When I launched my campaign for governor in June, I announced that one of my top priorities was to end the culture of corruption in Topeka. A few days later, legislative leadership there denied my claim that there’s any corruption. A legislative council promised to send me a letter demanding that I prove this problem exists.
Five months later, I finally received their letter. In the meantime, several articles in The Star had confirmed that there is indeed serious corruption in Topeka.
So I will now make my case, not privately to the legislators but publicly to the people of Kansas, demonstrating this fact.
Exhibit one is the fact that committees in the Kansas Legislature do not record their votes. Instead, they operate through unrecorded voice votes. As a result, constituents have no way of knowing which way their representatives are voting and no ability to hold legislators accountable. Other states’ legislatures are far more transparent, recording all votes in committees.
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Exhibit two is state Rep. Erin Davis, who is simultaneously serving in the House and being paid as a “senior government strategist” for Cerner. In other words, a lobbyist. At the end of the 2017 session, shortly before going to work for Cerner, this legislator — the vice chair of appropriations — sat on the conference committee that inserted a $2.7 million provision to build a state employee health clinic. Cerner lobbied for the clinic. The Star’s editorial board agrees that the dual-position “raises ethics questions.”
Exhibit three is a collection of reports about sexual harassment by state legislators and attempts by legislative leadership to cover up this activity. For example, several Democratic legislators, including House Minority Leader Jim Ward, admitted they resided in what they called the “frat house.” From there they used state interns, including young women, as designated drivers so they could go out on the town drinking.
Exhibit four is former Commerce Secretary Antonio Soave, who frequently handed out lucrative state contracts to his friends and business associates. Upon leaving his position, he began working for one of those companies that received a state contract.
Exhibit five is the Tonganoxie chicken processing plant scheme. In September, the citizens of Tonganoxie were informed by their state government that they were being given the gift of a massive Tyson chicken factory that would completely change the face of their community. In addition, they would get the honor of paying for this factory they didn’t want, as it would be financed through hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives and revenue bonds. It’s also highly likely that hundreds of unauthorized alien workers would have been brought in to work at the plant. Fortunately the citizens of Tonganoxie stopped the project.
Exhibit six is the multitude of reports of missing, abused and even deceased children under the Department for Children and Families. Yet the agency remains largely silent.
Exhibit seven is the lack of term limits for legislators. To see just what a problem this is, consider the fact that Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley has been in office for more than 40 years — since Gerald Ford was president.
I rest my case. There is undeniably a culture of corruption in Topeka.
As governor, I’ll make it my priority to bring it to an end. I’ll push for term limits for all legislators and statewide officials, recorded votes in all committees, restrictions on the revolving door of legislators immediately swapping their legislator badges for lobbyist badges, reforms of the process for awarding government contracts, restrictions and greater transparency in the provision of tax incentives for private businesses and reform of DCF. I won’t rest until Kansans again have confidence in, and respect for, their government.
Kris W. Kobach is Kansas Secretary of State.