This is the moment when a dictatorship learns to its shock and dismay that its orders will no longer be followed unthinkingly by a docile populace. (It takes its name from the occasion right before his 1989 downfall when the last Communist dictator of Romania, Nicolai Ceausescu, was haranguing a crowd and the crowd’s cheers turned to jeers, and a look of astonishment came over his face.)
When the Moderate Machine was routed from its last stronghold, the State Senate, the facade behind which it wielded power was shown to be surprisingly hollow. The dirty little secret that no one talks about is that the Machine was only able to wield power for so long through a system of self-dealing and patronage.
Politically connected lawyers and bankers saw to it over the years that all legal work and bond business went to them. The school district and community college work was given to Machine stalwarts. Government contracts were awarded on a non-competitive bid basis, any attempt to change which was met with fierce resistance. The lucrative publication of legal notices was steered towards newspapers which did not have the paid circulation required by state law but which supported the Machine with their coverage. (When that practice was questioned, the law was changed overnight.)
All the institutions that could serve as a check on corruption (the court system, the Governmental Ethics Commission, the Bar Disciplinary Administrator’s Office), had long since been co-opted by the Machine. Moderates and their Democratic allies were exempted from any meaningful oversight. Conservatives, by contrast, were subject to draconian penalties for even the most inadvertent transgressions.
A case in point is former State Senator David Adkins. Adkins started his career at the former Bennett, Lytle law firm (known not so fondly in Johnson County legal and political circles as “the Bennett, Lytle Mafia”). After that firm closed its doors, he continued to serve in the Kansas legislature. (He served four terms in the Kansas House and one term in the Kansas Senate, representing Prairie Village, Leawood, and other small cities in the Northeastern corner of Johnson County.)
Adkins then held a series of positions thanks to his ties to the Machine, i.e. salaried positions with the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, the Lathrop & Gage law firm, and the KU Medical Center, where he was “Vice-Chancellor of External Affairs (Lobbyist?).”
The beauty of these jobs was that they paid substantial salaries (some years in excess of $100,000) for work that was, to be charitable, only part-time. For instance, someone in a “Of Counsel” position at Lathrop & Gage during that time period was expected to generate 2,000 billable hours a year. (This would amount to $500,000 in annual billings by an attorney of Adkins’ age and experience.)
Yet sources in the firm tell me there were years during the time David Adkins was on the Lathrop & Gage payroll when he recorded no billable time. (The clear expectation was that he would repay the firm many times over if he became the Kansas Attorney General.)
But a funny thing happened on the way to Topeka—Adkins lost the primary in 2002.
Adkins was further able to feather his own nest by steering government and not-for-profit grants to YouthFriends – Adkins wife Lisa Adkins was the longtime executive director – an organization that places adults in local schools to act as mentors to young people on a volunteer basis.
By all accounts, it’s a worthy program that has served thousands of youngsters over the years in the Kansas City area.
What is not clear is how an organization that is almost exclusively based on the efforts of volunteers could consume millions of dollars in grants on administrative expenses. YouthFriends was started with a $1.5 million dollar grant from the Kansas Youth Commission, a state agency David Adkins was chairing at the time. More recently, the Kansas City Star reported that YouthFriends had exhausted a $5.4 million dollar three year grant from the Kaufman Foundation and was closing its doors.
The Star, which has been the organization’s biggest booster, blames the bad local economy for its demise. (This is strange since YouthFriends is not a commercial business that survives by selling goods or services to the public, which would be hard hit by an economic downturn, but gets its funding from government and foundations.)
The real explanation is that “David and Lisa” (wasn’t that the name of a schmaltzy movie in the ‘60’s?) have left town and are no longer drawing a paycheck from the organization so the Machine let it die a natural death.
The key component of the not-for-profit web that funds the Moderate Machine has disappeared. Once the access to the money and power from patronage that is its life support is withdrawn, the Machine itself will die. That is what inevitably happened when the Machine’s candidates were swept out of office on August 7, 2012.
“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” — T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men” 1925.