TOPEKA — Supporters of states' rights rallied in and around the Capitol on Friday in support of a Senate measure to assert Kansas sovereignty.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 1615 claims the federal government has overstepped its authority and demands repeal of laws that supporters say infringe on states' rights granted by the 10th Amendment to the Constitution.
The resolution has 24 co-sponsors — all Republicans — meaning it is virtually assured of passage in the 40-member, GOP-controlled Senate.
The rallies were largely an extension of the tea party movement that mobilized last year to fight taxes and national health care, said Rep. Peter DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, who was part of an overflow crowd outside a packed Statehouse meeting room where a hearing was being held on the resolution Friday morning.
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Afterward, the demonstrators dispersed to rallies at the former Supreme Court chamber and the Dillon Building across the street from the Capitol.
Among the headline speakers was U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, a U.S. Senate candidate who praised state Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook, R-Shawnee. Cook introduced the sovereignty resolution and a companion bill designed to try to exempt Kansas from national health care bills pending in Washington.
"We need to have a tool to tell the federal government that we're not going to take it any more, we're tired of them imposing on our lives more taxes, more intrusion and less freedom," Tiahrt said. "This intrusion goes beyond just the health care bill. It's in our banking system, it's in our free market, I mean who ever thought that GM would stand for government motors?"
The speakers lashed out at a variety of federal agencies, including Congress, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Several speakers, including House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, called for an end to federal involvement in education.
"The federal Department of Education could be downsized and public-sector jobs transferred to other departments or to the state level or, better yet, be eliminated," he said. "Programs such as No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act could be dramatically reformed, allowing their intended purposes to be carried out on the state level."
The highest levels of outrage came over health care bills and the federal economic stimulus.
"So how would you have voted on the $1 trillion so-called stimulus package, the national energy tax and the trillion-dollar government takeover on health care?" U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, asked the crowd at the Dillon House.
"No!" the crowd shouted.
"Well, good," Jenkins continued, "because I voted 'no' on all of them. One thing is very clear to me. The Democrats and this Congress are on a reckless spending spree using your money and trouncing all over states' rights. It must stop."
Only one person spoke against the resolution during the legislative hearing.
Rodney Wren, who teaches government at Wichita Collegiate School, said he too questions many federal decisions, but he said the resolution misunderstands the Constitution.
He noted the Constitution's supremacy clause, which states:
"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof... shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."
Wren also said that if Kansas truly wants to assert its sovereignty, it should give back federal funding for education and health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
With applause, the sovereignty supporters indicated they'd be happy to do that.
A tour bus carried about 50 Wichita-area residents to Friday's demonstration, including friends Milton Collins and Preston Moore.
"Our government is out of control," Collins said. "The government thinks it's got an open checkbook to our kids' wallets."
"This is all we can do other than all-out individuals starting a revolution, and that would not be good for anyone," Moore said.