The Garden City Telegram
4/21/2014
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Lost debate — GOP leaders fail to see value of transparency

Chalk up recent school finance legislation to an ugly crusade from a Republican faction in charge in the Kansas Statehouse.

A bill that would erase tenure and due-process rights for teachers passed in an 11th-hour maneuver, a sneak attack that saw Senate GOP leadership and their House allies tie elimination of due process for teachers to crucial elements of school funding — a plan that wasn't even addressed in the usual committee process.

Instead, ultraconservative Republicans rammed it through without caring whether lawmakers or the public knew the consequences. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed the school finance bill Monday, even though it was clear that some lawmakers didn't grasp the details.

Count teachers among victims of the diabolical stunt from legislative leaders uninterested in vetting all bills for the benefit of the people they serve.

Sadly, the move and others like it were to be expected, considering the cavalier thinking of one current GOP leader.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a far-right Republican from Wichita, once questioned whether the Kansas Open Meetings Act meant the public should have access to talks among groups of legislators.

"I think the intent was to make sure we vote in public," Wagle said in dismissing the importance of debate in the legislative process.

Her troubling take on a law in place to ensure openness in government came after a series of social gatherings in 2012 at the governor's mansion, during which legislators addressed public issues — even though state law prohibits a majority of a legislative body from discussing government business without giving the public notice and access.

Then-Senate President Steve Morris showed up at one of the gatherings, and rightly warned the group about possible violations of KOMA. The Hugoton Republican was correct, as an investigation ruled legislators did indeed break the law.

And now, with too few thoughtful, sensible lawmakers in office — we lost Morris and others — ultraconservative Republicans have successfully stepped up their assault on transparency.

Kansans now have more proof of why serious public matters always should be discussed openly. Let's hope they hold legislators who prefer secrecy accountable in coming elections.