Ballard played key role against amendment limiting courts

? It may have been the turning point of the special legislative session. A late night meeting July 1 between Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, and Republican legislative leaders produced no agreement, and House Speaker Doug Mays, who is no fan of Sebelius, left the meeting in a bad mood. The session was near meltdown with nothing accomplished.

But Mays was influenced by House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney, of Greensburg, and Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence. The three legislators all came into the House in 1992, and Mays said he trusts McKinney and Ballard to the fullest.

Ballard and McKinney told Mays that the House Democratic caucus would not budge in its opposition to a constitutional amendment aimed at restricting the Kansas Supreme Court in school finance litigation. It wasn’t politics, they said; it was a matter of principle.

“They feel just as strongly as many of us feel we should do it. They seem very sincere about this,” Mays told the House Republican caucus.

After that, the momentum to link school funding to an amendment started to unravel.

Freshmen loyalty

Most of the “Hard 20” – a group of conservative freshman Republicans – stuck with Mays to the bitter end. Sixteen of the 20, with one absent, voted against the school funding plan that the House approved, and 19 of 20, with one absent, voted for the constitutional amendment that failed.

No advice

An idea was floated during the special session to postpone consideration of a constitutional amendment and instead have a commission study proposed changes and make recommendations to the 2006 Legislature.

House Republicans didn’t like the idea.

Rep. Donald Dahl, R-Hillsboro, called it “asinine.” He said the commission would be packed with “Democratic trial lawyers.”

Rep. Judy Morrison, R-Shawnee, said she didn’t trust constitutional scholars who had testified earlier to the Legislature because they “came out of liberal institutions.”

The scholars who testified included law professors from Kansas University and Washburn University.

Conservatives run over

The early analysis was that conservative Republicans, led by Mays and Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, made the most noise during the special legislative session, but in the end were run over by a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats.

Mays was on the losing side of the two biggest votes in the session, voting against a funding increase to schools, and voting for a failed amendment that would have prevented the courts from shutting down schools as part of a remedy in school finance litigation.

Kline sought a time extension for the Legislature from the Kansas Supreme Court, which was soundly rejected. He then helped the conservative members of the State Board of Education approve a bookkeeping plan that he said would ensure schools get their state dollars – even if the court tried to shut off funding to enforce its order that the state run a constitutional school system.

Some said Kline’s actions were just short of telling state officials to disobey the court, while others said the plan was not what Kline purported it to be.

But conservatives weren’t licking their wounds. In 2004, conservatives were rebuffed when a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage failed to get out of the Legislature. During the next election cycle, a number of new conservative Republicans were elected into the Legislature on that issue. In 2005, the more conservative Legislature quickly approved the amendment, and voters followed suit in April.