TOPEKA | Invoking the name of James Madison and brandishing copies of the U.S. Constitution, hundreds of Kansas residents vowed Friday to take their country back.
They are upset by what they see as a century of the federal government usurping the rights of states through mandates and extortion. Two prime examples cited during rallies were the pending health care reform legislation and the federal stimulus package that sent millions of dollars to states, with strings attached.
Following the Senate hearing, two groups — the Kansas Sovereignty Coalition and the Coalition of Citizen Advocacy Groups — held rallies in the Statehouse and in a nearby meeting house.
"We're telling Washington to knock it off," said state Sen. Tim Huelskamp, a Fowler Republican and candidate for Congress.
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Hundreds of supporters packed the Senate Judiciary Committee room and adjoining foyer as the panel heard testimony on a resolution aimed at reasserting Kansas sovereignty according to the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Many cited the health reform bill as the government stepping too far by mandating insurance coverage, a step the speakers added would lead to socialism.
The 10th Amendment says powers not specifically delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states. Twenty-four Republican senators are sponsoring, led by Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee.
"America is not the District of Columbia, it's a union of sovereign states," she said. "The time has come. The peaceful way to do this is through the states."
Two U.S. House members, Republicans Todd Tiahrt and Lynn Jenkins, also spoke during the rallies. They said the effort, along with the Tea Party rallies throughout 2009, were sending a message to Washington and President Barack Obama that Kansas residents and all Americans have had enough.
"We are not here as an angry mob, but as a collective group of engaged citizens," said Greg Ward of the Kansas Sovereignty Coalition, which organized many of the events.
Top Democratic legislators didn't see adopting a nonbinding resolution as effective.
"Resolutions like that are just kind of going through the motions," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. "I just don't think resolutions of this kind have any practical effect."
Hensley said he agrees the federal government has encroached on states' power too much in some areas, citing public schools as an example.
Hensley and House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said they're comfortable letting the federal courts resolve such issues.
"There have been a number of instances where the Supreme Court has held that the federal government has gone beyond their constitutional authorities, and they struck down certain laws," Davis said.
Neither Hensley or Davis attended the rallies.
Supporters said that beyond the resolution, Kansas and other states were considering amendments to their constitutions that would give residents the right to decide if they want to purchase health care insurance.
Paul Degener of Topeka told the Judiciary Committee that it was "extortion and bribery" for Washington to put conditions on laws for states to receive stimulus money, but state legislators were guilty of allowing it to happen.
"Both parties in Washington have an agenda to lead the United States into their New World Order," Degener said.
Sovereignty resolution is SCR 1615.
Kansas Legislature: www.kslegislature.org
Kansas Sovereignty Coalition: www.kansastenthamendment.com