The Kansas Bioscience Authority is one of Kansas’ finest assets, and partisan politics should not be allowed to handicap or limit its potential.
The KBA was established in 2004 as a nonpartisan body. Former state Sen. Nick Jordan and former state Rep. Kenny Wilk were the principal architects of this unique and visionary legislation.
It has provided millions of dollars to help attract new industry to the state, help existing industry expand, attract “all-star” faculty to state universities, help fund projects such as the incubator laboratory on Kansas University’s West Campus, advance the KU Medical Center’s effort to gain National Cancer Center designation and aid many other projects.
It started as a nonpolitical operation with excellent results, but it wasn’t long before politically minded individuals in Topeka realized the KBA could be a tremendously powerful program and play a major direct or indirect role in state political matters and personal aspirations.
Appointments to the board are made by the governor, the Senate president and minority leader, the House speaker and minority leader and the secretary of commerce.
Political influence of the board began to grow under the Sebelius-Parkinson governorship, with the assistance of former KBA president and CEO Tom Thornton. Sebelius took control of the KBA. Eventually there were sufficient questions about the group that a Senate committee held meetings and questioned Thornton’s leadership. Johnson County officials also launched an investigation.
KBA officials were strong in their defense of Thornton, claiming he had their full support and that neither he nor the KBA had done anything wrong. However, Thornton resigned suddenly, and a forensic audit raised numerous questions about how KBA funds had been spent. The results of the Johnson County investigation have yet to be made public.
This is all history, but it points out the importance of the KBA being operated in a manner that merits the respect of Kansas taxpayers and legislators. It should be squeaky clean and transparent in its operation. This was not the case with Sebelius and, to a lesser degree, with Parkinson.
Within the past several weeks, Gov. Sam Brownback made two KBA appointments: Lee Brock of Manhattan, who replaces former Gov. John Carlin, and Dale Rodman, the current Kansas secretary of agriculture, who replaces Sandra Lawrence of Kansas City. It’s likely both men are Republicans.
These appointments have triggered questions or complaints from Democrats. Sen. Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, Topeka, called the Rodman appointment “disturbing” and added, “I certainly believe he comes with a less-than-objective perspective. In reality, when I look back at the controversy surrounding the KBA, I always viewed Mr. Rodman as being the governor’s hatchet man.”
This brings to mind the saying about the pot calling the kettle black.
It’s uncertain whether any Republican legislators raised such questions or charges concerning Sebelius’ power plays to take control of the KBA.
Unfortunately, what started in 2004 as a nonpartisan agency with almost unlimited possibilities to benefit the state now appears to have become a highly prized political football being tossed around with millions of taxpayer dollars.
One hopes — and maybe this is almost too much to hope for — all those who make appointments to the KBA board will do so with one goal in mind: to appoint the best qualified individuals to each of the nine positions regardless of political affiliation.