Prairie Village rep introduces bill to stagger state senate terms in effort to make upper chamber more accountable to voters

Rep. Jerry Stogsdill
Rep. Jerry Stogsdill

Prairie Village Rep. Jerry Stogsdill has pre-filed a bill that would change the election cycle for the state senate, a move he says would make the legislature’s upper chamber more accountable to voters.

At present, all 40 seats in the senate come up for election the same year every four years. Stogsdill’s proposal, which would require a change to the Kansas Constitution, would stagger the senate terms so that half of the seats are up for election every two years.

“They would still run for four year terms except in 2020 when half of them would run for a two year term and half for a four year term,” he said. “It would only impact that one election cycle and only half of the Senators running in that cycle.”

Stogsdill argues that staggering the senate terms would make legislators more accountable to constituents and serve as a buffer against extremism. In an explanation of the bill, he laid out three benefits of staggering senate terms:

Right now the electorate can only vote on how the Senate is doing every four years. That basically makes them unaccountable for at least three years. Under a staggered plan the electorate can use their votes every two years to let the Senate know if they are representing the best interests of their constituents. House members are accountable to their constituents every two years. Accountability to your constituents is the bedrock of good government and this bill brings more accountability to members of the Senate.

Under the present configuration there is a much better opportunity for extremists in the Senate to take over the process because they know that, immediately after an election, no one can remove them from office for another four years. This happened in Kansas in 2012 when the extremists were free from constituent oversight for four years and we wound up with the disastrous Brownback “tax experiment”.
With staggered terms the Senate would know that half of their members would have to stand for election in front of the voters in two years. Knowing that half of their members would be subject to the approval of the electorate in two years there would be a lot more pressure from those up for election to take, and encourage their colleagues to take, the moderate political positions favored by most Kansas voters. Under the staggered plan the Senate would be under far more pressure to get something done, to work in conjunction with the House and to support more moderate positions favored by the electorate.

Continuity can be important in making sure you do not lose all, or a significant number, of Senators in one single election. By staggering terms you would guarantee that some degree of continuity would remain in place. It also helps prevent extremists from being able to take over the Senate in one single election cycle.

Presently, Kansas is just one of nine states that hold elections for every seat in their senate every four years.