Editorials

Kansas Republicans want to change the rules, pry appointment power from Gov. Laura Kelly

Governor covers several topics during town hall meeting

Kansas governor Laura Kelly covered many topics during a town hall in Wichita on the same day she signed legislation to better fund public schools. (April 9, 2019)
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Kansas governor Laura Kelly covered many topics during a town hall in Wichita on the same day she signed legislation to better fund public schools. (April 9, 2019)

Kansas Republicans are trying to snatch away Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s ability to appoint new statewide officials if certain posts become vacant.

GOP lawmakers are pushing changes to both the state constitution and state law that would put political parties instead of governors in charge of filling offices. They say this shift would treat both parties fairly because when a Republican officeholder leaves to, say, run for the U.S. Senate next year, well then the GOP would get to choose his or her successor. If a Democratic officeholder vacates an office, the Democratic Party would select a replacement.

But of course, all those who might leave a statewide office to run for the seat now held by Sen. Pat Roberts when he retires next year do just happen to be Republicans. A spokeswoman for Kelly said, “This is exactly the kind of thing people are sick of.”

Would Republicans really not want the next GOP governor to have the right to fill empty offices?

Other governors have this power, including Missouri’s Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who has appointed Mike Kehoe as lieutenant governor, Eric Schmitt as attorney general and Scott Fitzpatrick as state treasurer. It was Democrats who questioned Parson’s right to choose his own successor as lieutenant governor; the Democratic Party of Missouri sued, arguing that the office should be left vacant until the next election.

The Missouri Supreme Court upheld Parson’s right to appoint Kehoe, and there’s no reason Kelly shouldn’t get to fill openings, either.

This attempt is just another power grab, and very much in the scorched-earth spirit of how Washington works, and doesn’t work.

Three times in the last six years, first Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and then Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used the so-called nuclear option to change rules in the U.S. Senate in a way that’s made cooperation across the aisle far more unusual.

In the same way, this proposed move, introduced at the last minute in this legislative session and expected to be considered next year, would only serve partisan interests.

The Kansas Constitution leaves it to the governor to fill vacancies in the offices of attorney general and secretary of state, and Kansas law gives the governor the right to fill openings for state treasurer and insurance commissioner.

But now that Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Secretary of State Scott Schwab may want to run for the U.S. Senate next year, and Treasurer Jake LaTurner has already announced his candidacy, this is suddenly a problem under a Democratic governor.

One of the House Republicans working on this legislation, Rep. Blake Carpenter, called the fact that these changes would indemnify Republican officeholders from criticism that they’d be turning their offices over to Democrats a “side effect.”

But if eliminating that and other risks that candidates and their parties usually assume isn’t the point, then why do it at all?

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