If Kansas legislators could convene in Fort Riley 50 years ago to commemorate the state’s 100th birthday, it seems they should be able to figure out a way to come to Lecompton this year to mark the state’s 150th.
Granted, it was a different time, as implied by the comments of a former Larned legislator, who now lives in Lawrence. “I think we just went ahead and did it,” Glee Smith, a local attorney, told the Journal-World.
Lecompton’s historical boosters started the drive several months ago to have the Legislature meet at two historical sites in the former territorial capital. They rightly argue that such a meeting would be a fitting tribute to the state’s birth. The constitution that would have brought Kansas into the Union as a slave state was written in Lecompton and triggered a national argument that split the Democratic Party and cleared the way for the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860. The Lecompton constitution truly set the nation on the path to abolish slavery.
Now, however, there’s another constitutional question at stake. Legislative leaders had expressed reservations about meeting in Lecompton and now say the Kansas Constitution prohibits such a session because it says the Legislature can only meet in the state capital.
We don’t want legislators to violate the state constitution, but there must be a way to work this out. Perhaps a ceremonial session could be held to highlight Lecompton’s important role in history.
After legislators met in Fort Riley in 1961, Smith said, they all went out to dinner in Manhattan and then to the KU-K-State basketball game. The 1961 event seems to reflect a level of collegiality that may not exist in the current Legislature. In addition to commemorating the state’s birth, a field trip to Lecompton might be a nice way for legislators to interact and maybe even enjoy themselves a little bit outside of the Capitol’s formal setting.
By happy coincidence KU will host K-State at Allen Fieldhouse on the state’s actual 150th birthday, Jan. 29. How many tickets could Kansas Athletics come up with for legislators to attend the game?
Kansas is facing some tough issues today, but it’s good to remember that the state has faced turmoil before. A trip to Lecompton might help put the issues on the Legislature’s agenda today in perspective.