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While Sebelius is Away, the Kansas Legislature Will Play

April 20th 2009

Obama Admin Topics - Kathleen Sebelius

While Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius was away in Washington awaiting confirmation as Health and Human Services Secretary, the boys of the Kansas legislature went at it once again. For the fourth time, they passed a bill to allow construction of two 700-megawatt coal-burning electric plants in southwest Kansas. Previously, Sebelius vetoed the bill and there weren’t quite enough votes to override. Apparently, hoping for an early cabinet confirmation, the coal plant boys were probably thinking, now that Mom’s away maybe we can get away with it.

Here is some news for you boys. Until she’s confirmed Mom can still veto. On April 13, Kathleen Sebelius once again exercised her veto power, declaring, “What was a bad idea last year is an even worse idea today.” In her veto message, Sebelius went on to predict that President Obama would move to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, which would put Kansas coal plants in a bad place. And sure enough, before the week was out, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases “endanger public health and welfare.” That sets the stage for regulating coal-fired plants and other sources of pollution under federal clean air laws.

A majority of Kansans, according to polls, would prefer to see the state’s wind harnessed instead of shipping in coal from Montana to make electricity for Denver, befouling Kansas skies in the process. The Kansas legislature will come back on April 29th to try to override Kathleen’s veto, but word is, they are 10 votes shy of doing it. Last time they were only three votes away.

Understandably, environmentalists everywhere worry about the future and the precedents and policy moves being rammed through in Kansas. Will Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson have the stones to stand up to a legislature that is willing to disregard both constituents and governors in their courting of special interests? Parkinson is no Sebelius.

There’s more. The boys in the Kansas State Legislature—as they closed shop for the season, passed a passel of bills that again directly impact the policy areas Sebelius will oversee in Health and Human Services. It wasn’t all bad news. For example, they voted to end Kansas’s run as the state with the lowest minimum wage in the nation. After an embarrassing 20-year debate, the minimum wage was increased from $2.65 an hour to match the soon-to-be federal minimum wage of $7.25. But in other areas, they did real damage.

Legislators made some very painful budget cuts to accommodate a $330 million shortfall for next year. In doing so, they again sliced into the Sebelius policy world at HHS. Spending was cut drastically for public schools and social services. Ironically, legislators voted in a sales tax exemption for hunting and fishing fees, proving that boys will be boys, especially if they’ve got guns.

The legislative session is now over, and one might guess that the boys of the Kansas State legislature have hung signs on their office doors that read: “Gone Fishing.” I say, fish and hunt away, and let’s hope their constituents, many of whom claim to be fed up, vote the boys out next election.

In the meantime, an interesting dynamic is percolating. Sebelius advocates want her back—and now. Many wonder if she can somehow be found unfit for Washington, precisely so she can save her home state. For example, her supporters incorrectly predicted Washington examiners would not find any back taxes owing by squeaky-clean Kathleen. They were wrong. Turns out she had to scramble to pay back $8,000 for wrongly taken deductions. Yet, no one is making a fuss about it. Why not, her supporters ask? A similar accounting oversight doomed Tom Daschle, Obama’s first choice for Health and Human Services Secretary. Not a few Kansans were actually hoping the tax problem would scuttle the confirmation so the state wouldn’t lose its principled governor. No such luck. No one in Washington seems to care, not even arch-conservative Republican Senator Brownback, her ardent supporter despite her Democratic lapel pin. Is it because she has no enemies in Washington yet? She sure has them back home.

Save Kansas and return Kathleen her to her home state.

Cutting Edge Commentator Elizabeth Black is a syndicated Kansas columnist and the award winning author of the novel Buffalo Spirits. Buy it here.

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