Accountability be damned

We have been meaning to write about the Appellate Apportionment Commission’s secret work to draw new state legislative districts for next year’s elections of House and Senate members.  But news kept getting in the way.

Very little government business transacted behind closed doors needs to be or should be kept secret from the public. That is presumably one of the hallmarks of our democratic system. The apportionment commission’s attitude that the public be damned during the process of deciding who might represent us in the legislature is just one more example of a worsening trend in state government.

A three-letter word in state law allows groups transacting the public business to hide. The operative language says that “executive meetings may be scheduled and held as often as the commission deems advisable.” May. Not “shall.” May.

The state open meetings and open records law leaves hiding behind closed doors to the discretion of the public body but closing the meeting has to be done under specific guidelines. To the detriment of the general public in too many instances, the bodies we elect or the appointed bodies that carry out the functions of government too often take the easy way and turn the three-letter “may” into the phrase, “It’s okay to keep the public ignorant from  what we talk about, what we do, or what the vote was when we did it.”

Jean Maneke, a Kansas City lawyer who often is relied upon by journalists, looked at the constitution, the statutes, and the state supreme court rules and concluded the judicial Apportionment Commission violated state law and the state supreme court operating rules.

Well, the commission has finished its secret work, has rejected any public involvement, and has throw its maps of new legislative districts on the table. It’s hard to say their product would have been different if the commission had been unafraid to do public work in the public eye.

Drawing the lines for districts that determine how we will pick people to represent us in shaping state laws is serious work. Too bad the commission refused to let the public know what considerations it used in drawing those lines, what compromises had to be made to get a majority vote on the map, and who pressures it was under to draw lines benefitting certain areas, factions, or individuals. The commission apparently feels  that how decisions were made about how we might be represented in the legislature are too important for the public to know.

Some folks might be somewhat upset by these secret decisions.  More than fifty of them, in fact.

We have turned to our friend Marc Powers, the ruler of the capitol kingdom of Arcania, a small territory near the west end first floor stairwell to the basement, to analyze what the commission hath wrought.  He has passed along this compilation which, though thorough, he does not guarantee is 100% accurate:  But Marc is pretty reliable.

Fifty-five incumbents are grouped with at least one other incumbent in a total of 26 districts. Twenty-three of those districts have two incumbents each, while three districts have three incumbents. Of the grouped incumbents, 23 are Democrats and 32 are Republicans. Of the 26 districts that have grouped incumbents, nine have only Democrats, 13 have only Republicans and four have a Democrat paired with a Republican. With 25 current members termed, that leaves 138 incumbents eligible to run in 2012. As a result 40 percent of eligible returning incumbents are grouped with other incumbents.

Grouped eligible returning incumbents (the numbers represent legislative districts):

  • 2          Guernsey, Klippenstein
  • 5          Shively, Shumake
  • 21        McDonald, Anders
  • 24        Talboy, Morgan
  • 36        Holsman, McManus
  • 43        Houghton, Cauthorn
  • 50        Caleb Jones, Kelly
  • 57        Largent, Wanda Brown
  • 67        Taylor, Webb
  • 76        Nasheed, May, Carter
  • 85        Smith, Pace
  • 87        Newman, Carlson
  • 88        Schupp, McCreery
  • 89        Stream, Diehl, McNary
  • 92        Montecillo, Sifton
  • 97        Fuhr, McCaherty
  • 100      Gosen, Allen, Koenig
  • 103      Funderburk, Bahr
  • 110      Curtman, Tim Jones
  • 118      Harris, Fitzwater
  • 119      Schatz, Hinson
  • 121      Day, Frederick
  • 133      Long, Burlison
  • 148      Brandom, Hodges
  • 152      Hampton, Richardson
  • 160      Lant, Reiboldt
  • 163      Davis, Flanigan

We thank Marc for his work. (Actually he is not the Emperor of Arcania; he’s the press agent for the House minority Democrats but he has a habit of reading things that are usually to dry and boring for anybody else to read.)  We’ll be watching to see if any of these folks on his list become upset enough about what has been done to them and their districts by the commission to seek a court remedy.  If they do, they might point to the state’s open meetings law and challenge the secrecy of the proceedings along with any other challenges they might make to the legitimacy of the lines that have been drawn.  The open meetings law says a court SHALL void any action taken by the public governmental body if that body is found to have violated the open meetings law.

Any court challenges probably need to be filed quickly because candidate filing begins February 28.

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2 thoughts on “Accountability be damned

  1. It may have been better to be in the open, but I don’t see how considering who represents them now makes any difference to the process. Better to satisfy geographic needs than the re-election of an incumbent.

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