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Next election right around the corner

As of tonight, the election is over, and we don't have to look at and hear any more campaign commercials -- it's back to life as nearly as normal as we like to live it.

But, for us Statehouse habitués who probably aren't quite normal, the next election is less than a month away. What? Yes, less than a month, but the campaigning here won't jarringly interrupt "Dancing with the Stars."

It's the election on Dec. 3 for leadership offices of the Kansas House and Senate, and the campaigning will be just among the newly elected or re-elected members of those chambers. It's the election where the president of the Senate and the Speaker of the House are decided, and majority leaders of each chamber are identified, and just a dab downstream from those elections, we'll learn what committees each chamber will have and who will run them.

Count on a lot of quiet campaigning here mostly among the Republican caucus members of each chamber. Democrats? If their current leaders are re-elected, don't look for much change. But the current Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, was defeated in the GOP primary election and won't have a desk in the Statehouse anymore, and Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, didn't seek re-election, now is chief of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, and probably will roam the Statehouse halls, but won't have a desk, either.

Now, why should anyone with a regular life care about those leadership elections and eventual committee leadership and membership? It's because the speaker and president, in conjunction with their respective majority leaders, generally decide what bills are considered, which ones make it out of committees and to the floor of each chamber -- or at least the debate calendar of each chamber.

That means the leadership races will determine to a large degree just what the Legislature does or doesn't do and to what or whom.

It's possible for, say, a bill to be introduced in one chamber, pass, and never get a second look across the rotunda. That happened under the, uh, previous Senate leadership with abortion bills, with union regulation bills and with a measure sought by Gov. Sam Brownback that would let him, not the Judicial Selection Commission, decide who might become an appeals court judge.

Now, it's going to be more conservative on both sides of the Statehouse, the House and Senate for the next two, maybe four years.

But that's a danger for Republicans, and a test for those elected to the new leadership posts. Those new leaders are going to have to at least appear to foster robust debate on bills -- either in committees, or on the House and Senate floors -- that they know will or won't pass, and maintain the illusion of open discussion and consideration of a broad range of issues.

Done right, and they'll get their way, and Kansans will have at least the appearance of a Legislature that considers issues impartially, the way most people think a Legislature ought to perform. Done wrong, and it's just leadership domination of the legislative process that can appear, let's say, unseemly.

That's the new election coming up. And its result will determine whether Kansans care to drive their new Fords to Topeka to see it work.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.