With a Democrat as the next governor of Kansas and a Republican-controlled Legislature, this would seem to be an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation in the Kansas Statehouse ... right after Kris Kobach tears up his NRA membership card.
Ultraconservatives quickly showed they had no interest in pursuing the middle ground when they successfully ousted Rep. Don Hineman (R-Dighton) as the House majority leader.
A political moderate, Hineman was far too critical of the fiscal irresponsibility demonstrated by the Brownback tax cuts. He’s been an ardent supporter of public education. And he dared to call the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) “political terrorists.”
Rep. Hineman simply refused to be a “go along to get along” lackey in the House.
Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman retained his leadership role, after which he offered a rather hollow pledge to “look for ways we can work with” Gov.-elect Laura Kelly. But if Ryckman and ultraconservatives are incapable of working with centrist members of their own party the likelihood of finding middle ground with Kelly is even more remote.
Ryckman’s disconnect with the best interest of Kansans — and reality — was further exemplified when he declared, “A majority of the state still believes in core Republican principles.”
Of course, if that were true a Democrat wouldn’t have been elected governor.
Which further begs the question: “What are these so-called Republican principles that Ryckman is talking about?”
Fiscal responsibility must not be on the list.
It was former Gov. Sam Brownback and his ultraconservative brethren who abandoned that principle with tax cuts that gutted our state budget, downgraded our bond rating and forced lawmakers to steal (they call it sweep) over $1 billion from the Kansas Department of Transportation and transfer that money to other agencies in order to keep government operating.
A transportation task force recently calculated it would take $600 million for the state to catch up with delayed road projects and stabilize funding for transportation infrastructure.
The welfare of children is not a core principle.
The lack of funding, and lack of commitment at the state level, has seen the state’s foster care system fail our youngest, most vulnerable citizens.
According to a lawsuit filed against the state, “churning” has become a common practice of having foster children stay overnight “anywhere a bed, couch, office, conference room, shelter or hospital can be found.”
One boy included in the lawsuit has been in more than 130 placements since entering the foster care system in 2012.
Under national standards, kids shouldn’t be moved more than 4.12 times for every 1,000 days they’re in foster care. Kansas is more than double that at 8.6 times per 1,000 days.
The health of Kansans is not a core principle.
When asked about the prospect of expanding Medicaid to provide better health care access to about 150,000 low-income Kansans, new House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins was far from enthusiastic.
“Let’s just see how that one goes,” said the very vocal opponent of expansion.
In other words, “Not if I have anything to say about it.”
Public education is not a core principle.
It was under the watch of ultraconservatives that public education funding in Kansas was first slashed, then frozen, while at the same time lawmakers engaged in efforts to limit the court’s ability to force the legislature to live up to its constitutional responsibility.
Ultraconservatives, with the full support of AFP and the Kansas Policy Institute (another Koch-funded group), have made it their mission to underfund public schools.
By contrast, governor-elect Kelly and Democrats have a different set of priorities that include putting money into public education to end the constant battle between the legislature and the courts; restore funding that’s been robbed from the state employee pension fund (KPERS); restore cuts to higher education; address the needs of our foster care system; restore KDOT funding for highways; and hopefully exempt food from the state sales tax.
These are policies that, in some way, impact nearly every Kansan and affect our quality of life. These are issues that will lead to a better Kansas, whether you are rich or poor, rural or urban.
Ryckman and ultraconservatives say they want to make the next legislative session about core principles. Yet over the past eight years those values haven’t made Kansas a better place.
Moderate Republicans and Democrats must decide whether they can work together and fight for core principles that address our moral responsibility and truly benefit the majority of Kansans.
Rod Haxton is publisher of The Scott County Record. He can be reached at email@example.com.