The Garden City Telegram
1/17/2013
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Control plot

Governor tackles education by zeroing in on judiciary.

Gov. Sam Brownback now reigns over a Kansas Legislature with fellow conservative Republicans in control of the House and Senate.

Gone is a moderate Republican-Democratic coalition that at least tried to serve as a check on GOP conservatives' often misguided measures — to include their relentless attacks on education.

In his State of the State address Tuesday, the governor cited education as a cornerstone for economic prosperity. But he's since pitched a modest increase in education funding that's nowhere close to what's necessary.

A recent court ruling said the Legislature has failed to meet its K-12 school funding duty under the Kansas Constitution. The three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court said Kansas must boost its annual aid to public schools by at least $440 million to meet its constitutional responsibility to provide a suitable education for every child.

Understandably, the court found it difficult to accept claims that the recession made recent cuts to schools necessary in a state still in position to implement massive tax cuts that will reduce income.

Brownback denounced the ruling, and made it clear he wanted to change court involvement in school funding.

In Tuesday's speech, he promoted changing the state constitution to let a politically-motivated Legislature determine how much money is needed for schools — a clear path to even deeper state cuts to education, and an inevitable rise in property taxes at the local level to support schools.

Brownback also would scrap Kansas' nonpartisan, merit-based judicial selection process in favor of either direct election of judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, or a model in which the governor would appoint judges with Senate confirmation — in essence letting him hand-pick judges sympathetic to his ultraconservative fiscal and social agenda.

It's little more than a plot to control the judiciary, and part of a blueprint calling for control of all three branches of state government as a way to forward an extreme ideology without checks and balances.

And, it's frightening. Kansans who rightly view balance and compromise as hallmarks of the democratic process should be very concerned.