Burdett Loomis: Leaders shouldn’t avoid protesters

05/04/2014 12:00 AM

05/04/2014 6:23 AM

You learn something new every day.

I recently learned that the Lawrence Arts Center has a back door. Who knew? Well, apparently Gov. Sam Brownback, when he went there to talk to this year’s Leadership Kansas class.

This was a mundane presentation, without any news value. What did make news was the governor’s entrance and exit, via an alley and the center’s back door. He thus avoided a gaggle of Lawrence teachers, there to protest his signing the legislation that denies due process to teachers across the state.

This action mirrored that of many Kansas senators, who, after voting to eliminate due process, exited through a side entrance to avoid the many teachers gathered in the Statehouse.

One core obligation of elected officials is to take responsibility for their actions. When a governor and state legislators avoid the very constituents whose rights they have eliminated, it speaks volumes.

Honestly, what did the governor have to fear from a handful of teachers? What did senators have to fear from the educators who were peacefully protesting at the Capitol?

If this represented a single instance, we might shrug it off. But Kansans have an administration and a Legislature that find it hard to take responsibility, whenever there is push-back.

Thus, when state revenues dropped dramatically last week, the governor and Republican legislative leaders rushed to blame the Obama administration.

This is important because Kansas is a small-population state, and its politics are intimate. Brownback often epitomizes such intimacy, strolling the Capitol’s halls, chatting with visitors, and having his picture taken with dozens of them.

Likewise, Kansas lawmakers can all have close relations with constituents, if they choose. After all, House members represent about 23,000 individuals, while senators serve about 70,000. Contrast those figures to California, where the numbers are 463,000 (House) and 925,000 (Senate).

One benefit that we should receive from the intimacy of Kansas politics is a powerful sense of accountability, which stands at the heart of a strong democracy.

What does accountability entail? We must be able to hold our governor and legislators accountable for their actions, both at the polls and in our everyday interactions – whether in the Capitol or on the street or in a public forum.

This is especially true when controversial issues are on the table, such as the recent legislation to deny teachers due process of law in contesting a dismissal.

Three examples illustrate the problem. First, the bill itself was fatally flawed in that the due-process provision was inserted into a “must-pass” school-finance bill. No legislative hearings were held, and the changes were rammed through.

Second, when Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, and Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, two proponents of the legislation, held a town-hall discussion in mid-April, they did not respond to serious questions about the legislation.

Finally, there are the governor’s actions. Not only did he disrespect the handful of teachers there to question his decision to sign the legislation, but he demonstrated how not to be a leader to the Leadership Kansas class.

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