Starting in 1871 and for close to 150 years since, we’ve been working in this country to get rid of the spoils system and keep politics, as much as possible, out of public employment. Kansas House Bill 2391, recently signed into law, goes a long way towards reversing this trend and putting politics back into the administrative civil service system in Kansas. With this new law, over time, more and more state employees will be moved to the unclassified system where one would serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority with no protection. This provides the administration with much flexibility to hire and fire as they see fit. It also allows a succeeding administration to do likewise and certainly has the potential to put a huge shot of partisan politics back in the civil service system.
I was in the Kansas Legislature in the 1970’s, following Watergate, when additional reforms were passed to take what little patronage that was left in Kansas out of the system. The factor that impacted me most was the timing. The most recent Democratic Governor was Bob Docking, and during his terms in office, the summer highway jobs were distributed based on patronage or politics, with Democratic County Chairs handing out the jobs to whoever they chose. That all changed post-Watergate, during Republican Governor Bennet’s term. Then, when I came into office with new rules and no patronage, I faced local party leaders outraged at my failure to accommodate their political desires which Governor Docking had appropriately provided during his time in office.
But with House Bill 2391, it is not just summer highway jobs we’re talking about. I doubt any manual of “best practices” for public administration or human resources would suggest that what we’ve done is a wise move. It gets away from the professionalization of the workforce in favor of one with temporary status and fewer employment rights, which limits continuity and, in my opinion, lowers the quality of service. Moving towards employing political friends is not the way to make Kansas a better state that grows and prospers.