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Avoiding legislative ‘dysfunction’

Little will slow conservatives’ agenda

By The Mercury

Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ray Merrick, seasoned and well respected conservative legislators, are determined to avoid what they see as the “dysfunction” of the past two years, according to the Associated Press.

That shouldn’t be difficult.

That “dysfunction”  involved multiple clashes between the House, controlled by conservative Republicans, and the Senate, which was led by moderate Republicans who on some key issues parted with conservative Republicans and joined with Senate Democrats.

That “dysfunction” was most evident in the redistricting debate. However, in that episode — an impasse that resulted in a federal court setting district boundaries — conservative Republicans were as culpable as moderate Republicans. The “dysfunction” that Sen. Wagle and Rep. Merrick want to avoid otherwise may have slowed the conservatives’ agenda the past two years, but hardly derailed it. That “dysfunction” reflected the Legislature’s diversity, which in our view, is an important ingredient of governance. It fosters debate and improves legislation.

That diversity is, if not absent, then severely diminished this session because conservative Republicans, aligned with Gov. Sam Brownback, the conservative organization Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, all but eliminated moderate Republicans from the state Senate.

As a result, the overwhelming majorities in both houses — 32-8 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House of Representatives — are more than simply Republican majorities; they’re philosophically, almost ideologically conservative majorities potent enough to quash anything resembling “dysfunction.” Suffice it to say legislative Republicans won’t need to pay much attention to Democrats.

Whether this is good for Kansas is another matter. Certainly, improved relations between the Senate and the House, which appear certain because Sen. Wagle and Rep. Merritt see eye-to-eye on most issues — and with Gov. Brownback. Legislation will likely move more quickly than might otherwise be the case. 

That probably will please Kansans who seek tax cuts beyond those approved in 2012. Kansas workers who’ve already received paychecks in 2013 might have noticed that the state withheld less income tax — even if the good it does amounts to softening the blow of the expiration of the Social Security payroll tax holiday.

But Kansans who are concerned that conservative zeal for lower taxes and smaller government will further erode the delivery of important programs and services and add to the woes of vulnerable citizens could have reason to be alarmed. Already, advocates for poor Kansans note that the governor’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law could leave more than 100,000 Kansans uninsured.

Similarly concerned are Kansans who object to the conservatives’ attempt to politicize the selection of appellate judges under the banner of judicial reform.

This session, the Kansas Legislature could benefit from a little healthy “dysfunction.” It could keep conservatives from indulging in the sorts of excesses that too often result from overwhelming power.

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