Views from Kansas: Susan Wagle’s immoral stand

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Only Susan Wagle, president of the Kansas Senate, could make her fellow Republican Jim Denning look like Winston Churchill. What’s she done now, you ask?

Publicly threatened the majority leader’s job for working with the Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, that’s what. On legislation that has wide support from Kansans of all political stripes.

Of course, we speak of much-needed, inexcusably blocked Medicaid expansion, which Denning single-handedly killed last year but promised to pass this year. His reelection probably depends on it at this point — and that’s his Democratic rival state Rep. Cindy Holscher’s top issue. But it’s still to Denning’s credit that he’s pushing his expansion deal with Kelly, rather than only trying to look like he’s pushing it.

At a recent joint appearance with Denning, Kelly said, “We all know we have an issue with the Senate president, who is tying this issue to the constitutional amendment” on abortion “and not allowing debate on either this issue or any other health care issues right now. Talk about an immoral thing to do — that is one of them, because the lives of the people of Kansas are really on the line here.” All true.

And beyond the legislation itself, the idea that working across the aisle might be a firing offense sets a new standard for cynicism. Aren’t politicians in both parties always saying that people want their elected representatives to work together?

Wagle does get points for candor, though, in saying right out in the open that her problem with Denning’s bipartisanship is that it might hurt their party electorally: How dare he do something that would save some Kansans’ lives but hurt her U.S. Senate run?

She said Denning is “carrying the governor’s water” and as a result is putting Republicans in a “very bad situation.”

“It puts us all in a bind when you’re carrying the governor’s bill,” which she says most Republican lawmakers oppose.

The House passed expansion last year, and 22 senators are co-sponsors of the Kelly-Denning compromise — one more than the 21 needed to pass a bill.

The expansion would provide coverage to as many as 150,000 more low-income Kansans. Polling has shown that almost 7 in 10 Kansans support the expansion, 69% versus the 30% who oppose it. And these are not socialists, Sen. Wagle. Kansas is a Republican state, remember?

She made it sound like these constituents aren’t people who desperately need health insurance — or who need their public servants to live up to that designation. In her telling, these are people she and her party need to show up for them rather than the other way around.

Wagle has promised that expansion won’t happen unless and until an amendment that says the state constitution doesn’t guarantee a right to an abortion — and that could pave the way for an abortion ban in Kansas — is passed in the Legislature.

“Our biggest voting bloc in a primary is the pro-life community, and we cannot be asked to step on that community and get reelected,” she told Denning. “So you’re putting us in a very difficult spot. Very, very difficult.”

Beyond the question of why it’s ever pro-life to deny anyone greater access to health care, it’s Wagle herself who is putting her party in a bad place.

— Originally published in The Kansas City Star


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