Political Runoff

A periodic look at Kansas politics
Posted March 11, 2017 09:40 pm - Updated March 11, 2017 11:49 pm

Kansas Senate's loss of direction on Carlin bill a sign of the times

Pictured is former Kansas Gov. John Carlin. Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said the decision to drop the Carlin highway bill from the Senate calendar reflected concern among fellow GOP senators about naming government infrastructure for living people. (File photograph/The Capital-Journal)

Signs of hypocrisy emerged as the Kansas Senate littered the legislative roadside with a bill intended to honor John Carlin by naming a section of Interstate 70 for the former Democratic governor.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said the decision to drop the bill from the Senate calendar reflected concern among fellow GOP senators about naming government infrastructure for living people. It is always a gamble, because there is no guarantee the chosen won’t embarrass the state in the future.

Here is the problem: The Kansas Legislature previously honored three living, former Republican governors with infrastructure designations.

State lawmakers saw fit in 1999 to create Mike Hayden Overpass Bridge. It is on US-83 highway in Seward County. For detail purists, the bridge number is 008. Hayden, a Republican who served as House speaker and governor, is alive.

In Clay County, William Avery Highway is along K-82 highway. It was so named in 1993 on behalf of the GOP U.S. senator, Kansas governor and state legislator, who died in 2009. A piece of K-10 highway in Johnson County was set aside in 2005 to honor Republican Gov. John Anderson. He died in 2014.

Apparently, consistency and tradition aren’t concerns of the current GOP-dominated Senate. Touting a Kansas Democrat’s career by planting a couple of privately financed signs along I-70 between Abilene and Salina would seem too bitter of a pill.

There have been other influential Kansans honored by the Legislature while living. There was consensus in 2004 to highlight the contributions of U.S. Sen. Bob Dole. A Reno County bypass on K-96 highway is named for Dole, the World War II veteran and 1996 Republican presidential nominee.

Outside the political realm, the Legislature so admired Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder that his name is affixed to K-177 highway north from I-70 to US-24 highway. Snyder coached at K-State from 1989 to 2005, retired and then returned to the position in 2008.

The House vote on that Snyder bill in February 2006 revealed tension that can arise from road-sign tributes.

“He put Kansas on the map,” said Rep. Sydney Carlin, a Manhattan Democrat. “All roads led to K-State during his era.”

Topeka Republican Rep. Lana Gordon, who is now secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor in the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback, was among two House members to vote against the Snyder sign deal. She was joined by Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita.

“You have an issue especially when you name highways after somebody who is still alive,” Landwehr said back then. She said she felt the same these days, except she would reconsider her position if asked to vote on designations tied to living U.S. military veterans.

An unscientific survey of Kansas designated highways, bridges, intersections and other transportation infrastructure suggested none have been named for living politicians since 2006.

Over a half-century period starting in the 1950s, the Legislature tipped their hats to a handful of other prominent living Kansans.

That list featured Dwight Eisenhower Memorial Highway, which is K-15 highway across Kansas. That designation was affirmed in 1967, while the one-time Kansan, Republican U.S. president and U.S. Army general died in 1969.

In 2002, state politicians agreed to establish Sen. Ben Vidricksen Highway, which is the portion of Interstate 35 in Saline County south of I-70. Vidricksen, a Republican, died in 2015. Also in 2002, US-169 highway in Allen County was cast as Sen. Robert Talkington Highway in recognition of the Republican’s public service. He died in 2010.

Jay B. Dillingham Freeway, a tribute to the former president of the Kansas City stockyards, was created nearly 20 years before his death in 2007. The freeway on Interstate 670 was named for him in 1988.