How many of you remember learning about the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in American History class? The subject caught my attention only because I recall my grandmother (a well-known embellisher but great story-teller) describing an incident involving the local sheriff, some WPA trees, and a relative. For the sake of family reputation I will not go into any details.
The WPA is important today only because the origin of the Hatch Act lies with some indiscretions committed with WPA employees. Rest assured these kinds of high-level shenanigans were above any of my relatives’ abilities or interests. Furthermore, they were alleged to have been committed by Democrats and, as the blog title infers, I come from a long line of Republicans.
Clear back in 1938 some politicians used the WPA jobs as patronage in exchange for votes. Hard to believe, I know, that politicians would do such a thing. As a result, Congress passed the Hatch Act. The Act has been tinkered with over the past 80 years or so, but remains true to its essence in that it forbids employees of the federal executive branch from engaging in partisan political activity. Similar rules also apply to members of the military.
Why do we care about 80-year-old legislation here in Kansas now? For the second year in a row, legislation (SB 171) has been introduced to make school and city elections partisan. There are many reasons why this is a bad idea, but the biggest one is that it eliminates a large group of citizens from serving their local communities: members of the U.S. Military and Federal Employees. Currently, members of the military and other federal government employees can serve on local school boards and city commissions because these elections are non-partisan.
According to the State Smart Website, there are 61,773 federal employees in Kansas. Over half of these jobs, about 36,000 are military personnel. Under the suggested legislation (SB 171) none of these Kansas citizens could run for local partisan elections. But the Hatch Act is more expansive than just direct employees. Any person whose salary is paid for in whole or in part by federal funds is subject to the prohibition on partisan activities. Cases have been brought against persons running for office for such tangential relationships as receiving federal funds to purchase bulletproof vests for local sheriff officers. If local elections are made partisan, it is impossible to predict just how many Kansans would be eliminated from candidacy for local office because of these broad interpretations of the law.
It is also impossible to say how many people who have already been
elected by local voters would no longer be able to serve based upon the
provisions of the Hatch Act. The Topeka Capital Journal recently ran one veterans story.
In my opinion, one military service member being removed from his local school board just because he serves his country is too many.
Some of our legislators disagree. Some of you will remember the 70s when the voting age was changed from 21 to 18 because young men who were serving in Viet Nam were old enough to serve, but not old enough to vote. Is SB 171 a strange contradiction to that 1970s change that seems to imply good enough to serve, but not good enough to serve?
I hope you, and your communities will take the time to let your local legislator know how you feel about SB 171.