Most people would prefer someone admit he or she doesn’t know the answer to a question, rather than have the person fake his or her way through the answer. We typically want the person who doesn’t know the answer to assure us that he or she will try and get to the bottom of the question we asked. One new Statehouse legislator representing Franklin County residents seems more than willing to express his lack of knowledge on the issues, but we’re not sure that means he’s going back later to find answers for us.
This particular lawmaker was one of three legislators taking questions from local residents at last weekend’s legislative coffee at Ottawa’s City Hall. Though all three lawmakers are Republicans, senior legislator state Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, knew the party line best and recited it well. She said she enjoys getting into the details of bills and really understanding them.
“I’m fairly meticulous,” Tyson said. “Not every legislator works this way, but I do try to read the legislation that I’m voting on.”
She and Franklin County’s two freshmen legislators, Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, and Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, aren’t expected to know every detail of every bill going through the Legislature. It is a fair expectation of them, however, to know more about important pending legislation than those in attendance at the forum. With more than 100 bills already making their ways through committees in Topeka, there clearly is a lot to learn. And it appears Jones will have an exceptionally long learning curve.
Responding to a question about a Kansas House bill that aims to change the rules on teacher contracts, Jones said, “On this 2085, honestly, I don’t know if I’m behind the curve on the whole political ear to the ground. Man, hearing or finding out about all these bills and stuff is all almost through gossip or whatever and then I look it up and try to read up on it and I haven’t read it at all.”
On multiple occasions at the Feb. 2 event, Jones said he hadn’t heard of specific bills mentioned. He said he appreciated the governor’s vision and strong leadership for him to follow. He also told constituents at the forum that he welcomed their input on how he should vote on bills because they clearly had a better understanding of the details than he did. Comparing newcomer Jones, who is a friendly and likeable member of the Franklin County legislative delegation, to newcomer Finch hardly seems fair since Finch is an attorney with strong familiarity with the law, but that doesn’t let Jones and others off the hook when it comes to being fully informed ahead of votes in Topeka and the bills’ impact on constituents.
“Thank you, guys [Tyson and Finch after explaining how the budget works], because that helps clarify for me actually,” Jones said. “The governor shared his vision with us and there’s a picture on my Facebook or something ... where I’m 3 feet from the governor. What I’m thankful for is a leader with a vision. This is what I want to do. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with it. He shared his vision and we move around in our seats and say, ‘Holy cow,’ and I’m like, ‘Yikes!’ OK, yeah, so I know what the administration is thinking they want, a comprehensive fix to the tax, and we’re faced with this really hard question and this is where I ask you guys, are we willing to fill this hole ... taking away from education? We get to take this vision and try and make it so it works for our constituents, but hopefully you guys have ideas and take it to us please.”
On a question about religion in schools, Jones answered, “I don’t know that I understand it fully ... I’m not a political genius so I could say a lot of stuff that would get me in trouble.”
When Dotson Bradbury, West Franklin school superintendent, asked about the likelihood that the Bonded Indebtedness 35-percent tax reduction program for schools would be retained this year, his question was met with confusion by two of the three lawmakers. Only Finch knew what statute he was talking about.
“We have a duty to not face complexity with simple answers,” Finch said.
While one misstep can be forgiven, Jones consistently said he was uninformed on big issues at the forum.
“Holy cow! There’s so much to it,” Jones said when answering a question about Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) funding. “The unfunded liability is $10 billion or something. We made promises and we need to keep them. I’ve got so much to learn.”
Yes, Rep. Jones you do. The process is complicated, and as Tyson said, the reason it is complicated is to provide appropriate checks and balances. We trust Jones now will take the appropriate time to do his homework and learn about the issues himself, then vote accordingly.
We need lawmakers working hard to help provide solutions rather than just taking cues from Cedar Crest.
— Jeanny Sharp,
editor and publisher