Local control split runs deep within Kansas Legislature

OF TWO MINDS: While local control is a key facet of conservative governance, the Kansas Legislature has found itself split between delegating powers and imposing law statewide.

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — They say politics makes strange bedfellows, and this year’s Kansas legislative session is no exception.

A pair of bills — one abolishing municipal gun control restrictions and another leaving teacher due process decisions to school boards — are two sides of the same coin: Local control.

“Local control is a traditional focal point for conservatives as a general rule, but when it hits up against some other issues then it’s not as important,” said Bob Beatty, political science professor at Washburn University. “That can be the same thing that’s true on the Democratic side of the aisle, too. American politics is not as ideologically consistent as some people would like it to be, or even as some people proclaim it to be.”

On this issue, Republican Reps. Melissa Rooker of Fairway and Jim Howell of Derby agree that when it comes to governance, smaller is better. But that’s about where the similarities end.

State Rep. Melissa Rooker

Rooker, a chief opponent of Howell’s bill dismantling local firearm restrictions, argues the Legislature has been of two minds on the matter of delegating powers. Officials favor power closer to the people on one issue, but not on another.

“It’s troubling when there’s so much inconsistency,” Rooker told Kansas Watchdog. “Constantly, the refrain is that the federal government can’t tell our state what to do, and then we turn around as a state and use the issue of gun rights to take local control away from our local jurisdictions.”

“I’m troubled when we use the guise of local control to do certain things, but then at other times it doesn’t appear to matter at all,” she said.

Howell argues that fact couldn’t be further from the truth. Nationwide, he said, folks cry foul at the drop of a hat when there’s even so much as a whisper about infringing on a person’s First Amendment rights; the same can’t usually be said of Second Amendment restrictions. Statewide gun regulations, he said, are a constitutional imperative.

“I was being accused of violating the local control concept, when in my opinion what I was doing was restoring individual rights,” Howell stated.

State Rep. Jim Howell

“(Limited government) is not an absolute sovereignty over every issue, and frankly if we did adopt that perspective then there would be no need for state government,” he said.

And while the statewide narrative has framed the due process issue as one of elimination, Howell said it’s a gross mischaracterization. There’s a big difference, he stated, between a mandate and a simple lack of requirement. The schools in Howell’s hometown, Derby Unified School District 260, have due process measures in their teacher contracts, and he predicts many other public schools will follow suit.

“There’s always a tension between individual rights and local control, because of the potential for a local entity to trample on somebody’s individual rights and therefore somebody needing the protection of the states and the federal government,” Beatty said. “Some conservatives, who in most cases will focus on local control, are also big champions of individual rights. On the other hand, a teacher may make the same argument. This is one of the key tensions in American politics.”

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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