- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Hutchinson News, Nov. 8

Digital democracy:

Regardless of how one feels about the outcome of the Nov. 4 election, one thing is painfully clear: Voter turnout was, as usual, pathetic.

Of the state’s 1,735,395 registered voters, only 847,988 bothered to vote in the governor’s race, while 844,874 people voted in the race for the U.S. Senate - the two highest-profile races in Kansas.

That means between 48 and 49 percent of registered voters participated in this election, which in turn means that Gov. Sam Brownback kept his seat with 24 percent of registered voters and roughly 18 percent of the voting-age population.



The results are nearly identical in the U.S. Senate race between Pat Roberts and Greg Orman.

It seems every election cycle, there’s a lot of talk about voter apathy and how, despite get-out-the-vote drives by both parties, little can be done to increase turnout.

Yet this conversation seldom includes what we can do to modernize the voting process to match the lifestyle of the 21st century American.

We still use today much the same process for casting a ballot that was used more than 100 years ago, despite the fact that we live in a digital world with instant access to information and mass communication.

We file our taxes, buy our clothes, register to vote, read our information, apply for health insurance, manage our retirement accounts and watch our entertainment online - all when and where it fits into our schedules.

When it comes to voting, however, we require voters to interrupt their day, drive to some place they’ll only go to once or twice a year - if at all - and stand in line to vote.

It’s not as if elections aren’t digital anyway. If you filled out a paper ballot, it was digitally scanned, counted and compiled into a database.

That information from each county was then electronically sent to Topeka, where it was combined and compiled by the Kansas Secretary of State’s office, and those results were shared on the agency’s website.

The only place in which our election system hasn’t been modernized is where democracy meets the voter, and that has to change if we ever hope to see robust voter participation.

People are busy living their lives - working, caring for their homes and running their children here and there - and going to a polling location once every couple of years is understandably not a high priority for many people. But voting might be important to them, if we made it more accessible to more people in a way that fits their lifestyles.

Why can’t children be registered to vote at the same time they apply for their Social Security number shortly after they are born?

Why can’t elections be held online and ballots delivered electronically? It’s already being done for military and overseas voters.

Why can’t we ensure that votes will be counted and tabulated accurately through a digital format? We do this currently with federal and state income taxes. We put our credit card information online when we purchase something and fill out countless forms that securely and safely make it to their destinations. Voter fraud a concern? There are 1,000 different ways to verify that someone is who he or she claims to be.

We live in a fast-paced, electronic, information-based world, and yet one of our most important functions - free and public elections - still operates as it did when the telegraph was the newest form of communication. It’s about time we figured out how to do a little updating.

___

The Wichita Eagle, Nov. 9

Voters have spoken:

Because ballots don’t have spaces for kudos and complaints, election results must speak for themselves. The Nov. 4 election stated a clear preference for conservative Republican leadership, with most Kansas voters interested in seeing what the GOP incumbents can do with more time in power in Topeka and with full control of Congress.

If Gov. Sam Brownback’s vulnerability proved exaggerated, the close election confirmed the division in the state over his aggressively ideological record and his stated desire to “hit the accelerator” on tax cuts in a second term. He and his Legislature already have wrecked a balanced tax system, leading to credit rating downgrades, and must now rescue the state budget responsibly; job growth and administration efficiencies won’t be enough.

Meeting the state’s fiscal obligations could get far harder if the Kansas Supreme Court sides with school districts and orders more funding. Either way, Brownback’s re-election means further threats to the independence and proper funding of the state judiciary. Its defenders - and it will need many more - must be ready.

But if expanding Medicaid and rethinking KanCare now seem out of the question for Kansas, a second term will give Brownback the chance to build on his excellent progress on water use and technical education. Overall, he should take to heart his caution to new legislators two years ago to “not overplay your hand.”

GOP overreach poses a similar risk in the U.S. Senate, newly liberated from the abysmal leadership of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. But if they work together, the GOP-led Congress and Democratic president are well-positioned to get the Keystone XL pipeline out of regulatory limbo, act on illegal immigration and border control, fast-track trade agreements, and actually fund the government with appropriations bills rather than emergency measures.

As expressed by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who more than accomplished his mission as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee: “The message from 2014 was in part, ‘We don’t like the direction the country is going. … Work together and get something done.’”

Having survived scares in the primary and general elections, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., now expects to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee. That again puts Kansas in a great spot to shape farm policy.

Even as Roberts and the other Kansans in Congress continue to help push the president and country toward deficit reduction, they will need to shake loose the federal funding to finish the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan. Anything they can do to keep the tax and regulatory environments positive for general aviation would be welcome in Wichita.

And the entire congressional delegation would do well to be as aggressive in defending Kansas against coming defense cuts as Roberts was on election night: “I will fight to keep our Kansas military bases at the ready. McConnell, Fort Riley, Leavenworth, Forbes - you make our country and our state proud and safe, and I’ve got your back.”

In Topeka and Congress, the party that disdains government now must show it can govern well.

___

The Kansas City Star, Nov. 8

Brownback’s KanCare program makes life harder for disabled Kansans:

Family members of people with developmental disabilities are used to struggles. They become part of life when a loved one relies on special services to get through school, or work, or even a day at home.

But Kansas’ transition to a managed-care Medicaid program, KanCare, has vastly complicated matters for many of these families and the people who take care of disabled Kansans.

In the past, they interacted with specialized disability offices operated by nonprofit groups or county governments to coordinate services such as overnight aides, transportation and assignment to group homes. Now crucial decisions are made by three separate health insurance companies whose expertise is in providing medical care, not services for disabled people.

At a recent meeting in Johnson County, family members aired a litany of complaints. Paperwork is getting lost. Long-time guardianships are not being recognized. It seemingly takes forever to get an answer to a question.

“People’s existence is so unsettled,” a parent said tearfully. “I’m trying to figure it out and it’s really a challenge.”

Service providers weighed in with their own problems. Paperwork and bureaucracy has ballooned, they said, leaving less time to help disabled clients. Many providers, who have gone eight years without an increase in reimbursement rates from the state, have had to hire additional staff to deal with new administrative responsibilities.

“It’s taking months to fix what never was a problem before,” said Dynel Wood, who operates a support services agency.

Underlying the frustration is a palpable sense of fear.

Many families have received notice that disabled individuals are being moved into “health homes,” not physical places but coordinated care networks designed to keep people healthier and reduce costs.

The theory is sound, but implementation is proving to be remarkably complicated. The biggest problem is that not all case workers will be able to work with all of the “health homes.”

For families of developmentally disabled citizens, a good case worker is a lifeline. The prospect of losing a case worker is creating near-panic.

No patient will be forced to remain in a health home network, said Angela DeRocha, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.

“This is an additional level of care that we are providing to some very vulnerable KanCare consumers,” she said. “It is optional. Consumers can opt out.”

But that wasn’t immediately clear to families who received notices about the health homes. A good measure of anxiety could have been spared if they had been able to opt into the new program, rather than opt out.

Since the KanCare program got started, hospital emergency room visits by developmentally disabled Kansans with waivers for services have dropped by 27 percent, DeRocha said, suggesting that better coordination of services was having an effect. More people have received additional services than lost services, she said.

But some families have complained about services being cut.

And this is the last group that should be burdened with bureaucratic entanglements. Their lives are complicated and difficult as it is, and even small changes in routine or case management can create setbacks for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration should show some compassion and return the coordination of non-medical services for disabled Kansans to the community-based groups that understand these patients, their families and their special needs.

___

The Iola Register, Nov. 10

While Wall Street soars, Iola gets a soup kitchen:

Stocks are trading at record highs on Wall Street.

Meanwhile in Iola, a soup kitchen has opened.

The disconnect is disconcerting.

Since the stock market’s nadir in 2009, inflation-adjusted figures report it has grown by 92 percent; corporate profits are up 46 percent and the economy 12 percent.

Household incomes? Down 3 percent.

With fewer than half of Americans owning stock, and a fraction of those with any substantial investments, most are not feeling the love.

Far from it.

While the incomes of the lower and middle classes remain suppressed, those of the wealthy are performing cartwheels.

Which is why for the first time in Iola’s history a soup kitchen has opened along with its food pantry, the popular monthly meals served at the St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, and the food backpack program sponsored by Wesley United Methodist.

More than 100 meals were served on Nov. 2, opening day. At this point, it’s a Sunday-only operation at First Presbyterian.

And lest you are tempted to think these people are laggards looking for a handout, prithee, come meet them.

To a one, the able-bodied have jobs. No, they aren’t high-paying jobs. And most aren’t full time, or at least the kind with benefits. Rather, they work one or two jobs at minimal pay, which earns them enough to get by - almost.

To a one, they are grateful for the free meal that helps stretch their paychecks. And happy to see people care.

Iola also has a program called Circles, which pairs those in poverty with those from middle-income backgrounds. The purpose of Circles is to grow a community whose goal is to fight poverty through education and relationships. For those involved, it’s as much of a learning experience for those serving as mentors as those receiving guidance.

Voter turnout on Nov. 5 was almost 50 percent in Kansas.

Minorities and young voters were the least represented demographics at the polls. Most feel powerless to change a government that increasingly caters to the wealthy.

More than $3.5 billion was spent in this recent election.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the campaign that spent the most prevailed more than 80 percent of the time.

Fearmongering and negativity also beat out messages of hope and change.

Locally, the homespun efforts by parents who wanted new schools were no match to their well-funded opponents who flooded our mailboxes with postcards and mailings as well as a billboard.

In the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Pat Roberts spent almost $7 million against Greg Orman’s $3.5 million.

And Margie Wakefield never had a chance against incumbent Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, who raised more than $2.3 million - two-thirds from political action committees - compared to Wakefield’s $722,000.

No wonder the poor feel marginalized. Their concerns don’t come with a campaign contribution.

Which leads us to soup kitchens, in 2014, in one of the wealthiest countries of the world.

Shocking.

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