Topeka Calling her an "elitist" and a "big-government liberal," the state school board's chairman on Friday criticized Gov. Kathleen Sebelius over her proposal to strip the board of its power to set education policy.
Steve Abrams, an Arkansas City Republican who is part of the Kansas State Board of Education's conservative majority, took the Democratic governor to task for suggesting that its adoption last year of science standards seen as anti-evolution had damaged Kansas' economic development efforts.
Abrams also attacked Sebelius for saying that the state has to deal with negative publicity created by the board, just as it does with the anti-gay picketing of the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. and his followers.
"The governor owes the Kansas State Board of Education as well as the citizens of the state of Kansas an apology," Abrams said in a statement sent by e-mail to news organizations across the state. "Personal insults from this liberal governor are the only arguments she can make due to the lack of her own accomplishments."
"I expect a big-government liberal like our governor to oppose conservative politics. But to infer that the State Board of Education is responsible for the lack of economic development in Kansas is laughable," he added.
Sebelius is seeking a second term this year and has proposed to push for a state constitutional amendment to make the 10-member board elected but advisory. She wants to have the governor appoint a secretary to run the Department of Education, rather than have the board appoint a commissioner.
The current setup is the product of a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1966. Voters have rejected proposals to strip the board of its power or allow it to be eliminated in 1974, 1986 and 1990.
GOP gubernatorial challenger Sen. Jim Barnett, of Emporia, has said he opposes Sebelius' proposal, arguing that the current setup makes the board accountable to voters.
Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said having a discussion about the issue "is exactly how good government is supposed to work."
"Unfortunately, the chairman of the State Board of Education doesn't seem to realize the connection between good schools and a strong economy, which kind of proves the governor's point," Corcoran said.
Echoing criticism from Barnett, Abrams described Sebelius' proposal as "an unadulterated power grab from the voters by an elitist."
"But that is typical for an elitist, thinking they know better than the voters," Abrams said. "The governor has yet to talk about her vision for Kansas; she apparently prefers innuendo, name calling, deflection of responsibility and an attempt for a power grab."