Two bad ideas

Valley Voice

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Two proposed constitutional amendments are on the Nov. 8 ballot. One would upend the balance of power in state government. The other would hamstring the local right to choose.
In good times, governing is balanced among the legislative branch, which makes law, the executive branch enforcing that law, and the judicial, which applies and interprets the law. Each provides a check on the other, offering stability for the system.
In recent years the legislative branch has become lopsided. The Republican party dominates the 125-member House with 86 to the Democrats’ 39. In the 40-member Senate, Republicans are in control, 29-11. With two-thirds majorities in both chambers, the party already holds veto power over the governor.
A proposed amendment to the Kansas constitution would grant the majority even more power. It allows legislators – Republicans or Democrats – to alter or override a governor’s executive orders: a disaster declaration, a public health emergency, an energy crisis, deploying personnel to confront trouble or resolve a predicament.
The amendment also allows legislators to alter or override state regulations or their enforcement by state agencies. Don’t like how the gas pumps measure gallons? Legislators may tell the Agriculture Department, which inspects pumps for accuracy, to back off. (Or step it up.) Alarmed by plans for that pig farm next to the high school? Leave it to the politicians, not Health and Environment.
This amendment would stifle a governor’s check on legislative supremacy. It censors the executive branch, leaves it without tenor or intent.
This amendment gives a legislature the power to countermand a governor – Republican or Democrat – and to rule on a whim, or on orders from patron cause lobbies. Constituent concerns or the doubts of a governor would no longer matter.
Power no longer to the people, but to special interests and campaign donors.
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Another amendment would order Kansas counties to elect sheriffs for four-year terms.
How strange. With one exception, counties have been electing sheriffs since before Kansas was a state. In 1974, Riley County voters consolidated the sheriff’s department with the Manhattan and Ogden police departments. The Riley County Law Board hires a director for the Riley County Police Department.
Last year an alarm went up in Johnson County when a special commission reviewed a plan to appoint rather than elect the sheriff. Johnson County, home to more than 20 law enforcement agencies, seemed a candidate for streamlining. The notion to take politics out of law enforcement gave the sheriffs’ lobby a case of nerves. Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden, an election fraud fanatic, whipped up fears of a vague conspiracy. Talk of reform was quashed. The idea was dropped.
This ballot amendment, on the other hand, would cancel a long-held local option on sheriffs – elect or appoint – and replace it with a constitutional mandate to elect.
The topic prompts a contrary question: Why do we continue to elect sheriffs? They should no more be elected than should police chiefs. The office has outgrown partisan politics, or should have. Law enforcement should carry no party label, no emblem other than the insignia on officers’ uniforms. Public safety must be above the influence of campaign donors, beyond the glad hand of a ward heeler or the palm of a precinct committeeman.
Today’s law enforcement requires many talents, including scientific skills, some legal education, public relations, psychology, digital and cyber-technology, business acumen and administrative ability, among others.
Sometimes you get that through politics. More often, you don’t.
Ideally, counties with a city large enough to support a good police department should have a combined law enforcement agency serving both the towns and counties. Whatever subpoena or other errand services are required could be handled by deputies working out of the courts.
In some rural counties, small cities have eliminated the expense and obligation of a police force and engaged sheriffs for municipal law enforcement.
In Riley County the seven-member Law Board is composed of local commissioners, lay citizens, and the county attorney. So far it’s working.
It might work in other counties. The public would retain control through the election of officials who select law enforcement leaders. And the public would be better served, both with efficiency and with even better enforcement.
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The proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot seek to abuse power through constitutional fiat. One amendment would stifle the local option to select its type of law enforcement. Another would flatten the executive branch of government and inflate the legislature with nearly unbridled command.
Both are bad for Kansas.

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