State Employees Are the Solution, Not the Problem

Employees of the State of Kansas have pulled me aside several times on the campaign trail. Every one of them asked for anonymity and to keep their specific offices out of any comments I make. Every one of them feels sick at heart, demoralized and frustrated. They feel like the Brownback Administration and his Legislative allies are blaming them for the disastrous results of The Brownback Experiment. If only they’d worked harder, or cut more corners, or been more efficient with the taxpayer dollar, the Brownback Experiment might be working. I find this situation outrageous.

The Bargain

First of all, let’s review the bargain we citizens make with our public servants. We get access to the skills, experience and dedication of hardworking professionals. They agree to work for bosses that will change – possibly radically – every four years. We get people who are willing to tackle the thankless jobs that the private sector can’t or won’t do. They forego the earning potential found in the private sector. We enjoy smooth roads, clean water and air, and smart children. They ensure that the million tiny details that make those things possible get done. Sounds like a good deal for the citizens.

So, when certain elected officials call those public service jobs inefficient, wasteful, or bureaucratic, that hurts the people that do them. And to add insult to injury, those officials constantly remind them that any complaint will either be seen as disloyalty or prohibited political speech. And then to pour salt in the original wound, Governor Brownback’s political appointees are ensuring that their hires survive the next round of state layoffs. The message is clear: get with the program or get your resume updated. Again, outrageous.

The Deal-Breaker

I recently attended a candidate meeting where we discussed the KanCare backlog. It started when Governor Brownback moved the KanCare application process from the Department of Children and Families to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. As you may know, it did not go well. In addition to the extensive computer problems, it was implied that the backlog was partially due to employees at DCF. Supposedly, they lacked enough motivation to process applications before the Governor transferred or downsized them. Assuming this is true, well… of course not. Those employees showed up every day to help the poor and vulnerable get access to medical care. And Governor Brownback replaced them with a broken, overbudget computer system. Additionally, processing the backlog comes with a price tag of $2.3 million – so far. We citizens dropped our end of the bargain and we will continue to pay the price.

I know that not every state employee feels this way. I know some of them support The Brownback Experiment. I’ve talked to them, too. But the difference is, they’re not afraid to speak up. They know that the political appointees in management won’t target them. They know that they will benefit from the new layoff preference system. But that’s the problem – one side feels free to speak, the other side fears for their careers. Former Senators Tim Owens and Steve Morris have gone on the record to state that Governor Brownback wants to replace the members of the Kansas Supreme Court with justices that vote “the way we want them to.” First, Brownback wants keep control of the legislature. Then, he wants to take control of the Supreme Court. In the meantime, he’ll install his cronies in the civil service. For the third time, outrageous.

We are on our way to becoming a one-party state. And history shows that sort of thing rarely ends well.

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