Sunday, May 5, 2013

About 100 people rally against policies of Brownback and legislative majority

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

About 100 people on Saturday braved chilly weather to protest outside the Statehouse against the policies of Gov. Sam Brownback and a majority of the Legislature.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said Brownback and his fellow conservative Republicans dominating the Legislature were approving laws that will hurt many working Kansans.

"Let's send them packing in 2014," Davis urged the crowd, referring to next year's elections.

Davis and other speakers cited a bill signed into law by Brownback that bars public employee unions from taking voluntary deductions from members' paychecks to help finance political activities.

The measure was sought by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and conservative legislators who argued that people were being coerced into making the contributions.

Teachers and state employee groups said the bill was a thinly disguised attempt to weaken the political influence of public unions.

"We have to keep on fighting" said Lisa Ochs, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Kansas. "Doing nothing is not an option. If we don't have a voice, we don't have a choice."

The event was sponsored by the Working Kansas Alliance and was held just days before the Legislature reconvenes Wednesday for the wrap-up session to work on the state budget and tax policy.

Speakers at the rally also spoke against proposals to dismantle the classified employment system and change public pensions.

Ochs said many of the proposals were taken from the American Legislative Exchange Council, which says it pushes free market ideas, but has been criticized as a corporate bill mill. Key legislative leaders in Kansas also hold leadership positions with ALEC.

Donn Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union, spoke against the Brownback administration's proposal to repeal limits on corporate farming. Kansas Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman has said current restrictions are hurting the Kansas economy by driving business to other states.

But Teske said repealing corporation farming limits would increase out of state and foreign ownership of Kansas agriculture. "How does profits going out of state make Kansas a better state?" he asked.

Tobias Schlingensiepen, who ran unsuccessfully in November as the Democratic candidate in the 2nd U.S. House District, said too many elected officials were members of the "cult of austerity," trying to sell off public institutions to private enterprise.

"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not for sale," he said.

Terri Wilke of Lawrence attended the rally, holding a sign protesting against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

She said she was unhappy with Kobach's national pursuit of tough illegal immigration legislation.

Kobach has said he conducts his anti-illegal immigration advocacy on his own time, but Wilke said, "He is testing the limits of what a secretary of state should be doing."