KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In some corners of the country, people seem to have grown so grumpy about the tangle of government rules and regulations that it may be easier for politicians to promise not what they will do, but what they will undo.
Take Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who is hoping to become governor. In his journeys in this region lately, he has proposed a new Kansas entity, the State Office of the Repealer, whose job it would be to start disposing of all the silly, needless, over-the-top regulations that state officials have dreamed up.
"People just love this idea," Brownback said here the other day, smiling broadly. "They feel like they’re getting their brains regulated out of them."
Case in point, in Brownback’s telling: the rejoicing of residents in Saline County, Kan., when a strict fireworks ban was lifted there. Brownback recalled the mood: "It was kind of like, ‘I got a little piece of liberty back!’ "
The idea of shedding archaic or dopey laws is not new, but there seems now to be a flurry of such efforts – one more sign, perhaps, of the wave of grumpiness.
In Missouri, lawmakers passed legislation this spring that repealed more than 200 sections of statutes, including some dusty ones pertaining to the regulation of steamboats, steam engines, pool halls and margarine. In Michigan, lawmakers did likewise, agreeing, for instance, to repeal statutes that had designated as crimes prizefighting and dueling.
The thought of an official designated repealer draws nods (if mildly puzzled ones) from Kansans, but aides to Tom Holland, a Democratic state senator who is also running for governor this year, sound dismissive.
"This is the same empty sloganeering Sam Brownback and Newt Gingrich did 16 years ago," said Dana Houle, Holland’s campaign manager. "But instead of fixing Washington, Brownback’s run up deficits and doled out earmarks that benefit his financial backers."
The political season is in full swing here, clearly. Still, details of this new Kansas Office of the Repealer remain a bit murky.
Brownback, who said he came up with the idea after traveling around Kansas with a former state lawmaker, said he had grown increasing frustrated with the sense, in government, that "it’s always, ‘Well, we need this, we need that, we need this.’ Nothing is ever subtracted in the system."
The repealer, he said, would not mean yet another government salary, but would come from an existing state position, reassigned to the task of elimination. Still uncertain, he acknowledged, is what the new position might cost or where it would fit, exactly, into the existing layers of government in Topeka, the state capital.