Barbara Ballard, former lawmakers urge Kansans to reject proposed amendment, retain judges
Women gathered at the Watkins Museum of History on Thursday in Lawrence to discuss the November election, holding repurposed “Vote No” signs from the August abortion campaign and wearing “pro-Roe” bling.
The news conference was one of four held by Keep Kansas Free across the state on Thursday. The organization’s stated goal is to elect candidates who will support women, encourage Kansans to vote against a constitutional amendment that would weaken the authority of the governor and promote retention of all Kansas Supreme Court Justices.
Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Lawrence Democrat, said Kansans needed to realize the urgency of this election.
“If we don’t do anything, something will be taken away from us,” Ballard said. “We should pay attention to the fact that they’re messing with the constitution.”
The Kansas Legislature currently has the ability to overturn executive rules and regulations by a two-thirds majority vote and a signature from the governor.
One constitutional amendment on November’s ballot would change that, taking power from the governor and giving it to the legislature. The amendment would authorize the Legislature to revoke or suspend policies from the state executive by a simple majority vote, with no governor signature required.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt proposed the amendment following Kelly’s decision to temporarily close schools at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ballard denounced the amendment, saying the power imbalance would be too great.
“So now they have the governor’s power plus the additional legislative power. That’s not the way it should work,” Ballard said.
Elizabeth Patton, state director for Americans for Prosperity-Kansas, said the campaign didn’t represent the situation accurately. Patton said the proposed amendment would increase accountability and efficiency in state government.
“Keep Kansas Free’s campaign demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of both how our state government works and the purpose of this amendment,” Patton said in a released statement. “This has nothing to do with the governor’s veto power. This amendment is a bipartisan effort to make sure every Kansan has a voice in state government.”
Ballard and other speakers also urged the crowd of about 25 people, mostly women, to vote to retain Kansas judges.
Kansas operates with a merit-based Supreme Court judicial selection process, in which a nine-person panel nominates candidates and sends them to the governor, who makes the final selection. The judge serves for a year before the public votes in a general election whether to keep them in the position. If the judge is approved, they serve for six years on the state Supreme Court.
In 2019, the state Supreme Court voted to uphold abortion rights, with a majority deciding that the Kansas Bill of Rights protected the right to an abortion. In November, six of Kansas’ seven Supreme Court judges are up for retention votes, along with seven of the 14 Kansas Court of Appeals judges.
Abortion rights activists are campaigning to keep the judges in their positions, while anti-abortion activists want to unseat the judges and create an anti-abortion court.
“When I look at this, the six judges are being penalized for doing their job. For saying it was in the constitution. And some folks want it out of the constitution,” Ballard said.
Former Topeka mayor and state representative Joan Wagnon also spoke about abortion, saying she remembered seeing girls go to the hospital needing medical care after having botched abortions when she was a young women. Wagnon said she had seen the history of the fight to legalize the procedure and wanted people to understand the urgency of the situation.
“Freedom is not cheap and freedom is not automatically granted,” Wagnon said. “It is earned and if we believe in it as women, then we go out and do something about it.”
Former representative Jill Quigley walked around the room with a clipboard, wearing a bedazzled “Vote” pin and asking the audience to sign up for campaign efforts.
Attendee Amanda Roberts said she was going to give her grandmother all the information she received. She said she learned a lot and was not aware of the amendments.
“I thought we had taken care of everything in August, but here we are again,” Roberts said. “I will definitely be taking the notes I took and talking not only to my friends but to my family. I already sent my grandma a list of candidates from the candidate guide. Her and I have really wonderful conversations about all this.”
Another attendee, Robyn Wagner, attended the meeting during her lunch break. For her, exercising voting rights is essential.
“As a woman of color, voting has always been really important to me,” Wagner said. “I know that there’s so many people before me who’ve come that didn’t have that right, and so I’m very passionate about using that opportunity, that freedom that a lot of other places don’t have.”
Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: email@example.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.
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House and Senate Republicans — in their latest attempts to weaken the state’s constitutional right to bodily autonomy — have introduced legislation to require prison time for coercing a pregnant person into getting an abortion and to mandate ultrasounds before terminating a pregnancy.