Overflow crowd shows up to hear NEJC legislators; budget at forefront of topics

Rep. Jarrod Ousley speaking Saturday morning as Rep.s Melissa Rooker and Stephanie Clayton listen.
Rep. Jarrod Ousley speaking Saturday morning as Rep.s Melissa Rooker and Stephanie Clayton listen.

An overflow crowd packed the meeting room at the Corinth Library Saturday morning to hear three northeast Johnson County legislators talk about what they see primarily as the dysfunction of the Kansas Legislature this session.

The budget hole, changes to education funding, attempts to move municipal elections and a tightening of welfare rules in Kansas were just a few of the topics that Reps. Melissa Rooker, Stephanie Clayton and Jarrod Ousley tackled. The standing-room-only crowd had more questions than could be answered during the session.

The legislators expressed concerns about the budget and how it will be balanced. “Several things will be thrown against the wall to see what sticks,” Clayton said of tax proposals emerging at the end of the session. “We are running a shell game. I am troubled by that,” Rooker said of the state “keeping the budget afloat by bonding and borrowing.”

Among the serious issues, a few light-hearted moments emerged. When a questioner asked what is stopping Medicaid expansion, Ousley replied, “I think it involves politics,” to laughs from the crowd.

After Rooker and Clayton, both Republicans, had talked about being removed from committees by the leadership, another questioner asked why they didn’t just become Democrats. “It doesn’t help to be a Democrat,” said Ousley, who is one.

“You don’t want to give the Republican Party over to the conservative monolith,” Rooker said. “Nothing short to murder will shut me up,” Clayton added. She had been moved off the utilities committee because of her support for clean and renewable energy. “Our constituents really like the idea of renewable energy,” she said. She and Rooker are two Republican who believe in climate change, she added. Rooker was removed from the education committee this year.

All three criticized procedures in the legislature. Rooker said she and Clayton share a philosophy that they won’t vote for bills that are presented so there is no time for legislators to read them. Ousley said in his short time in the legislature he has learned that the only rule is that majority rules.