Judge choice part of quest to control state government.
Gov. Sam Brownback's choice for an open appellate court position was no surprise.
As expected, the governor nominated his chief counsel, Caleb Stegall, for a spot on the state's second highest court, the Kansas Court of Appeals.
It was just another predictable maneuver from an ultraconservative GOP administration intent on controlling every facet of state government.
Thanks to the support of the billionaire Koch brothers, whose efforts helped erase a moderate Republican influence in the Kansas Legislature that had provided some resistance, Brownback and his allies received an easier path to control of the judiciary and all branches of state government they sought as a way to forward an extreme ideology without checks and balances.
That included scrapping Kansas' nonpartisan, merit-based judicial selection process in favor of a system allowing the governor to select judges with Senate confirmation. Now, Brownback can hand-pick a judge sympathetic to his ultraconservative fiscal and social agenda, with enough like-minded lawmakers to rubber-stamp the recommendation.
As for Stegall, he may indeed be qualified (although he reportedly was passed over twice for appeals court slots.) The problem was in Kansans not knowing if others were considered.
Brownback, who has said he covets transparency in government, instead kept Kansans in the dark by refusing to release names of applicants for the opening. He said such openness would keep qualified candidates from applying, even though names of applicants for the court and the state Supreme Court have been disclosed for decades in Kansas without harming the process.
Frustrated by prior court decisions — especially regarding education funding — Brownback wants political allies who won't question ultraconservative Republicans' agenda. And their crusade has gained momentum with such ventures as a massive tax-cut plan that benefits the wealthy, but promises to undermine financial support for public schools and other important services in the state.
Kansans who rightly view balance and compromise as hallmarks of the democratic process, and also value transparency, should be concerned and saddened by what's happening in state government — but not surprised.
We also shouldn't be surprised when the ultraconservative movement gains even more steam moving forward.