Dust-up hardly inspires trust

By Walt Braun

We don’t know whether Kansas State Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, lied to or tried to deceive Republican House members earlier this session. He says he didn’t, and at least 26 say he did.

Given the tendency of so many legislators to spin a topic until it’s all but unrecognizable, we can’t know for certain. What we do know, or can at least infer, from this very partisan dust-up is that not all legislators know enough about what they’re voting on to cast informed votes.

That’s embarrassing, and it’s a factor in the allegation that about a month ago, Rep. Ward tried to trick Republicans into supporting an amendment to cut property taxes by $90 million. The GOP-dominated House initially approved the bill with his amendment, and later rejected it after learning that his amendment would have replaced provisions they support.

We weren’t in the House chambers on either occasion, but suffice it to say that 26 House Republicans were angry enough to lodge a formal complaint alleging that Rep. Ward deliberately misled them “by stating that his amendment did not change” the bill in question.

Such complaints are serious business; Republicans wanted the House to consider censuring or even expelling Rep. Ward.

But such complaints also are laughable. For instance, we cannot think of an amendment to anything that doesn’t make some change in what existed before. Of course Rep. Ward’s two-page amendment would have changed the bill; it was up to them to approve or reject the change.

The Republicans most bent out of shape only had to read Rep. Ward’s proposed amendment to know what it said. And if they didn’t want to read it — on paper or online — they could have had the clerk of the House read it to them.

Fortunately for all involved, a bipartisan House panel looking into the complaint agreed unanimously on Thursday to dismiss it. Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican, said the issues didn’t rise to the level of censure and joined others on the committee in saying they don’t want to conduct investigations whenever someone thinks a fellow legislator doesn’t adequately explain a bill or an amendment.

Curiously, none of the 26 Republicans who signed the complaint against Rep. Ward addressed the panel. That’s unfortunate.

One is left wondering whether their complaint was a way to remind Rep. Ward and Democrats who’s in charge. The entire episode leaves one wondering how much trust exists in an institution that needs it to operate.

We’d like to think that the next time Rep. Ward proposes an amendment, he won’t leave any room for doubt about what it contains. And we’d like to believe that lawmakers will go beyond any colleagues’ sales pitches and read proposals before voting on them. At least then they might be able to disagree agreeably.

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