Views from Kansas: Rigid pledges are pointless
Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.
Politicians hoping to win over voters make promises on the campaign trail.
Some go even further by signing pledges pursued by special-interest groups determined to secure commitments on certain policy positions.
Seeking as much recently in the run-up to this year’s legislative session was the so-called Kansas Truth Caucus, an organization for ultraconservative lawmakers that called on prospective GOP leaders in the Kansas House to “use every resource available” to “block passage of and oppose Medicaid Expansion” — even though most Kansans polled want the change to keep rural hospitals open and provide health coverage to some 150,000 working poor residents.
Vowing to block Medicaid expansion at all costs is no way to begin a legislative session, but the request wasn’t a surprise considering ultraconservatives’ reputation for punishing fellow Republicans who would dare question their leadership and agenda.
The “truth caucus” also called on House leaders to pledge their support for a constitutional amendment to rein in judicial branch involvement in determining the legality of state funding for K-12 public schools.
Instead of targeting checks and balances in government, the Legislature has a better way to end ongoing litigation over school funding: meet requirements of the Kansas Constitution. After years of ultraconservative-driven shortchanging of public schools, last year’s attempt to achieve lawful funding with about $522 million more over the next five years came close, as lawmakers only must adjust the plan for inflation to pass muster. Far-right lawmakers, however, would prefer cuts to public education and more taxpayer support for private education options.
That said, state lawmakers have every right to defend their agenda. All viewpoints should be aired and considered.
But signed pledges show disregard for public discussion and due deliberation. Those who sign them also stand to look foolish if they do an about-face, which happened in 2015 after numerous GOP legislators who signed a “no-tax” pledge went on to support a massive tax increase (mostly sales taxes) in an attempt to fill budget holes and protect deep income-tax cuts sought by then-Gov. Sam Brownback.
Intolerance of other viewpoints helped fuel that run of fiscal irresponsibility. Signed pledges encourage the same intolerance and thoughtless rubber-stamping of proposed legislation.
Kansans deserve better. Pledges calling for uncompromising rigidity do nothing to improve the process.
— Originally published in The Topeka Capital-Journal