My Trip to the Big House

The Big House I’m talking about is the State House and my last official trip was 25 years ago. My, how times have changed. As I read the current blogs, news stories and twitter feeds it is as if this Kansas Legislative session is something from a different planet. At least not from the planet I live on. Let me explain.

I’m about to sound like a grumpy old man, but I can’t help it. There has always been political division in the Kansas Legislature and 25 years ago there was plenty of healthy disagreement. I can recall many times walking out the door of a committee hearing shaking my head and feeling disappointed by the testimony or the vote. Rarely, did I ever leave that building shaking my head with enough force to give myself a concussion. I am afraid if I attended committee hearings this session my head would completely snap off.

I don’t mind “healthy” disagreement in the pursuit of actions to benefit the people of Kansas. Back then, same as today, there were Republicans and Democrats, and conservatives and liberals. But there were also a lot of moderates, of both parties, who often worked in concert across the aisle to develop good policy. I would be naïve to think that deals weren’t made in the backroom or strategies formulated to sneak legislation around the rules. Making sausage is messy and not for the squeamish. Mostly what I saw and heard was public policy taking place in plain sight, and elected officials being accountable to their constituents, not narrow special interests. I am sure the process didn’t always work this way and even though I might have disagreed with the results, I respected the process.

Back then, on occasion, I actually wrote and presented testimony before Legislative committees. As an introvert, I hated doing it, because it took me way outside my comfort zone. I’m not sure I could it today, or would want to. As a younger punk, I respected the legislative process and all elected officials, and even those I disagreed with. Not so now. What I have read about and heard others report over the past few months turns my stomach. Never would I have imagined legislation being written in secret, without hearings, pushed out to their respective bodies without benefit of debate, major issues being debated and amended in the wee hours of the morning, and such utter disrespect shown for constituents. Don’t forget, these are also voters.

Never have I seen an elected body defy the authority of the federal government while working to strip the rights from cities and counties. Apparently, this body of legislators has a monopoly on wisdom, certainly more than local elected officials, judges, school boards and even voters. This wisdom was repeatedly used to make policy to “fix” things that aren’t broken. I’m amazed at how a group of people who hate government as much as they do, so gleefully use legislative authority to push personal agendas and call it public policy. And I’ve never heard a group espouse the evil of government action while using the tools of the legislature to invade personal freedoms.

I admit, as recently as last year I made a trip to Topeka and sat in the House gallery, but it wasn’t for a legislative matter. The event was the graduation of a group of public servants who had spent a year learning and sharpening their leadership skills to be used in their respective local, state and federal agencies. Little did I suspect what would happen in this same chamber a few months later. The differences are striking. This will be hopefully my only political commentary but I make no promises. If this sounded like a rant, I apologize. This is not “rants r us.”

By the way, the State House is quite beautiful after the lengthy and costly renovation. Someday I might go back to see it again. Then again, probably not.

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