Francis Awerkamp is a man of titles this month.
He began the year as mayor of St. Marys, but that stint ended during January and he became City Commissioner Awerkamp.
And the Republican also is state representative for the 61st House District in the Kansas Legislature.
At least 16 members of the Legislature recently held or currently hold a second elective office. That group includes Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman Jr., R, whose term on the Olathe City Council ended this month.
On Jan. 8, state Rep. Steve Crum, D, sat in House chambers as the Legislature reconvened for 2018. Then he drove to Haysville to be sworn into a new four-year term on the City Council that evening. He returned to Topeka that night.
Crum said he missed only two city meetings in 2017 because of the Legislature.
When Rep. Jim Gartner, D-Topeka, was chosen in June 2016 to fill a House vacancy, he said the “number” of legislators he knew who were on local school boards was an indication he wouldn’t have to resign his seat on the Auburn-Washburn USD 437 school board. He continued on the school board until that term ended in early 2018.
All states have constitutional and/or statutory provisions regarding dual office-holding. They vary from state to state, “ranging from permissive to prohibitive,” says the website for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
New Jersey’s Chris Christie won his first term as governor on a platform that called for a further clampdown on dual office-holding there.
Reforms in New Jersey had grandfathered in dual office-holders, and when the Senate Budget Committee chairman kept getting re-elected for city office, his aide was quoted saying, “’That’s democracy in action.’ ”
John Marion runs the Common Cause chapter in Rhode Island and has researched the topic of dual office-holding. New Jersey’s laws were so open at one point that the longtime mayor of Newark also was serving as a state senator, too, he said.
Roughly half the states prohibit all forms of dual office-holding, said Marion, citing a prior report done by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“There are inherent conflicts of interest,” Marion said. “There may be a budget conflict between the two jurisdictions, and who is the legislator going to be most responsive to?”
Some dual office-holding is banned in Kansas.
The Kansas Constitution bars a member of Congress or U.S. government employee from serving in the Statehouse.
A statute on county commissioners says “no person holding any state, county, township or city office shall be eligible to the office of the county commission.” That prevents a county commissioner from serving concurrently in the Legislature. There is no identical language for city commissioners and school board members.
Courts widely recognize the common-law doctrine of incompatibility of office in the absence of statutes.
The Kansas Supreme Court cited incompatibility, for example, when it ruled that a schoolteacher elected to the school board in Shawnee County could not serve on the district’s governing board.
State Sen. Randall Hardy, R-Salina, resigned from the Salina City Commission just before he entered the Legislature in January 2017, even though it wasn’t required.
“I enjoyed serving on the City Commission, but I knew before I ran for the Legislature that I could not continue in both positions,” Hardy explained in a response. He said it was impossible for him to fulfill his obligations as a legislator and still attend commission meetings, given the distance between Salina and Topeka.
He ran for the Legislature, he said, because he was concerned about the financial health of the state.
“Being a legislator is both time-consuming and demanding. I am surprised that we do not have a rule that restricts serving in two roles while in the Legislature,” Hardy said.
It isn’t easy to discover the state legislators who hold another elected office.
Last year, the Kansas Association of School Boards compiled a roundup of current and former school board members and administrators serving in the Legislature, although it noted the information was dated following the 2017 school board elections.
Legislators must file an annual statement of substantial interests each April. The News checked all the legislators’ 2017 reports for a reference to a local school board or city office.
Those reports may not always be complete.
The League of Kansas Municipalities told The News it does not keep a record of state legislators holding city offices, but it knew, anecdotally, of one: Crum.
Crum did not include Haysville City Council on his 2017 statement of substantial interests.
Stay or leave?
Some legislators resigned from local office after they entered the Legislature.
State Sen. John Skubal, R-Overland Park, joined the Legislature in January 2017 and gave up his Overland Park City Council seat that April. Freshman state Rep. Tim Hodge, D-North Newton, also entered the Legislature in January 2017 and resigned from the Newton USD 373 board in September 2017.
“I considered resigning immediately, but the Newton board was in the middle of a strategic planning session. I decided to stay on until that project was completed,” Hodge wrote in an email.
Hodge thinks a legislator can serve on a local board if the distance to Topeka and computer connections are favorable.
A legislator also has to have the time to do it, Hodge said. “Right now, my ‘cup runneth over’ with family and job responsibilities, so it’s good to have others there to handle this,” he wrote.
Freshman state Sen. Lynn Rogers, D-Wichita, didn’t leave the Wichita USD 259 board until his school board term concluded.
Rogers said he decided to stay on the school board during 2017 because the superintendent was leaving and without a new school finance formula, Rogers was afraid the school board would have to make more cuts.
“I didn’t think I could ask someone to step into that,” Rogers wrote.
Speaker Ryckman’s term ended this month on the Olathe City Council, but state Rep. Larry Campbell, R, and Kansas Board of Education member John Bacon, R, continue on the Olathe City Council.
Last year, Ryckman asked Campbell to head the House K-12 Education Budget Committee writing a new school finance formula.
Others named to the committee included state Reps. Clay Aurand, R-Belleville; Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City; Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville; and Fred Patton, R-Topeka – all then members of their local school boards.
“The insight from holding these two particular elected offices is mutually valuable,” Jones said of serving on the school board and in the Legislature.
Other lawmakers in dual offices also spoke of how they were more effective in both jobs because of what they learned from each role.
Crum said when Haysville suddenly found itself without a fully trained public works staff member, he talked to the League of Kansas Municipalities in Topeka and learned about a new facility in McPherson where training was available. “They helped get training ASAP,” Crum said, and “they really helped the city a lot.”
Asked if he thought that filling dual offices leaves one less opportunity for someone else, Crum said that had never occurred to him.
When he campaigns, Crum said, he doesn’t try to hide the other office that he holds.
Persuaded to stay
Rep. Debbie Deere, D-Lansing, is vice president of the Lansing school board, and Rep. John Eplee, R-Atchison, is on Atchison’s board.
Eplee said he can understand the perception of a potential conflict of interest. He said he had prepared to step away from the Atchison school board obligation after he was elected to the House in November 2016.
However, House leadership encouraged him to remain on the school board, he said. There have been many examples, in the past and currently, of legislators serving in a dual role, Eplee wrote.
Topeka has a part-time citizen Legislature, Eplee also noted, and there are many legislators with perceived conflicts of interest with their regular vocations and their legislative job.
Typically, for instance, farmers are assigned to sit on a legislative agriculture committee while bankers sit on financial institution committees.
“I’m not sure I would have run for the Legislature if I could not serve on the school board,” said Rep. Patton, of Topeka. “I have greatly enjoyed serving on the school board since 2003,” he wrote. He made sure to check into whether he could continue on the school board before he filed to run for the Legislature, he said.
Rep. Cindy Neighbor, D-Shawnee, wanted another term on the Shawnee Mission school board but lost in 2017 and went off that board this month.
State Rep. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie, routinely was elected treasurer in Ninnescah Township until he was informed in 2016 that state law prohibited him from appearing on the same ballot in different races. He remained a candidate for re-election to the House and his wife, Linda Seiwert, ran for and won the township treasurer position.
No one had filed to run for Ninnescah Township trustee in that election, and Seiwert was elected trustee on write-in votes. State law did not prohibit Seiwert’s dual ballot-box wins.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach previously advocated moving April local elections to November in even-numbered years, when national and state and county offices appear on the ballot.
The Legislature moved the spring elections to the fall of odd-numbered years, starting with 2017. Kobach, a Republican running for governor, has not abandoned a preference for local elections occurring in even-numbered years.
If legislation was passed shifting the local elections, would the law that thwarted Seiwert’s township ballot race effectively keep state House members in particular, who must run every two years, from also running for local offices?
That’s a hypothetical question, said state Director of Elections Bryan Caskey.
It depends how the legislation is amended, he said. If there was a bill to move local elections to even-numbered years, it potentially could be written to still enable legislators to run for local offices.