Kansas Political Columnist Martin Hawver

Hawver: At the Rail: Christmas Season

The Christmas season is here, and just as it is every year when a new, different-party governor takes office, state employees will wonder whether they’ll have jobs after the holidays—or Inauguration Day on Jan. 14, to be more precise.

OK, we can figure that by the time she takes the oath of office, and no longer has that “Gov.-elect” before her name, Laura Kelly will have replaced probably all or most of the 11 Cabinet secretaries appointed by either Gov. Sam Brownback or his successor, Gov. Jeff Colyer. That’s simple.

Oh, there may be some delays, but practically, if you are a Brownback/Colyer-knighted secretary, you might not want to go car-shopping this holiday season or might want to consider whether you’ll be able to afford move-ups from synthetic-to-wool or wool-to-(enter the percentage)-cashmere sweaters for the spouse.

So far (up to this past weekend), Kelly has been quiet about the new Cabinet members she will appoint. She’s got a chief of staff to keep the names straight and sent a group of transition advisers to meet with those current secretaries to see just what they do, but there are no names written down that a reporter wouldn’t have to kick in a door or bust a window to see.

Oh, and those new Cabinet secretaries are going to get to hire their own chiefs of staff and assistants and public relations offices, which ought to take care of appreciation of campaign leaders and contributors as in all change-over election cycles.

But the real issue for the thousands of state employees who do the real work for the state and generally don’t have business cards and stationery is going to be what Kelly does in the way of Civil Service for state employees. Those Civil Service jobs are generally done behind counters where they hand out driver’s licenses or help the public with tax returns or in a frequently windowless back office make sure that Kansans get the services they pay taxes for.

Kansas has gone through the Republican-managed years with steady reductions in the number of Civil Service workers. That Civil Service is a protection for workers and most importantly protects their jobs as long as they are doing their assigned jobs. Do the job right, and under Civil Service, you can’t be fired because you have a bumper sticker on your car that is different than the stickers on the car of your politically appointed boss. Do the job right without Civil Service and you can be fired or not promoted with little or no performance issue.

The Brownback years offered pay raises for Civil Service workers who gave up those protections, including hearings during which a firing or being bypassed for an advancement can be challenged.

During the now-ending Republican administration, thousands of state workers who hadn’t seen raises in several years traded that job protection for raises of 2.5% for workers who changed from Civil Service to at-will employees. Not a bad deal if you were liked by your supervisor, but for those who wanted the basic protection of fair practices in employment matters, it essentially became an insurance premium in the form of a lower wage to hold on to those protections.

Don’t look for those abandon-Civil-Service raises to continue. And, we’ll watch how the Kelly administration deals with basic job protections for workers who took the 2.5% raise-bait to see their job security based on whom they worked for, not the job they did.

We’re still waiting to see who become Cabinet secretaries under Kelly’s administration, but we’re also waiting to see what happens to the thousands of workers who park at the back of the lots farthest from the building…

By Martin Hawver

Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com