Topeka — When someone in the Legislature says, "There goes Lawrence again," Barbara Ballard doesn't back down.
"We are proud of the fact that we support the rights of all people," said Ballard, a Democratic legislator from Lawrence.
It's no secret that Lawrence, the seat of Douglas County, marches to the beat of a different political drummer compared with the rest of Kansas.
Lawrence has been described as an island of Democratic blue in a sea of Republican red. Unlike most of Kansas, Lawrence repeatedly supports Democratic presidential candidates and was the only Kansas county in 2005 that voted against a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
So, often during the legislative session, something that Lawrence has done, or plans to do, gets targeted by Kansas lawmakers.
This year, Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, has filed legislation to prohibit Lawrence's proposed domestic partnership registry. And business lobbyists are urging lawmakers to pre-empt Lawrence and other cities from setting a local minimum wage that is higher than the federal one.
In 2005, some lawmakers tried to advance a bill prohibiting "living wage" ordinances in response to one adopted in Lawrence, which applied only to employees working for companies that received city tax breaks.
"We all know that Marxism is alive and well only in academia," state Rep. Mike Kiegerl, a Republican from Olathe, mused during that debate - and he was taking Lawrence's side.
In addition, Kansas University - the city's biggest economic engine - frequently is under legislative scrutiny from conservatives for its budget and public policy, ranging from embryonic stem cell research to sex education.
Politics and coal power
Ballard and other Lawrence officials say the legislative battles go with the territory.
"Obviously when you are different than the masses, you are going to be singled out," she said.
City Commissioner David Schauner said, "I think that Lawrence is a leader on a lot of fronts, and sometimes the more conservative Legislature is resistant."
Anti-Lawrence sentiment was ratcheted up a notch late last year when Lawrence city commissioners wrote a letter opposing a proposed coal-burning power plant in western Kansas.
Many in western Kansas resented what they said was Lawrence sticking its nose in the business of another region.
Environmentalists and others said Lawrence and the rest of the state would have to live with the ill effects of the plant for generations.
But the political reality is that the Legislature is run by lawmakers from western Kansas: Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, and even House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney of Greensburg.
Ballard said Lawrence's House delegation didn't criticize the coal power plant, and that she would appreciate the same hands-off consideration from other lawmakers when it comes to Lawrence.
"We don't come to your city," she said. "It's a local control issue."
Local control was on the front burner during a hearing last week on a bill that would prohibit cities from enacting domestic partnership registries, like the one under consideration in Lawrence.
Kinzer pushed the ban, saying that in part, the registry is part of a strategy by gays and lesbians to win through courts some legal rights that they can't win through the political process.
But Maggie Childs, chairwoman of the Kansas Equality Coalition of Lawrence-Douglas County, said the registry is the result of political wins because a majority of the Lawrence City Commission supports the registry.
"They are our elected representatives, and any attempt by lawmakers from other cities to ban the registry makes a mockery of our constitutional right to home rule, and of our right to elect people who represent us," she said.