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SPOTLIGHT
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Checks, balances

Published on -9/16/2012, 1:43 PM

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Having three distinct and equal branches of government is a hallmark of the American political experience. Clearly defined in the U.S. Constitution, the form allows for checks and balances amongst various factions. In the context of this nation's throwing off the yoke of British imperialism, the system was designed to ensure one despot could not control all facets of its citizens' lives.

Individual states followed suit in creating their own constitutions. Kansas is no exception -- at least on paper.

In practical terms, however, a power grab is under way that might well subvert all checks and balances in place since the Sunflower State was admitted to the union.

It began with Gov. Sam Brownback's election in 2010. In and of itself, no big deal. After six years of Democrat Kathleen Sebelius and another two with Republican-turned-Democrat Mark Parkinson, voters in this red state were ready to try another Republican.

But this was no run-of-the-mill member of the GOP. Fourteen years as a member of Congress allowed him not only to learn the ways of both Washington politics and The Fellowship's religious conservatism.

Not even two years into his tenure at Cedar Crest, the governor has had great success pushing through his dogmatic vision. Frustrated by being stymied on certain issues, Brownback set about pushing the moderate wing of the party out of office. The recent primary election found Brownback aiding the campaigns of fellow conservatives. The scope of his participation was without precedent in recent memory -- and extremely effective. Barring an unlikely miracle such as a bunch of Democrats winning in November or the defeated moderates mounting successful write-in campaigns, conservatives will have a veto-proof super majority of both the Senate and House in Topeka.

Not satisfied with merely two branches of government, conservatives challenged the method in which appellate justices were selected to the court. Tired of activist liberal judges who kept getting appointed by a panel of attorneys who actually are aware of the judges' qualifications, conservatives are attempting to empanel their own activist judges via the governor's office and subject to legislative confirmation. Claiming the current system does provide equal protection rights, conservatives filed a legal challenge.

Last week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the lawsuit. The bench ruled the merit-based selection process allows Kansas to have quality nominees and limits the influence of politics. Attorneys are "better equipped than non-attorneys to evaluate the temperament and legal acumen of judicial candidates," not merely their party affiliation or perceived stance on an issue. Additionally, judges are subjected to statewide elections or retainment votes.

Don't expect Gov. Brownback to accept this rebuff. We wouldn't anticipate an appeal to the Supreme Court, however. What we foresee is the Legislature voting in a new judicial selection process as early as next session. With no credible opposition in place, such legislation might be the first item to hit the governor's desk for a signature.

And sign he will, completing the political trifecta -- and ending 150 years of the apparently bothersome checks and balances of legitimate government.

Only the people of Kansas can prevent such grand manipulation from taking place. We allowed the Legislature to become an extension of the executive branch. Will we stand by and allow the judiciary to suffer the same?

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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