Politicians fighting about the pandemic just adds to Kansans’ suffering

September 14, 2020 4:00 am

House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, said everything the governor does, by definition, is political, and that it was disingenuous of her to claim Republicans were playing politics and she isn’t. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

“Mom! Dad! Quit fighting!”

That’s how it feels, now, whenever Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican House and Senate leaders start talking about how best to move Kansas through the plague.

A couple of weeks ago, they fought over how much federal help to extend to unemployed Kansans. On Friday, it took two timeouts before they could agree to extend the state’s emergency declaration so Kansas could keep up its financial, logistical and public health response to the virus.

For non-political junkies who had more mentally healthy things to do on Friday than tune in to a three-hour conference call, some low-lights are below.

But first, the power to approve many of Kelly’s COVID-related executive orders rests with a body called the State Finance Council. Besides the governor, these individuals are:

On Friday, the Republicans showed up determined to, they said in a preemptive news release, “prevent the governor from unilaterally ordering any new lockdowns that would destroy businesses” — as if that were something she was eager to do.

Kelly repeatedly said she didn’t want to close businesses.

They argued over the necessity of adding such language for hours, took a couple of failed votes and two breaks to consult attorneys.

In the process, here are a few things they said:

Wagle to Kelly:Everyone wants to stop the virus, we are united. But they want to be able to trust us that we can move forward and that you would stop the fearmongering about the spread of the virus because we are in a better situation now than we were in March.”

Kelly: “The time has really come to stop playing politics with this. That’s what’s going on here. This has absolutely nothing to do with protecting businesses or anything else. … There is so much at stake here. You know, please do not let your ideology or your dislike for me as governor, and the fact that I’m a Democrat — please, let’s vote for the people. Let’s not vote for politics.”

Denning: “Gov. Kelly, I actually like you and like working with you and have worked with you. So I hope you’re not thinking that I’m making (one of the early no votes) because I do not like you.”

Hensley: “I’d also like to say that I like Gov. Kelly.”

Hawkins: “The governor consistently, every day at her press conferences, tells people how she is not political and that we are ultra political. And I gotta tell you, I’m tired of it. I’m flat tired of that narrative. So get over it and let’s move on.”

Wagle: “I refuse to vote.”

Hawkins (raising voice) to Kelly: “I’ve listened to you day in and day out give your press conferences and tell people how you’re not political. This is political on your part, because right now, you have a path to get this done. You have a path that every single one of us, you’ve heard us say we’ll vote for it, and you refuse. That’s political. That’s about as political as it gets. It’s a game. It’s a game for you. It’s time for the gamesmanship to end, governor.”

Denning to Kelly: “I don’t need another lecture from (Kelly’s chief of staff) Will (Lawrence), who is probably the most political person in the building. … We’re at a point where we can solve this thing just from some language, some good policy and remove the line in the sand … that says, like your press release is going to say, that ‘I have no intention of closing business.’ ”

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning says the State Finance Council meeting began with a “hell no” and ended with a unanimous vote, which makes the compromise a success. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Denning played the role of de-escalator.

I just think we’re so darn close. Let’s not go over the cliff,” he said, pleading like the middle child in an After School Special. “There’s got to be a way to get a little bit of language in there and let us sleep at night and be able to defend our vote, and you as well.”

Kelly agreed to add the words “it is the governor’s intention not to use her authority to close businesses” to the declaration.

And Republicans put out a news release.

“Republican members refused to be bullied,” they said. They had united against the power-abusing Kelly to “keep Kansas safe and open.”

What they actually accomplished: Two days — a weekend, at least — without arguments.

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C.J. Janovy
C.J. Janovy

C.J. Janovy is a veteran journalist with deep roots in the Midwest. She was the Opinion Editor for the Kansas Reflector from launch unit l June 2021. Before joining the Reflector, she was an editor and reporter at Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, KCUR. Before that, she edited the city’s alt-weekly newspaper, The Pitch, where Janovy and her writers won numerous local, regional and national awards. Her book “No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas” was among the Kansas Notable Books of 2019.