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D.C. politics come to roost in Kansas

Published on -5/13/2012, 2:54 PM

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According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of reckless is "marked by lack of proper caution: careless of consequences." Synonyms include irresponsible, kamikaze and foolhardy.

It's now official, reckless is among the many ways to describe the actions of politicians at this year's legislative session. House Republicans, led by Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, passed the Senate's tax cut package that would leave an estimated $2 billion hole in the state's budget by 2017.

In case you don't remember, back in late March, the Senate had voted down this tax cut package (20-20), but at the behest of the governor's office, came back later that day to pass it. This legislative maneuver enabled a conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate's tax cut proposals. On Wednesday, in the middle of the Senate's debate on the compromise House-Senate conference committee report, (a bill that would leave a smaller hole in the state's budget), O'Neal and Governor Sam Brownback decided to push for passage the Senate's original tax cut bill passed in March, which the speaker's conservative House Republicans allies quickly did.

Brownback now has promised to sign this larger tax cut measure, effectively stabbing Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, in the back. This is a classic tit-for-tat reprisal. Brownback and O'Neal feel Morris did not fulfill his promise to redraw three state Senate district boundaries to include announced conservative challengers to incumbent moderate Republican senators.

It's now time for everyone to take a chill pill. This is not a game. A $2 billion budgetary hole can only be filled by cutting almost every state agency and program, including highways, the state highway patrol, the KBI, state prisons, health care programs and -- the largest budget item -- education. This is on top of the last four years of budget cuts.

Now, I could go on to discuss the impact of these budget cuts, but let me instead propose a compromise for salvaging this legislative session and breaking the logjam.

First, Morris will shelve his state Senate map that gerrymanders conservative challengers out of the districts of his moderate Republican allies. Although one can certainly understand his frustration with the governor and speaker, who are openly plotting his political demise, his Senate map is egregiously gerrymandered and thus from the standpoint of democratic representation, seriously flawed.

Second, Brownback and O'Neal will use their influence to call off the conservative groups planning to pour thousands of dollars into Republican senatorial primary contests this summer.

There is nothing wrong with a fair political fight, where candidates with different ideas of the role of government present their cases to Republican primary voters.

However, with hundreds of thousands of dollars waiting to be spent by the governor's conservative allies, it turns these primary contests into unfair political battles, where the ideas from the most conservative side of this debate drowning out the right of center point of view. These are Washington, D.C., political warfare tactics come to roost in Kansas. Let there be a true battle of ideas and then let the Republican primary voters decide.

I realize that my prescription will fall of deaf ears. The governor and speaker are convinced that pointing this loaded political gun at the Senate president will make him and his Senate colleagues succumb to their wishes. However, playing this type of game with so much on the line represents a form of political gamesmanship this state has never seen.

This is also Washington, D.C., politics come to roost in Kansas. This is a political development that is bad for all of us.

Joseph A. Aistrup is a professor of political science at Kansas State University.

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