Sykes and Clayton Join the Democrats in Topeka!

Dec 19, 2018 by

Dinah Sykes (L), Stephanie Clayton (R)

Two more incumbent Kansas Republican legislators have decided to leave the Republican Party, register as Democrats and join the Democratic caucuses in the Statehouse.

As you already know, Senator Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills), left the Republican Party earlier this month and joined the Democrats. Bollier had angered Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) by endorsing Democrat Tom Niermann for US House District 3 over Kevin Yoder and Democrat Laura Kelly over Kris Kobach for Governor. Wagle stripped Bollier of her leadership position on the Health and Human Services Committee (Bollier is the only physician serving in the Senate) and publicly chastised her.

Today it was announced that Senator Dinah Sykes has also left the Republicans and joined the Democratic Party. Sykes is from Lenexa and represents Senate District 21.

Both Sykes and Bollier have been stalwart supporters of public schools, children, and public school educators. Both also held Republican seats on the Senate Education Committee. Bollier served in the House from 2010 through 2016 before being elected to the Senate in 2016. Sykes was elected to the Senate in 2016. She ran on a promise to reverse the Brownback tax disaster and fund public schools. Bollier and Sykes have both kept their promises to voters and to our public schools.

Sykes summed up her thoughts in a press release announcing her decision:

“I strongly believe elected officials should serve the people they represent. That belief drove me to run for office. I ran for the Kansas Senate to protect the Kansas quality of life and to bring common sense to Topeka. At this time, I feel like I can either fight to change the Republican party or fight for the state I love and the people I serve. I think I can better serve my state and constituents as a member of the Democratic party.”

“I am a moderate person who represents a moderate and pragmatic district that expects me to focus on issues and solutions that impact their day-to-day lives. Increasingly, I see the Republican party focusing on issues and approaches that divide our country. I do not agree with that approach.”

In welcoming Senator Sykes to the Democratic caucus, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) said, “Senator Sykes is a commonsense leader who serves with the best interests of her constituents in mind, no matter the party label. She will be a great addition to our caucus.”

And across the rotunda…

Also this morning, State Representative Stephanie Clayton announced her switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party. Clayton is from Overland Park and represents HD 19.

Clayton made it clear in a press release announcing her decision that public education was front and center in her thinking. Said Clayton, “I first ran for office in 2010, when my daughter was in first grade, because of the lack of stable funding for public education. Leaders in the Kansas House and Senate have now indicated that they will seek to scrap the bipartisan education plan achieved over the last two years, just as we are so close to solving this problem and ending the cycle of school litigation.”

Clayton has been noted for her bipartisan work and was an organizer and leader of the bipartisan “Women’s Caucus”, which moved the agenda on comprehensive tax reform in the 2017 legislative session. It was that work that pushed the legislature to finally adopt a tax bill that reversed the failed Brownback experiment and set the state on the path to fiscal stability.

In welcoming Representative Clayton into the Democratic House Caucus, Minority Leader-elect Tom Sawyer (D-Wichita) said, “Rep. Clayton will be welcomed into the House Democratic Caucus. We have continuously worked with her on important issues such as education and healthcare, and look forward to working alongside Stephanie as a member of our caucus. She is a public servant with incredibly impressive passion, grit, and drive to do the right thing for Kansans.”

These changes put the Senate at 11 Democrats, 28 Republicans, and 1 Independent; the House is now 41 Democrats and 84 Republicans.

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How NOT to End the “Cycle of Litigation” and New Democrats in the Senate

Dec 12, 2018 by

Republican Leaders Want to Toss Out the Constitutional School Finance System?

If we had a dollar for every time that Republican leadership in the Kansas House and Senate last year said they want to “end the cycle of litigation over school finance,” we would be retired today.

Of course, back then we thought nothing of these statements because we, too, want to see an end to the cycle of litigation because that means our schools would be both adequately and equitably funded. That’s what everyone wants – or so we thought.

This is why it came as such a surprise when we read in the Wichita Eagle that House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) told an audience in Johnson County that they were interested in tossing out last year’s school finance plan and starting completely over. Why? According the the Eagle article, it’s because “Republican leaders are skeptical the state could pay for the change and say the funding plan may need to be changed instead.”

In essence, they don’t want to fund schools adequately.

Here’s what we know about last year’s plan and the status of the current school finance litigation:

In response to an earlier Supreme Court ruling that school funding was constitutionally both inadequate and inequitable, the Legislature passed bills in 2017 and 2018 that repealed the unconstitutional Brownback block grant funding scheme.

The Court subsequently ruled that the new formula met the equity test but was still somewhat short of adequacy. The adequacy ruling was based on the fact that the phased-in increases in school funding did not account for inflation. Evidence showed that inflation would eat up about $90 million of increased funding in the out years of the plan. Essentially, a $100 million funding increase next year would only be a $10 million increase in funding after accounting for inflation.

The Court directed the Legislature to return and deal with the inflation issue.

Given that the Wagle/Denning school funding study conducted by Dr. Lori Taylor found the state to be shortchanging schools by as much as $2 billion, the Court’s call for dealing with inflation only after the additional $525 million provided by the Legislature seems modest. But apparently, Republican leaders are not interested in meeting the Court ruling.

There are two ways currently to end the cycle of litigation.

One is to address the inflation issue in the out years of the 2018 legislation and then provide an ongoing mechanism to maintain the funding level so established.

The other is the Ryckman/Denning way which is to ban litigation. They would rather just pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting school finance lawsuits and then not worry whether schools are adequately funded at all.

We believe that the best approach for the Legislature to take in 2019 is to first leave the constitutional school funding formula alone – why mess with the good work done to get a constitutional formula written and passed?

Then, address the inflation issue in last year’s legislation. Thanks to the hard work the Legislature did in reversing the disastrous Brownback tax experiment, revenues are coming in better than expected and adding the inflation increase is affordable.

Finally, resist the temptation of prohibiting the public from going to court. All citizens must have the option to go to court if they feel aggrieved and the court system must not be politicized. We must honor our system of checks and balances under which the Legislature makes the laws but the citizens can ask the court to review whether or not those laws are constitutional. The proposed constitutional amendment is a slippery slope which could result in dismantling the very system our founders envisioned and established.

Click here to read the Wichita Eagle article.

Three New Democrats Coming to the Senate

The Senate Democratic Caucus will welcome three new members when they convene for the 2019 Legislative Session.

Two are replacements for newly elected Governor Laura Kelly and Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers.

Kelly, who is still technically the Kansas State Senator from SD 18 covering parts of Shawnee, Wabaunsee, and Pottawatomie Counties will be replaced by Vic Miller who is currently representing HD 58 in the Kansas House of Representatives. Rogers, currently the Kansas State Senator from SD 25 in Wichita, will be replaced by Mary Ware, a community activist from Wichita.

The third new Democratic Senator is a familiar face to those who watch the Kansas Legislature. Senator Barbara Bollier from Johnson County has switched party affiliations and will join the Democratic caucus. We can now officially say “Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills).”

With Bollier’s switch, the Democratic caucus increases by one member for 2019.

In a press release, Bollier had this to say of her decision, “I’ve been a proud Kansas Republican for 43 years. I always embraced the common-sense policies of Governor Bill Graves, US Senator Nancy Kassebaum, and President Eisenhower. But during the last eight years, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with Republican leaders’ hardline rhetoric, contempt for compromise, and obsession with putting political power before children and families. With this recent election, it has become clear that the majority of the Republican Party does not accept moderate Republicans any longer.”

In welcoming Bollier to the Democratic caucus, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said, “She has been a longtime friend and respected colleague with the best interests of Kansas at heart. Her expertise, pragmatism, and courage enrich the entire Kansas Legislature — regardless of whether she calls herself a Democrat or Republican.”

Bollier has long been an advocate for health care, public schools, and pro-family policies. Bollier came into conflict with Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) over her endorsement of Laura Kelly for Governor and Democrat Tom Niermann for Congress. (Niermann lost the Democratic Primary to Sharice Davids who was elected to Congress in November.) Wagle stripped Bollier of important positions in the Senate – most notably her leadership position on the Committee on Public Health and Welfare. As the only physician in the Senate, Bollier was a natural fit for such an important committee.

Bollier has also been a staunch supporter and defender of public schools, students, and the educators who staff those schools. Bollier was a member of the Senate Education Committee.

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