Critics call Kansas Gov. Brownback's agenda a 'power grab'

The Kansas City StarMay 9, 2011 

Kansas’ new governor, Sam Brownback, is facing early criticism for what’s called an unprecedented effort to consolidate authority within the executive branch.

Critics, including some of Brownback’s fellow Republicans, cite examples from the former U.S. senator’s first months in office in which he’s brought independent agencies under his control — or at least tried.

“They are trying to acquire as much authority as they can get over state government and centralize as many state government functions as they possibly can in the governor’s office,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Democrat from Lawrence.

What’s in it for Brownback? According to Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat from Topeka, it’s all aimed at maximizing Brownback’s political and executive leverage over a sprawling state bureaucracy, and imprinting that bureaucracy with his personal agenda.

In other words, Hensley said, a “power grab.”

But the governor’s office insisted that times have changed in the Sunflower State. With Kansas strapped for cash, it has to find ways to perform many of the same old functions with fewer dollars.

“The state can’t afford to do everything it has done in the past,” said Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag. “We’ve got to focus on the core responsibilities and try to find ways to make state government more efficient.”

Those who question the moves, however, argue that there’s more at stake than saving a few bucks in a multi-billion-dollar budget. The danger, they contend, is that the demise of independent agencies will lead to a more politicized government — one more concerned about the standing of the Brownback administration than the core missions that the agencies once championed.

“The negative side is that you politicize all kinds of stuff,” said University of Kansas political scientist Burdett Loomis.

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