As lifelong Kansans and Republicans, each of us considered it a great honor and privilege to serve as president of the Kansas Senate.
We were guided by important principles: Lead the chamber with honesty and integrity. Listen to and consider all viewpoints. And, respect and defend the legislative process and will of the people of Kansas.
Unfortunately, Kansas policymaking in recent years has been marred by extreme partisanship and ideology-driven decisions. Too often, the will of the people has been ignored.
A prime example: Senate President Susan Wagle, incensed after the Republican-led House of Representatives recently rejected a controversial abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution, set out to pressure lawmakers by throwing a bipartisan Medicaid expansion bill and other important policy proposals back into unfriendly committees. In defending her plan to block Medicaid expansion from moving forward, she said: “This is exactly how democracy is supposed to work.”
We respectfully disagree. A process in which one or a few people determine which laws move forward is anything but democratic.
The Senate president’s reckless decision to pull numerous promising bills after the constitutional amendment failed only showed she was focused more on drawing attention to her U.S. Senate race than doing what's best for Kansas.
Bills she removed from the calendar because they possibly could be vehicles for Medicaid expansion address such serious issues as human trafficking and domestic violence, life-threatening opioid abuse and life-saving organ transplants, among others.
We know firsthand how difficult the legislative process can be. Lawmakers fortunate enough to be put in positions of leadership must make proper decisions under challenging circumstances.
We each encountered tough situations while Senate president. Difficult negotiations didn’t always end as we had hoped. Still, we didn’t try to hijack an entire legislative session when we disagreed with an outcome.
We valued the proper functioning of the legislative process and the maintenance of the institution of the Legislature.
We also sought bipartisan compromise that served Kansas well for many years, which is why we were encouraged to see Gov. Laura Kelly and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning set aside political differences and hammer out a compromise on Medicaid expansion. Their bipartisan plan is straightforward and affordable. It will not only help an estimated 150,000 low-income Kansans gain access to health care but also benefit struggling hospitals, including many in our rural communities that are on the brink of closure.
Under this fiscally responsible plan, our federal tax dollars would finally start coming back home. (We’ve left more than $3.8 billion on the table since 2014 due to legislative inaction.) A hospital surcharge endorsed by the Kansas Hospital Association would cover the state’s share of expansion.
This bipartisan compromise warrants open discussion, debate and a vote in the full Senate. Instead, this important bill and others may fall prey to the political whims of a Senate president seeking to boost her campaign for higher office. Recent news of her attempt last year to land an ambassadorship in the Trump administration through questionable means was yet another troubling sign of her focus on herself rather than on Kansas.
During our time in the Legislature, the duties of Senate president demanded our full attention. The current officeholder seems more focused on personal political gain than governing — and at significant cost to the people and future of our great state.
Kansans deserve better.
Dick Bond was Kansas Senate president from 1997 to 2001; Dave Kerr from 2001 to 2005; and Steve Morris from 2005 to 2013.