Carrier pigeons

Valley Voice

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The president of the Kansas Senate now heads one of America’s strongest conservative cause lobbies, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover, a Wichita suburb, has assumed duties as national chairman of the Council, headquartered in Alexandria, Va. Better known by the acronym ALEC, the Council is a predominant hard-right think-tank based in Alexandria, Virginia.

ALEC writes “model” legislation for state governments. Its mission is to free legislators from the task of thinking for themselves by sliding ALEC protocol into state law. After all, what’s good for ALEC is good for Kansas, and it’s better for burnishing Masterson’s power in Kansas and stature in Washington.

“It is an honor to take this position,” said Masterson, who had been ALEC’s vice-chairman until his November election as chairman. “… I just hope that I can approach the challenges we have this next year with the same kind of attack and effectiveness that (former chairman Daniel Perez) did.”

The organization promotes limited government, free markets and federalism. Put another way, ALEC writes marching orders for state legislatures.

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Before ALEC, legislators did their own work. In Topeka, interim committees were appointed to study an array of complex issues, draft their recommendations and send them to the House and Senate by early fall.

These committees once incubated sweeping reforms for education, state courts, farm policy, tax reform, social welfare programs and more. (In the early 1970s, a committee led by Rep. Bob Stark, of Salina, provided groundwork for a radical change known as “branch banking.”)

Today few committees are assigned, usually for meaningless or redundant work. Instead, legislators wait for ALEC.

Nearly every piece of significant legislation introduced in Topeka in recent years has come from the ALEC. This is why lack of authorship (or sponsorship) on legislation has become an issue for transparency in Topeka. The public is left in the dark.

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Kansas has a messy history with ALEC. Remember the Brownback-Colyer plan (2015) to junk the local school finance law? From ALEC. The throttling of higher education, attacks on the state Supreme Court, “religious freedom” laws and criminal sentencing “reforms?” All the work of ALEC.

Abortion laws slapped away by the Kansas Supreme Court, and rejected by voters, are more outsider handiwork.

Movements to ban or persecute refugees, to privatize schools and prisons, to deny climate change, all originated in Arlington for Republican carrier pigeons in the Kansas House or Senate. Chief pigeons then were House Speaker Ray Merrick and Senate President Susan Wagle. Today it’s Masterson and House Speaker Dan Watkins, also of Wichita.

Every recent Kansas gun law originated in Arlington. Brownback’s infamous Glide Path to Zero, abolishing income taxes for businesses and wealthy individuals, is the work of Arthur Laffer, the former governor’s pal and ALEC board member. There’s more, but that’s the idea.

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Today, the flat tax. Again.

Masterson and Hawkins have pledged to revive last year’s failed effort. The ALEC-based plan is to replace the state’s progressive three-bracket income tax

with a single (5.15 percent) tax on all incomes. This defies our current three-tier system that increases rates as taxable income increases.

Numerous studies have shown that a flat tax, like the sales tax, hits hardest those who can least afford it. This year it promises more of the same: big rate increases for the low-income brackets, major relief for the rich.

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The power and influence of ALEC and other cause lobbies sidetrack the needs of local voters. While citizens worry about school funding, local taxes and grocery bills, legislators double-down on dirty books in schools, ghost rainbows in locker rooms, abortion, tax cuts for the rich.

Legislators are elected by local citizens but engineered by special interests. In Kansas, the fever dreams of Washington think tanks suppress the township road budget and ignore the death rattle of distressed hospitals.

SOURCEJohn Marshall
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John Marshall is the retired editor-owner of the Lindsborg (Kan.) News-Record (2001-2012), and for 27 years (1970-1997) was a reporter, editor and publisher for publications of the Hutchinson-based Harris Newspaper Group. He has been writing about Kansas people, government and culture for more than 40 years, and currently writes a column for the News-Record and The Rural Messenger. He lives in Lindsborg with his wife, Rebecca, and their 21 year-old African-Grey parrot, Themis.

2 COMMENTS

  1. John, you keep raising the bar with your exceptional insights and explanations. This is a huge “frogs sitting in the bottom of a pot of slow boiling water” story. It needs to be widely shared and read. I will do my small part for that. Assuming the electorate in Kansas enable the republicans to hold a super majority, Kansans are potentially in for a bleak future courtesy of ALEC and it’s Jayhawk puppets.

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