Capitol Update: ‘I believe we should respect our local municipalities and our school boards’

To keep our readers better informed about the state government actions that impact our communities, we feature an update columns each Monday from one of northeast Johnson County’s elected officials: Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf. Rep. Ousley submits this week’s update:

In the Governor’s State of the State address, the Governor proposed moving School Board and City elections from the spring, to the fall, purportedly to increase voter turnout.

Historically, these local elections have been held in April, so that School Board members are in place prior to the beginning of the academic year, and so that Mayors have time to prepare for their City’s fiscal year (many of which begin on July 1).  Additionally, the elections have always been under the control of the local governments.

Because they are limited to the issues facing municipalities, or to the single issue of education, and as those who serve on the school boards are not paid, these elections have remained nonpartisan, which has kept at bay the rancor of party politics, and kept down campaign costs.  Another advantage of keeping such elections nonpartisan is that Federal Government employees (such as members of the armed service) can participate in nonpartisan elections, but are unable to participate in partisan elections.  This is likely helpful in communities like Leavenworth or in USD 475, home to Fort Riley.  April elections are also more convenient for families with school age children, as they are often on vacation prior to the academic year beginning in August, during fall primaries.

Turn out for spring elections is lower than for the elections in the fall, with about 10% of registered voters participating.  However, an effective way to increase voter turnout, without usurping local control, is via mail in ballots.  An excellent example of this is the local SMSD mail in ballot regarding the LOB and bond issue, in which 30% of eligible, registered voters participated in the election.

SB 171, a bill politicizing local elections, and moving them to the fall, was heard in the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee on Wednesday, February 11.  There were seven proponents for the bill.  The number of opponents far outweighed them.  Those against the bill included Johnson County, the cities of Shawnee and Overland Park, Shawnee Mission School District, Johnson and Wyandotte Counties Council of Mayors, Mainstream Coalition, Game On for Kansas Schools, Kansas NEA, the Kansas PTA, League of Kansas Municipalities, and the Kansas County Clerks and Election Officers Association, among many, many others.  As an aside, in a poll conducted by the PV Post this last week, poll participants overwhelmingly opposed making the elections partisan.

Written_Testimony
Written testimony against SB 171.

During the committee hearing, every proponent was given a chance to speak.  However, despite the many people present who were opposed, some of whom had driven rather far to participate, only two were allotted the time to voice their opposition to the State’s overreach.  Written testimony in opposition to the bill filled the tables outside the committee hearing.  One might think with such strong opposition to the bill, the committee would reject it outright.

On Friday, the bill was altered, so that for right now, elections are only moved to the fall without making them partisan.  In this form it passed through the committee.  However, after watching the legislature, I believe this is only a temporary change.  I imagine that amendments will be attached either this year, before a final vote, or perhaps during the next legislative session, shifting the elections from nonpartisan to partisan.  If straight ticket voting is enacted in conjunction with this, we will see a radical shift in how local elections are run, and in the composition of our local governing bodies and our school boards.

I believe we should respect our local municipalities and our school boards, and continue to grant them the authority to operate and control their own local elections.  I oppose these changes.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve the 24th District.  I can be reached at jarrod.ousley@house.ks.gov

at www.facebook.com./JarrodOusleyforthe24th  and at 785-296-7366.