Opinion: Thank these exceptional lawmakers
Democracy can be a thankless venture. When eligible citizens place their name on a ballot and ask neighbors for their vote, they invite scrutiny and accept the verdict at the ballot box.
In advance of the upcoming legislative session, please join me in publicly thanking a small group of departing state lawmakers who cast crucial votes in restoring sanity to state finance, yet in seeking re-election suffered the sting of defeat for doing what was right.
Thanks goes to 12 public-spirited members of the Kansas House of Representatives: Steve Becker, of Buhler; Steven Crum, of Haysville; Linda Gallagher, of Lenexa; Mary Martha Good, of El Dorado; Anita Judd-Jenkins, of Arkansas City; Joy Koesten, of Leawood; Adam Lusker, of Frontenac; Patty Markley, of Overland Park; Eber Phelps, of Hays; Melissa Rooker, of Fairway; Don Schroeder, of Hesston; and Ed Trimmer, of Winfield.
In 2016 this dedicated group of Kansans saw their beloved state descending deep into financial chaos, placed their names on the ballot and campaigned to rectify that mess. Then in 2017, as elected lawmakers, they joined with others to restore their state on a steadier financial course. They sought to return to the Statehouse and finish their work but were turned away at the ballot box — in part for their courageous action on state finance.
Recall briefly what these lawmakers confronted in 2017: five years of unbalanced budgets and deficit spending; total depletion of state fund balances; two unfair state sales tax increases; record levels of state debt; long-term debt proceeds diverted to pay for current expenses; and state services in disrepair.
They voted to abandon the flawed, reckless Sam Brownback tax experiment begun in 2012. Then, in the most decisive single vote of the decade, they joined in overriding the governor’s veto of tax increases that reversed his failed policies. A majority of both political parties came together to support the override. However, without the votes of these 12 lawmakers, Kansas might still be floundering in the financial abyss resulting from this sad episode in state tax policy.
Remember also that the experiment was cheered on by the Kansas State Chamber and its dark money ally, Americans for Prosperity. A faction of right-wing Republican legislators carried their water. A handful of deep pockets in Kansas underwrote the scheme and gleefully watched as state finance veered into the ditch. Public confidence in state government declined. Public trust in schools began to wane. And the safety net for vulnerable Kansans started to unravel.
To secure and later save their favored tax treatment the State Chamber and its allies repeatedly targeted candidates who defied them and spent millions in doing so. Their beguiling campaign barrage of slick postcards and media ads smeared candidates through deception, innuendo and scurrilous charges and succeeded in defeating a number of the exemplary dozen in recent elections.
While these lawmakers will not be returning to the Statehouse in January, Kansans should be pleased that 63 members of the Kansas House who supported that critical override vote will be returning. They will be joined by a number of newly elected House members aligned with them. And most importantly, they will be guided by Gov.-elect Laura Kelly, one of their own who has pledged a bipartisan path forward in restoring good government.
The legacy of this exceptional dozen will live on. They were critical in rising above the brash partisanship of recent years, re-centering Kansas politics and securing a momentous reversal in public policy that will serve Kansas well for years to come. Their profiles in courage merit the commendation of Kansans.
— H. Edward Flentje is professor emeritus at Wichita State University and served with Kansas Govs. Robert Bennett and Mike Hayden.