Moderates are fading in Johnson County — just like the recent front page headline in The Star hollered.
But as that article also said, moderates have held on to control at the county, city and school board levels, even while they are losing state elections and legislative races.
That moderate control is now at risk.
With new conservative efforts, moderates may also become endangered species at the county, city and school board levels. Conservatives are cooking up plans now to take over those positions, just as they have in state and legislative races.
The plotting is occurring in Topeka in committee rooms under the dome of the Statehouse.
There, conservative legislators are holding preliminary hearings on what inevitably would become bills to change the election dates for counties, cities and school boards from the spring to the fall. Also under consideration are changing all city and school board races to partisan elections from nonpartisan.
Conservatives will spout rhetoric that they are only trying to increase voter turnout. But this is not their true objective. What they are after are elections where more conservatives will turn out disproportionately, particularly in August primary elections, and swamp the voting booths with candidates who follow their agenda.
Just recently, a special joint committee on Ethics, Education and Local Government met to discuss moving election dates. They heard from Nebraska and Arizona officials, as well as representatives from the National Conference of State Legislatures. The focus was on moving elections to the fall in either odd or even years.
Also, Secretary of State Kris Kobach opined that all elections should be partisan.
Two Johnson County state legislators, Rep. Keith Esau and Rep. Mike Kiegerl, both Republicans from Olathe, are on the committee seeking to change election dates, and possibly change to partisan elections. Both legislators are on the far right of conservative.
This is not the first time legislators have considered moving dates and going to partisan local elections. There have been bills over the past several years to do just that, but they have failed.
But if a bill were to come out this time to go that direction, it might have a better chance of winning approval, according to legislative observers, given the increased margin of conservatives.
The Legislature would have a tougher time switching the Johnson County Commission to partisan elections. That is because voters approved a Johnson County Charter, which would make it very difficult for the Legislature to undo, declaring that we would have nonpartisan elections for our county commissioners.
However, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Conservatives are planning on becoming more aggressive in taking over the county commission. Highly sourced rumors have one of the most conservative legislators in Kansas, state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, taking on Commissioner Jim Allen when her term ends in two years. There also is some talk that other ultra-conservatives will make an aggressive drive to knock off incumbents.
The League of Municipalities testified in 2013, opposing both a change of election dates and a change to partisan elections. So did the Kansas Association of Counties.
Among a myriad of reasons for opposition, they expressed the main view that if elections were held in the fall, along with state and federal elections, local issues would be totally overwhelmed.
They argued that even if elections were moved to the fall of odd numbered years, it would be trading one stand-alone election for another. There would be little accomplished.
It is so obvious what the conservative legislators are after. And it certainly is not just to increase voter turnout. It is to turn out “their” kind of voter.
Conservatives will not be happy until they control a majority of seats on the county commission, city councils, mayors and school boards.
This is scary stuff. Moderates have given Johnson County its outstanding schools and incredible quality of life. That could come to a screeching halt under hard right conservative control.
Hopefully, our legislators will hear loud and clear to leave our local elections alone.
| Special to The Star