A primary mantra of ardent conservatives holds that the government closest to the people is the best government for the people.
Consistently cited as examples of distant, disconnected government are appointed federal administrators who dictate unwanted policies to the states and elected politicians who go to Washington, D.C., and forget who sent them and why. The panoply of complaint was repeated last week when Gov. Sam Brownback joined 24 other conservative governors in a letter to congressional leaders that, Brownback said, pointed out: “We have seen too many instances of federal intrusion.... We must have ... flexibility....”
Given that Kansas voters have now put their state government in the hands of ardent conservatives, one might ask why that government’s administrators and so many of the elected politicians sent to Topeka are anxious to dictate when Wichita and other major cities must hold local elections and to order that they be organized around the two major political parties instead of in traditional nonpartisan, open mode.
If the state mandating what’s good for citizens of cities sounds a bit like the federal-to-state tyranny that conservatives complain of, that’s because there is no difference.
Obviously the people Kansas voters sent to Topeka to protect them from the outrageous paternalism of the federal government are blind to their own equally outrageous paternalism toward cities.
Maybe they don’t see it as paternalism because, in fact, that’s not the motivation for decreeing that local elections be partisan and held in November of regular election years rather than in the spring of off-years.
It’s actually about party perpetuation. It’s about minimizing the electoral leverage of growing minorities in the state’s urban areas. And it’s about giving the ideological organizations that already control state and county politics at the party level a stranglehold on city and school system governing boards and who runs for them.
If all that isn’t so, what possible reason could the Legislature and Secretary of State Kris Kobach have for caring when and how Wichitans pick their local leadership? What does it have to do with them?
Kobach, of course, claims that he is deeply concerned about the low voter turnout in our spring elections and about how the city unnecessarily spends our money on separate elections.
If you believe that, then you don’t know Kris about the situation.
As even casual followers of Kansas government know, Kobach’s every action and idea as secretary of state is calculated to advance ultraconservative causes. Think of things such as disenfranchising the poor and minorities by requiring voter ID; nullifying the Affordable Care Act by empowering legislators to run health care; promoting straight-ticket voting, which would force local city and school board candidates to get on board the partisan express; and fighting immigration reform, though his efforts on that front have resulted in a string of humiliating losses in court.
Moving the city’s election into the mainstream of biennial voting would make the turnout numbers appear higher, but the attention factor – and thus the quality of the voting – would tumble. Running for local office would become too expensive for all but the best-funded candidates (and we know who they would be), because getting voters’ attention amid the din of a general election would be beyond the reach of average citizen candidates.
It’s a really bad idea that should offend ardent conservatives more than anyone else. But, somehow, it doesn’t.
Davis Merritt, a Wichita journalist and author, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.