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SPOTLIGHT
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Searching for sparks amid the barn-burner

Published on -1/1/2013, 12:28 PM

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We're about to start the most interesting legislative session in recent memory -- which means about 36 years for this reporter -- and it's going to be a barn-burner.

And, for the first time in a handful of years, the session will begin with all lawmakers housed in the still-being-restored Statehouse with the all-important social, political and scheming location. It's the Rail, that bronze fence around the third floor atrium with a wide and elbow-height topper where much of the Legislature's business is thought out and discussed by legislators, lobbyists, administration officials and the public.

A key to the Rail is that it is between the House and Senate chambers -- on the third floor -- which makes it the center of the entire legislative arena. The recently reopened Rail was closed off for several years due to the renovations.

That's where we are going to be spending hours, watching who's talking to whom, sampling ideas that the new kids -- nearly one-third of the 165 lawmakers are brand-new to the Legislature -- have brought to Topeka, either on behalf of their constituents or on behalf of the people who helped finance their campaigns for election.

This session, conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, as a result of the 2012 elections, finally got a Senate in which a majority of a quorum of members actually will smile back at him, and a still socially/fiscally conservative House that for the past six years has passed bills that languished in the formerly politically moderate Senate.

Now, there is of course hard news coming out of the Legislature, and it is based on bills, committee discussions and eventually votes in either chamber. That's what Hawver's Capitol Report watches for subscribers to its news service focusing on Kansas government and politics.

But the Rail is where just-less-than news happens, and that just-less-than-news is what often determines what eventually becomes news. It's the melting pot of ideas. And this session, it's going to be that melting pot that produces the drift of your Kansas Legislature.

It's a social/political nexus that gives the background that doesn't always make news, but which gives you the insiders' view of just what lawmakers are talking about when they don't get quoted by name, when they are testing out their political pick-up lines, or finding out what will and what just won't work. Hawver's Capitol Report watches that subtle near-news at the Rail for its subscribers and in the weekly At the Rail column for newspaper readers who don't spend their lives watching the Statehouse but want to know what's behind the news and where it is likely to go.

Because the upcoming session is sure to be the most interesting in decades, with many of the same old issues plus new issues that will be considered by a Legislature with more new and conservative faces, it's going to be a barn-burner.

We'll tell you what started the fire.

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.

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