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KS: Forward-looking committee is dumping ground for political opponents, lawmakers say

By   /   December 28, 2012  /   1 Comment

TRASH TALK: Members of the Vision 2020 committee in the Kansas House say political gamesmanship plays a part in committee placement. Those siding with the Speaker in power earn posh spots on coveted committees, while the rest are relegated to less important assignments.

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE — Across the nation, state legislatures are stirring from their slumber as lawmakers reorient themselves in the political landscape and prepare for the upcoming session.

For many, this means jockeying for plum committee appointments is already in full swing.

In the Kansas House, the top prize has always been the Appropriations Committee, followed by other heavy-hitters such as energy, commerce and economic development.

And then, there’s Vision 2020.

It is a unique committee in the House. While others deal with matters of immediate and tangible importance, Vision 2020 has been tasked with looking at issues with long-term ramifications in mind. By its very nature, this has led to more talk than substance, and little to no major policy discussion since its inception in 2011. In essence, an assignment to Vision 2020 effectively limits a representative’s influence.

Rep. Don Hill

Because of this, Vision 2020 has landed at the bottom of most lawmaker’s assignment wish list, including Rep. Don Hill, R-District 60.

“In terms of an end product regarding policy, it’s not a significant committee,” Hill said.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the committee isn’t in its actual work, but how it has been turned into a veritable dumping ground for legislative rivals.

“There’s no question of my mind that Vision 2020 is a committee that’s a boneyard of political opponents for whoever is making a committee assignment,” said Trent LeDoux, R-District 50.

While Senate appointments are made by a committee decision, in the House the Speaker has the final say.

Rep. Trent LeDoux

“If you’re inside with the speaker you get A-list committee assignments, and if you’re not you got to Vision 2020,” LeDoux added.

Kansas Chamber of Commerce president and former Republican Speaker of the House Mike O’Neal didn’t deny that favoritism played a role during his time in the House, though he says he always had the best interests of the committees in mind when making personnel decisions. O’Neal  ended a 27-year stint in the state legislature in June.

“All things being equal, if you’ve got two strong candidates for a chairmanship of committee A, the person who supported you for leadership has got a leg up,” O’Neal said.

Hill said not being in lock step with House leadership is a prime way to land on such an assignment.

“Members of the 2020 committee that might very well be qualified, might very well have seniority, were not deemed dependable “yes” votes or “no” votes, whichever the case may be,” Hill said. “Not everyone, but I think there’s several on the committee that were on the committee by virtue of this, and I would be one of those.”

Despite the frustration some legislators may feel by receiving a low-level appointment, Hill and LeDoux are upbeat about their spots on one of the least important House committees.

“I support it,” LeDoux said of the Speaker making all assignment decisions. “It may not have worked out to my benefit, but I happen to believe in a strong speakership, and I believe in the institution a lot more than the individual holding the job.”

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62.

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Travis Perry is an investigative reporter covering news and politics for Watchdog.org's Kansas bureau. Before joining the organization, Travis graduated cum laude from Washburn University and cut his teeth as news editor for the Osawatomie Graphic, where he received numerous awards from the Kansas Press Association.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.miller.94617 Robert Miller

    politicians need term limits at the state and federal level. two terms each level, no retirement.

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