08/04/2016

Kansas eyes political sea change

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Have Kansans pulled the plug on Gov. Sam Brownback's backward agenda? That question is rising to national attention after voters in the state's Aug. 2 primaries jettisoned state Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, along with at least 10 other ultra-right legislators closely allied with Brownback, in contests that were widely seen as a referendum on education funding and the state's priorities.

Pressured by a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found state aid to public education to be so woefully inadequate that it ran afoul of state constitutional protections, Kansas lawmakers adopted legislation to raise school funding. But they also used the fight to introduce changes to state education policy—changes that "will undermine public schools across Kansas and silence teachers' voices to advocate for students," American Federation of Teachers-Kansas President Lisa Ochs warned. Since then, ultraconservative lawmakers aligned with Brownback's agenda have broadened the due process attack to the entire public sector.

After the court ruling, "the Legislature and Gov. Brownback had a chance to come together and really help Kansas," Ochs says. "Instead, the radicals in the legislative majority have used this opportunity to launch new attacks. … With little explanation, and truncated debate, the radicals rammed through a provision that eliminates due process requirements that protect teachers from arbitrary firings, protections that have been standard since the 1950s." And lawmakers doubled down on the assault—scrubbing due process rights for most state employees by eliminating their civil service protections.

Faced with this type of fringe governance, "Kansans are losing faith in elected leaders—the politicians who conduct the public's business in the dead of night with no public input and make policy decisions with little regard for the consequences," Ochs observes.

The Aug. 2 primary reinforces that view. Across the state, moderates swept to victory in what the Kansas City Star called "a stunning rebuke to Gov. Sam Brownback"—one that moves "GOP moderates and Democrats tantalizingly close to effective control of the state's legislative agenda next year."

[Affiliate, staff and media reports]