election before the term would normally end. He has struggled with the balance between making something efficient and sensible. Understanding that the voters always have the option of a recall petition if they didn’t feel a council member was representing them well, he felt he could support version “B”.

Council Member Lemons felt Council Member Huckaba articulated his views well. Council Member Lemons likes version “B” as it is practical and avoids the confusion and situation we now have.

Council Member Nolte shared additional history of the current ordinance’s origination, but said he also favors version “B”. He stated there were good reasons for these ordinances. He indicated that it is very seldom that we see two spots open in the same ward and it would be extremely confusing to the constituents to have two people running in the same ward at the same time.

Council Member Linver stated that she agreed with the rest of the Council and could support version “B”, but wanted to be sure the Council is taking action sufficiently ahead of the next election cycle that it would not have any negative affect on the candidates and voters.

A question was raised as to whether or not the ordinance could be applied retroactively. City Attorney Harmison indicated she was researching this issue and the law was not clear. She indicated she would like to continue her research and may seek an Attorney General opinion. The collective preference of the body was to approve Version B of the ordinance with a retroactive application.

Mayor Boehm stated he was comfortable with version “B” as it would be consistent with what State law is and we are not taking away voters rights. He indicated the Council would vote on version “B”, making it retroactive if provided by law.

Hearing no further questions, Mayor Boehm called for a vote.

Action:

Motion to approve version “B” of an Ordinance amending City Code Section 1-4-A-3 by establishing requirements for vacancies in office and repealing Code Section 1-3-A-4 was made by Council Member Serrone, seconded by Council Member Huckaba and unanimously approved.


At the very least, Councilmembers Karlin and Serrone should have exempted themselves from the vote. But, they did not.

What's perhaps more ridiculous is the silliness of the reasoning:

The memers argue that two positions would be up in the same ward, and that would be too confusing to voters. Really? The voters, via campaigns, couldn't figure this out? In some cities, there are at large positions and ward positions, such as in Olathe, which means at the same time, in the same areas, people are running for the City Council. Do we not think this is confusing?

Could they not have adjusted the ordinance, instead, to say "Position 1" (for the normal four year term) and "Position 2" (for the two year term) in the case of two seats in the same ward being open same year, to help educate the voters?

Or, even absent that, could not a special election be held to fill these vacancies, at a time other than the normal general election? That might involve an extra cost, but it's better than having unelected members serve what amounts to the vast majority what is supposed to be an elected position. The cost of an election in one Ward would not be high.

In any event, the comments of Councilman Karlin indicating that "oh, the voters can just remove me" is arrogance in its worst form. Voters, Mr. Karlin, should have the right to elect you to begin with.

To be clear, we at Kaw & Border do not have an issue with temporary vacancies needing to be filled. What we do have a problem with is the following:

1. The vacancies in Lenexa being filled by the Mayor by up to four years. That gives enormous power to the Mayor, without a quick check or confirmation by the voters.

2. The vacancies being filled by the Mayor at all. In other cities, for example, vacancies are filled by a majority of the remaining council members. Or, perhaps, as suggested before, we shouldn't have temporary appointments, but rather, a special election within 90 days of a vacancy. Or, that a temporary appointment shouldn't last longer than 90 days. If there is any government function that is essential, its elections, and it seems in wealthy Johnson County we should be capable of having an off-time election in one ward.

3. Even if we accept the concept of having temporary appointments, the notion of allowing those unelected members to serve without an election, when a city general election is being held in the meantime.

4. The equally absurd notion that there is no alternative to the "two elections in the same ward" confusion point raised by several council members other than NOT HOLDING AN ELECTION AT ALL.

5. Two appointed members, Lou Serrone and Joe Karlin, who were appointed when one law was in effect -- which would require their election in 2011 -- voting to extend their terms to 2013. At the very least, they should have recused themselves.

The moral of this story, whether one is discussing the bloated and blighted Lenexa City Center projects OR the arrogance of the City Council in bypassing an election for three of its members, is that Lenexa desperately needs new blood in its leaders.