Steve Becker, member of the Kansas legislature and of the Buhler Mennonite Church, spoke to the Kidron-Bethel Community in North Newton this morning (Sept. 29). In Becker’s view, four issues are paramount in current Kansas politics: the budget shortfall triggered by a major tax cut of 2012; the conflict between conservative Republicans led by Governor Sam Brownback and the Kansas Supreme Court; the governor’s refusal to to accept federal Medicaid payments; and the death penalty.
Because of his long-term career as a district court judge in Hutchinson, Becker has become an outspoken advocate of the rule of law and an independent judiciary. He deplores the current campaign of Brownback and conservative Republicans to gain political control of the Kansas Supreme Court. Becker said he prefers Kansas’ method of choosing Supreme Court judges over the federal system that tends to politicize court appointments. In Kansas the governor must appoint justices from a list chosen by an independent commission. But Brownback and others are now engaging in a campaign to get voters to remove current Supreme Court justices in the upcoming November election–something that has never been done in Kansas. If Brownback succeeds in this campaign, Becker says, the balance of power between the executive and judicial branches will be compromised.
The key issue behind Brownback’s campaign against the supreme court is funding for public education. Becker says the court needs to carry out its constitutional responsibility to guarantee adequate funding for education. The Kansas Code of Judicial Ethics makes it clear that the courts decisions should not be opposed for political reasons. Brownback is contradicting that principle.
Becker this morning said that he sees his central calling in the legislature is to lead the campaign against the death penalty. He has repeatedly introduced bills to end capital punishment, but each time they have been tied up in committee. Becker believes there are enough votes in the legislature to end the death penalty if it can be discussed and voted on the floor the House and Senate.
Becker said Kansas has a three-party system in Kansas: Democrats, Conservative Republicans, and “Rational” Republicans. He is in the latter group. Given the growing unpopularity of Governor Brownback, Becker is reasonably optimistic about the prospect for progressive reform.