Archive for Thursday, December 5, 2002

Practical matter

December 5, 2002

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Whether Kansas legislators are conservative or moderate, it's important for them to be practical.

Much of the focus on this week's leadership race in the Kansas House was on the moderate-conservative split in the Republican Party. Would the Republicans, who hold a large House majority, elect a speaker from the conservative wing of the party or someone who was considered more moderate?

In the end, though, the word the House's new Democratic leader used to describe the new House speaker probably is the one that counts: "practical."

This is, after all, what most Kansans are hoping for, that the new governor and state legislators will rise above partisan politics and arbitrary pledges and be practical. The future of the state is at stake.

Newly elected House Speaker Doug Mays of Topeka is part of the conservative branch of his party, but he said after his election that he won't be wearing his "no-tax" button this session because it wouldn't be appropriate attire for the speaker. Although it would be to the state's benefit for all legislators to put aside their moderate and conservative labels, the election of a conservative speaker may have some implications for the session.

Mays said one of his priorities would be to try to unite his party caucus, a feat that hasn't been accomplished for a number of legislative sessions. If he is successful, his Republican majority would hold a powerful hand in negotiations on how to deal with the state's financial crisis.

Mays also said he doesn't see how to deal with that crisis without making cuts in public school funding, a move Gov.-elect Kathleen Sebelius said during the campaign she would oppose. If Mays can speak for all House Republicans, it will be imperative for him and Sebelius to work together closely on the budget issue.

Minority Leader Dennis McKinney of Greensburg said he didn't see Mays' victory as evidence the House would be more conservative and predicted that House coalitions "will vary from issue to issue." Those coalitions probably will continue to be based on the positions of the interesting three-party system that has evolved in Kansas -- conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans and Democrats. Bringing any two of the three together on an issue usually is a winning combination.

Conservative or moderate, Republican or Democrat, members of the Kansas Legislature have their work cut out for them. For the sake of the state, they and the governor should try to set the labels aside and concentrate on what is practical and beneficial for Kansas.

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