- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Wichita Eagle, Dec. 2

Earthquakes a new reality:

The earthquakes that had been a fun curiosity turned serious for many at precisely 3:40 p.m. Nov. 12, when a magnitude-4.8 quake centered near Conway Springs gave the Wichita area a major shaking.

And that was only one of more than 150 earthquakes in Oklahoma and southern Kansas over the past month, including a magnitude-3.0 quake near Conway Springs early last Tuesday morning.

So Gov. Sam Brownback’s appropriate initial responses to this unsettling phenomenon, including a task force and better monitoring, should lead to more attention and perhaps action at the Statehouse but also regionally.

Though damage on Nov. 12 was limited to tiny Milan in Sumner County, that 10- to 20-second quake made it possible to imagine bigger ones - if not “the big one” - and realize how ill-prepared south-central Kansas is for such a natural disaster.

Kansans are used to tornadoes, floods and snow and ice storms. But an earthquake that chews up roads and other infrastructure while toppling buildings and triggering explosions and fires? That would be a new and scary emergency situation for Kansas, which averaged just five small quakes annually in the 35 years leading up to 2013.

Brownback recently announced that $85,000 would be spent on six Kansas Geological Survey seismic monitoring stations in Harper, Sumner and Barber counties to be operational early next year. As he said, the portable units should further research on the size and nature of the quakes and enable more planning.

The Kansas Seismic Action Plan released Sept. 1 by his task force also called for a permanent monitoring network, which would cost $200,000 to install and $80,000 to operate annually - something that seems like an essential investment after Nov. 12.

Though the task force reported it had found no evidence that the quakes were the result of fracking - the use of high-pressure fluids to fracture underground rock and free trapped oil and gas - it allowed for the possibility that the injection of waste fluids into disposal wells might be a factor.

If the research is inconclusive, public opinion on the quakes isn’t holding back. “We all know good and well what is causing them. Let’s face the facts about the fracking process,” concluded one contributor to The Eagle’s Opinion Line.

But state or local leaders are unlikely to do anything to curb a practice that has been a boon to a $4.3 billion Kansas industry employing 118,000, nor should they without more evidence.

Meanwhile, though, south-central Kansans should start making allowances for this new seismic activity. There could be new costs, such as for earthquake insurance and sturdier structural design. Emergency response systems need to adapt, too.

Though not welcome, earthquakes appear to be part of the new reality in south-central Kansas.

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The Hutchinson News, Dec. 6

Aggressive policing:

A perfect storm is swirling around the issue of aggressive law enforcement, especially when it comes to black Americans, amid the coincidental timing of at least three stories about police officers killing black suspects, which have sparked much protest and debate.

First was Ferguson, Missouri, where a grand jury declined to issue an indictment against the white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old black man in the street. Then on Wednesday, a New York City grand jury did the same in the case of a white police officer who applied a lethal chokehold to an unarmed 43-year-old black man.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, police are under scrutiny for an officer who fatally shot a 12-year-old black child who was holding a toy pellet gun. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday said a Justice Department civil rights investigation had found “unreasonable and unnecessary use of force” by the city’s police department.

Ferguson seemed a tough call. The grand jury there faced many conflicting accounts from witnesses about the shooting of Michael Brown. In New York City, however, the takedown and aggressive treatment of Eric Garner all was captured on video.

We want to trust that our judicial system works. But a grand jury doesn’t need to decide guilt or innocence, just whether prosecutors have enough evidence to file charges and go to trial. And when an incident is on video, it’s there for all of us to judge.

Garner’s death was ruled a homicide resulting from the chokehold - a maneuver banned by the police department 20 years ago - and the compression of his chest by police officers. Video also shows an officer holding his head to the pavement. All because he was selling cigarettes on the street.

President Obama said the decisions in New York and Missouri brought to the fore the frustrations that many black Americans have about a legal system that has a long history of discrimination against blacks.

“When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that is a problem,” he said, “and it’s my job as president to help solve it.”

Clearly this is a conversation America needs to have - conversation being the operative word; no injustice calls for looting and vandalism.

This isn’t just about race but aggressive policing. That’s not an easy conversation, because law enforcement isn’t an easy job, to say the least. Law enforcement officers by and large deserve our gratitude and respect. But at the same time, cops who cross the boundaries shouldn’t get a free pass. The NYC police officer should be fired. He’s using a police technique that isn’t allowed, and it killed an unarmed person.

All that said, we as a society must confront racial profiling and not deny that it happens. We need to identify the reasons for it and strive to find solutions. It isn’t as simple as labeling white police officers as racists.

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Lawrence Journal-World, Dec. 6

Election success?

A news release from the Kansas Secretary of State’s office declared, “2014 Midterm Election A Success.”

That assessment is based on the fact that more Kansans were registered to vote and more actually cast ballots in the Nov. 4 election than in any previous midterm election.

That’s good news, but it doesn’t erase the state’s lingering backlog of about 20,000 voter registrations that are being held in suspense, most because they don’t include proof-of-citizenship information.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach concludes in the news release that this year’s voter turnout “should put the arguments to rest that photo ID to vote and proof of citizenship to register to vote depressed voter turnout.” That conclusion ignores the fact that last month’s record turnout might be largely attributable to the fact that the ballot included some of the most hotly contested races in decades.

It also shows a lack of regard for would-be voters whose provisional ballots were thrown out not because they weren’t qualified to vote but because they failed to present proof of citizenship or a photo ID.

According to the secretary of state, “only 570” provisional ballots were cast by people who couldn’t produce a photo ID at the polls. Of those, 267 voters produced their IDs before their county canvas and had their votes counted, and the other 303 ballots weren’t counted.

Kobach’s office didn’t collect specific information on how many provisional ballots were rejected because voters hadn’t provided proof of citizenship before Election Day, but 26 such ballots reportedly were rejected in Douglas County alone. Those were just a few of the thousands of voters who attempted to register - and probably thought they were registered - but whose registrations remain in limbo because the state has been unable to follow through on the citizenship verification process that was promised when the requirement was passed.

Kobach has called the people whose registrations are on hold “marginal” voters who probably didn’t plan to vote anyway. Well, at least 26 of them tried to vote in Douglas County. That’s not a large number, but it almost certainly is larger than the number of cases of voter fraud, the problem the legislation pushed by Kobach supposedly was intended to solve.

When this legislation was passed, lawmakers were told that people who presented proof of citizenship when they registered to vote at a state drivers license bureau would have that information automatically transferred to the Secretary of State’s Office. For whatever reason that system has broken down, leaving thousands of Kansas voter registrations in limbo.

As long as that situation exists, it’s difficult to declare any election in Kansas “a success.” Kansas legislators owe it to Kansas voters to fix this system.

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Salina Journal, Dec. 3

Our ignorant governor:

Brownback says he had no idea of Kansas’ financial problems

We’ve spilled quite a bit of ink over the wisdom of Gov. Brownback’s income tax cuts, which have left the state with a predicted $715 million budget shortfall between this year and fiscal 2016.

However, the one thing we’ve never accused the governor of is being ignorant. While we assume that he didn’t believe that cutting income taxes would take the state into a ditch - because no one would purposely wreck the budget - we also assume that he’s stayed on top of the numbers, dismal though they may be.

Brownback says we’re wrong. He says he is ignorant. He said he learned of the depth of the state’s financial problems only after the latest revenue numbers came out, shortly after the Nov. 4 election.

He might not have known the exact numbers, but surely he had to have an idea that trouble was coming. Others have been sounding the alarm for months.

Nope. Never saw it coming, Brownback says.

During his re-election campaign, Brownback dismissed the predictions of revenue shortfalls.

“They’re just trying to paint a Chicken Little sky is falling’ situation, which is not true. It’s a bunch of lies,” the governor said in October.

According to a story in the Wichita Eagle, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, who serves on the state Finance Council, said he doesn’t believe Brownback.

“They would have had to have known. (The Department of) Revenue was given the red flag over the past year, basically,” Hensley said.

Brownback now says that “everything” is on the table when it comes to state finances, and that includes not implementing the additional tax cuts scheduled to take effect.

Brownback can’t have it both ways. He either chose to remain ignorant of the state’s financial situation or he’s giving us “a bunch of lies.”

Take your pick - deliberately ignorant or liar - but neither option is a quality desirable in a governor.


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