In electing lawmakers, Kansans might want to look past active-verb artists

The Kansas House of Representatives meet for a special session in 2020. Sessions these days stretch for much longer than the past, writes Ron Smith. (Nick Krug for Kansas Reflector)
The Kansas House of Representatives meet for a special session in 2020. Sessions these days stretch for much longer than the past, writes Ron Smith. (Nick Krug for Kansas Reflector)

True Story: The 2022 Kansas Legislature recessed in early April before coming back to a veto session. During the break, several legislators, the attorney general, and the governor decided to go on safari. While stretching their legs outside the jeep, a lion jumped out of the bushes and cornered the attorney general. The others scream at the governor to help him. She said, “The lion got itself into this mess, it can get itself out.”

That’s, well, sorta true. Maybe.

Before 1964, farm folks were a majority of lawmakers in Kansas. Every county had its own state representative. The Legislature met for only 30- or 60-day sessions. Veto sessions were two-day affairs and considered only motions to override vetoes. At session’s end, everyone shook hands and went home in time to plant fall crops. My former senior partner, Glee Smith Jr., was president of the Kansas Senate in the late 1960s when the state changed from each county having its own representative to the “one person, one vote” concept.

Now sessions are 120 days, with lengthy veto sessions in even-numbered years. Lawmaking takes a serious time commitment. That’s also why there are fewer businesspeople and professionals in the Legislature, and it is top-heavy with retired folks. The number of lobbyists has increased like rabbits in a prairie brothel. And the veto sessions not only consider vetoes and the freak bills lawmakers couldn’t decide on before the break — but they vote on the omnibus budget bill. Think Jabba the Hutt dining on greenbacks.

Modern campaigning has begun. You won’t see your local representative or senator at your door. You get flyers instead. They brag, “I did all these Good Things for You.” His or her identity isn’t important. Their flyers are out. They all are self-proclaimed heroes and heroines.

Miss Bebermeier, my fifth-grade teacher, would say, “Oh my, look at all those active verbs!”

My rep was “busy working on important legislation.” After the break, “I’ll be working on even more important legislation.” “Important” is not defined.

“I represent every person in the district, not just those who voted for me.” Well, then it will be interesting to see why so many vote against him or her.

I’m defending you against … I’m fighting for you because … I fought to defend conservative/liberal values … defend our rural way of life …

“The Democrats are socialists …”

“The Republicans are totalitarians …”

From reading this growing library of active verb flyers, one thinks House floor debate looks like fight night at a biker bar. My representative apparently was defending me against people I didn’t know were attacking me.

The flyer then gets to his or her monumental achievements in 2022. “Defending Traditional Values …” He or she voted for the Value Them Both Constitutional Amendment, ratification of which will be decided in our upcoming primary election. The amendment was drafted because the judicial branch swam in the pond of “judicial activism,” my rep opines.

Promoting fiscal responsibility is also on my state rep’s “achievements” list. He or she wants a cap on state spending by constitutional amendment. In other words, let a constitutional amendment say “no” to spending because lawmakers haven’t figured out how to say the word out loud.

I used to work in the Kansas House of Representatives as a staff member. Back then, it was pretty simple. At each of the 125 desks was a little box with red, green and white buttons. Red, no. Green, yes, and White was “I got no clue.”

The vote is called. Push a button.

I am blessed because I cannot be a state representative. Among my genes are those for red-green colorblindness. I would be voting “no clue” too many times.

Finally, my rep brags about supporting a Convention of States. Only 19 states have adopted the idea. The goal, he or she says, is to change the current Constitution to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government.” Each state would send delegates to meet in convention and redo the federal Constitution.

Supporters want to amend Article I, §9 of the federal Constitution, which states, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of an appropriation made by Law.” The 34 white men of 1789 left Congress in charge of the budget. The Convention of States could make bitcoins our national currency and a constitutional provision that gasoline cannot be sold for more than $1.99 a gallon. It could help America advance to the rear.

Red state conservatives might believe they can impose fiscal restraints at a convention. But I fear blue state liberals will think they’ve just been handed the whole candy jar.

A little logrolling would be fun. “You let me have my amendment, I’ll vote for yours.”

Thomas Sowell reminds us how our pockets might get picked in a COS convention: “If you have been voting for politicians who promise to give you goodies at someone else’s expense, then you have no right to complain when they take your money and give it to someone else, including themselves.”

Sowell is prescient. The 2011 Congressional Budget Control Act raised the debt limit by $2.1 trillion, and Congress then agreed to cut spending by the same amount. The first $917 billion of cuts came from caps on defense and non-defense discretionary spending. Then came the hard part. Congress couldn’t agree on how to cut the remaining $1.2 trillion since that meant looking at “social programs,” a political third rail.

With Russia blowing up Ukrainian cities, capping the defense budget in 2011 would have been imprudent today. As Fagin sang in “Oliver Twist,” “I think they’d better think it out again!”

I’m unimpressed with active verb artist politicians who substitute catchy phrases for critical thinking. I prefer the lawmakers who are not chin-wagging as to what they are doing for us. Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien had a recipe for what to do when the opposition got nasty. He turned into a brick.

Sort of a Calvin Coolidge of the Northlands, Chretien said: “We don’t have to be in the damn paper every day. People don’t like it. They want to hear from us when it’s important. But not all the time. Silence is good.”

Maybe we’ll be lucky in November. Maybe the active verb artists will lose.

As originally published on KansasReflector.com.
Republished with permission under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. 

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Dean Halliday Smith

Dean Halliday Smith

Dean Halliday Smith is a fifth generation Kansan, a Vietnam vet, a lawyer, and grandfather several times over. His interests are Bleeding Kansas territorial days, the civil war, and post-war western novels.

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