With the elections over and the Legislature ready to start up on Jan. 14, we’re about to enter what has become a popular issue for the news media — transparency.
It’s the concept, not all bad, of course, that everything that happens in the Statehouse — and even the process of sending people to the Statehouse — should be available to the public, generally over the Internet.
There are likely dozens, maybe hundreds, possibly thousands of Kansans who wonder what really goes on in the Legislature: Who introduced what bills, who voted for or against them in committees, even who voted on amendments to those bills in committees.
And the latest issue aborning is how legislators who quit, die, move, or maybe move up from the House to the Senate, or from the Senate to statewide office, are replaced so their constituents are represented.
This year, the replacement cycle has started. Three senators were elected to higher offices at the mid-point of their four-year terms, and they will be replaced so that their constituents are represented in the Senate. Those selections are made at conventions of their party’s precinct leaders where fill-in candidates are elected and serve out the remainder of the predecessor’s term.
That replacement procedure has drawn some criticism from the press and political activists who don’t much care for a handful of political party officials choosing new legislators.
They’re right. Everyone would like a voice in electing those fill-in candidates, but practically, do they want a new election to fill that vacant seat? And if, say, Democrats (plus some independents and likely even some Republicans) voted a Democrat into office, should everyone be able to vote again on a part-term replacement? Hard to say. How often do you think residents of a House or Senate district want to vote on who will represent them?
Oh, and at least one of those Senate seats being resigned formerly was warmed by Gov.-elect Laura Kelly, D-Topeka. State Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka, was chosen by his district’s Democratic precinct committeemen and committeewomen to replace Kelly. And, yes, there’s going to be another of those one-party leadership conventions at which a successor to Miller is going to be elected by the Democratic precinct leaders in his House district.
Anyone can attend those conventions, but only Democrat precinct committee officials were able to vote on Miller and will be able to vote on his successor in the House.
It’s transparent, but, well, has a funny feel to it. But if the seats are going to be back-filled by another election, it could be spring and dozens of House floor votes before voters in Miller’s House district are represented.
This is just a shard of that transparency issue, in which some of the public wants everything done out in the open, even those votes in committee that are largely strategic to push an issue to the full House and Senate where it can be amended before a very public vote.
Yes, things are going to get more complicated this session. A new Democrat governor wrangling with a conservative Republican-heavy Legislature may find transparency an issue that can be used two ways: To publicly target opposition votes, or, with a little less transparency (translucency?), get an issue to the House and Senate floor for a vote.
Just how much transparency, ranging from filling vacant House and Senate seats to recording how lawmakers vote — or maybe videos which can show whether they scratch — in maneuvering in committee will be at the forefront again.
Transparency? Politically, it goes both directions, doesn’t it?
Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report