By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — On the cusp of the 2013 legislative session, some conservative legislators are setting their sights on the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, with the goal of leaving it powerless.
The Associated Press reported earlier this week a number of Republican lawmakers have voiced frustration over the politically appointed commission’s perceived bias against staunch conservatives.
“Whether or not that’s a reality, you can’t get to that because the perception is so bad,” said Rep. Scott Schwab, R-District 49, chair of the House Elections Committee, citing instances in which conservative candidates have gone before the commission — and into the headlines — over $1 fines for relatively minor fiscal missteps.
But Carol Williams, executive director of the ethics commission, said such hearings are often automatic and mandated by state statute. Because conservatives comprise a heavy majority in the state’s political arena, she said, they also make up a large number of those called before the commission.
“It is not the commission’s fault that those people who have been solicited over the last few years have been Republicans,” Williams said. “That’s just how the chips fall.”
Proposals circulating among House Republicans include instituting term limits for commission appointees, as well as a controversial suggestion to transfer enforcement authority to county attorneys and the state attorney general, themselves elected officials.
Would that be a conflict of interest?
“To a degree, yes, and that’s part of the conversation we need to have,” Schwab said. “How do you handle who polices the police? I don’t know how we do it, that’s part of the conversation we need to have.”
“I don’t want people to think we’re trying to get rid of ethics and go back to the Nixon days,” Pyle said. “We haven’t had the conversation; it’s almost like we’re afraid to have the conversation because we’re afraid of being called unethical.”
Neither Schwab nor Pyle said they were aware of any pre-filed legislation, but they expected it to be a topic on which to focus during the upcoming legislative session. For now, Williams isn’t worried.
“Until we see actual legislation and what is being proposed, until we’re at that point, it’s kind of esoteric,” said Williams.
Pyle said it’s the duty of state lawmakers to remain skeptical of entities such as the ethics commission, as well as its opponents.
“There are always going to be those that believe they’ve been mistreated. Our job as legislators is to find out if that’s true, and if that means reforming, changing the dynamics of the commission, we’ll definitely be interested in looking at that,” Pyle said.
Regarding the rumbling of dissent against the commission, Pyle said, “I do know that when you hear thunder, you’re supposed to be careful, you might be struck by lightning.”
— Edited by John Trump at [email protected]