- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Kansas City Star, Nov. 5

Despite GOP tide, no mandate for Brownback:

Election nights usually end with congratulations, but Republican Sam Brownback’s razor-thin victory in Kansas calls out for a caution. Brownback should not interpret Tuesday’s results as a mandate for his “red state model” of governance. Instead, he should see his close call as a message to change course.

The Republican governor’s flailing tax-cut experiment and his refusal to seek consensus turned his bid for re-election into the fight of his political life. In unofficial results, he defeated Democrat Paul Davis, the moderate House minority leader, by fewer than 20,000 votes. In heavily Republican Kansas, that’s as much as a rebuff as one can receive in a victory.

In the end, Brownback joined a long list of GOP victors in Kansas, Missouri and nationwide. Pat Roberts survived a scare from independent Greg Orman to hold on to his U.S. Senate seat from Kansas. The GOP picked up a half dozen Senate seats, and will be in the majority beginning in January.

But Brownback’s near-defeat in one of America’s reddest states points out the dangers of conservative overreach. He survived by misleading voters about the state’s finances and benefiting from a torrent of outside money financing some of the ugliest ads and personal attacks that Kansas has seen in some time. His attempt to link his opponent to a horrific murder case was especially craven, and it signaled the governor’s eagerness to detract attention from the budget picture.

The state that elected Brownback to a second term with not quite 50 percent of the vote is restive, fearful and deeply divided. If he cares about Kansas as much as he claims he does, the governor must take a more conciliatory approach.

He needs to listen to people beyond the circle of ideologues who believe that deep tax cuts are the road to prosperity. He must hear the voices of the families who are deeply afraid of the changes he has made to the state’s Medicaid program.

Above all, Brownback must start being honest about the state’s finances.

If this election has taught him anything, it is that Kansans deeply value their public schools. The governor has to stop pretending that he can continue to cut taxes for the wealthy and still fund schools and universities adequately.

Brownback’s deep and poorly targeted tax cuts have caused income tax revenues to tumble over the past two years. An anticipated $351 million budget shortfall will be re-evaluated by a team of analysts on Monday, and is expected to grow larger.

The victorious governor will likely begin his second term by cutting services. Without rolling back the income tax cuts or finding a new source of revenue, Kansas faces the prospect of serious pain for the foreseeable future.

In the Senate race, Roberts built his victory by successfully making strong appeals to the Republican base in Kansas. He pointed out over and over that a vote for him was a vote against the Obama agenda and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Kansans bought into that pervasive logic, and the GOP easily won control of the Senate.

Now that Roberts has won, what version of him will we see in Washington?

He veered hard right in the GOP primary to beat Milton Wolf. He also imported tea party favorites Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin to stump for him.

With his return to Congress, Roberts likely will remain a staunchly negative vote on spending issues. He will have the opportunity to vote with fellow GOP senators to approve radical House-passed bills on a variety of issues, bills that likely will face Obama vetoes, guaranteeing even more gridlock in the Capitol.


The Manhattan Mercury, Nov. 5

Kansans reaffirm trust in governor:

It’s a great day for Republican candidates and their supporters. They swept every important office in Kansas and won enough votes nationwide to seize control of the U.S. Senate and solidify their hold on the U.S. House of Representatives.

Sen. Pat Roberts won more easily than had been expected, and Gov. Sam Brownback withstood a fierce challenge from House Minority Leader Paul Davis. Rep. Tim Huelskamp had little trouble with Manhattanite Jim Sherow, although Professor Sherow - like Rep. Davis - did manage to win in Riley County.

In other statewide races of note, Secretary of State Kris Kobach won re-election easily over former state Sen. Jean Schodorf, and Republican Ken Selzer defeated Dennis Anderson, a Democrat, in the race to replace Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger.

Regardless of whether the GOP sweep was the result of old-fashioned party organization, better financed campaigns, Democrats’ mistakes - or whether it underscores the simple reality that Kansas is ruby-slipper red - the Republican victories were impressive.

While we offer our congratulations, we also worry that maintaining the status quo in Kansas will do more harm than good. We worry that continuing with Gov. Brownback’s “experiment” will plunge Kansas even deeper into a financial hole than is already the case and that the prosperity he envisions won’t occur. The most recent state revenue report - coming just five days before the election - showed that tax collections in October fell $23 million below projections. That was the fifth month in the last seven that revenue has not met projections.

With another four years for Gov. Brownback to pursue his experiment, it might take a legislative rebellion or a financial catastrophe to persuade him to change course. We would much prefer the former, though it’s unlikely because it would mean putting the brakes on the tax cuts or even raising taxes - policies that many conservatives consider anathema. Yet during the campaign, the governor argued that now is the time to step on the accelerator.

Rather than some grand fiscal calamity, we worry that Kansans are more likely to witness continued deterioration of state programs and services for the state’s poor, elderly and infirm. We also worry that funding for education at all levels as well as for highways and other major programs will be in further jeopardy.

We could be wrong. In fact, we hope we’re wrong, and that the policies on which the governor has staked his reputation - indeed, his political legacy - will bring the job growth and economic prosperity he is so convinced will occur.

Kansans have again put their trust in him. We hope for their sake that he doesn’t let them down.


The Salina Journal, Nov. 6

Now, the hard part:

Getting re-elected Kansas governor was always going to be the easy part for Sam Brownback, and there was nothing easy about his win Tuesday over Democrat challenger Paul Davis.

Now he faces a couple of problems that will make it much more difficult to govern, and these are problems of his own making.

The first is the state’s finances. On Friday, the state’s Department of Revenue announced that state general fund tax receipts were $23 million below estimates for October. That means for the fiscal year that started July 1, individual income tax revenues are $80 million below estimates, according to the Kansas City Star.

This should have been the campaign issue, but numbers and revenue estimates make people’s eyes glaze over, and Brownback was able to double-talk around the problem. Not anymore. The state has to balance its budget.

The declining revenue clearly is on Brownback and his income tax cuts. If that revenue slide continues, and that’s very likely, Brownback and his buddies in the Legislature are going to have a hard time finding the money to fund state services at current levels, so look for a lot of cuts.

A related problem, and not entirely of Brownback’s making, is that the results of yet another school funding lawsuit await. With the state going backward on revenue because of Brownback’s tax cuts, where will it find the money if the courts order it to spend millions more on K-12 education? Watch this one.

Brownback’s next four years also will be more difficult because of the many enemies he needlessly created. A large number of disaffected Republicans joining with Democrats to oppose a sitting Republican governor would have been unthinkable just four years ago, but Brownback’s slash-and-burn tactics in Topeka made it happen.

In the short term, Brownback got what he wanted from the Legislature by kicking out fellow Republicans and replacing them with his hand-picked yes-men. But long term, he just created more enemies, and those people aren’t going away.

Brownback has four years to get it right, but he’s made his job so much harder than it had to be.


The Hutchinson News, Nov. 5

Election takeaways:

What to make of this midterm election in Kansas?

Where do we start?

Maybe with the polls, which turned out to be bad predictors. The incumbents, headlined by Gov. Sam Brownback and Sen. Pat Roberts, winning by comfortable margins were upsets because the polls leading up to the election indicated the results would be otherwise.

So what happened in the voting booth? Did predominantly Republican Kansans stick to party labels when it came down to marking the ballot? Or did the intensely negative - unethical truly - campaigning work its magic for the professional political operatives?

Many had hoped neither would be the case. Many had hoped that Kansas would recoil against extreme conservatism and its scorched-earth toll on our state in a year when we had a truly good independent we could have sent to Washington and the Democrats’ best slate of candidates in years.

Many had hoped that a victory by independent challenger Greg Orman over Republican Washington fixture Roberts would be a repudiation of party labels and toxic partisanship, and of the lowest-common-denominator, dirty politicking considered necessary to win elections these days.

Same for Democrat Paul Davis’ admirable challenge of Brownback. Kansans do have a history of electing moderate Democrats as governor, but maybe the ill effects of Brownback’s gutting of state tax revenue isn’t severe and obvious enough yet to convince devout GOP voters.

Negative campaigning also was the Brownback strategy. Linking Davis to a misrepresented state supreme court ruling in the Carr brothers murder case was outrageous. But it was just what the doctor ordered, as evidenced by a document the Topeka Capital-Journal posted on its website showing the diabolical ways campaign consultants direct elections. See it at https://hutchne.ws/psbffj.

Maybe Roberts was right about focusing his campaign on President Barack Obama and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, despite the disconnect with the independent Orman. Voters around the country appeared to make a statement about Reid’s incompetent leadership by handing Senate control solidly to Republicans. Alas, Orman was the true anti-establishment candidate.

In a perfect world, voters wouldn’t have their mailboxes invaded by junk mail and their evening television entertainment ruined by angry, deceptive commercials. Instead, they would go to independent information sources to research candidates and make decisions without regard to party and other campaign-line labels - such as “true conservative, family-values candidate” or “Obama liberal.”

But it’s not a perfect world.

It won’t be until the U.S. Supreme Court comes to the conclusion that money isn’t speech and that third-party advocacy groups need to be accountable for what they say. And that the First Amendment should grant full access to politicians to free speech on a street corner but not an exemption to do-not-call legislation that protects individual privacy in our homes from just about everything but political robocalls.

The two-party system may yet still implode from Washington gridlock and toxic polarization of the citizenry. And we may yet still get real campaign finance reform. But in the meantime, despite its imperfections, we still have a great democracy.

We had an election Tuesday.


Lawrence Journal-World, Oct. 29

Open records:

Based on a new Kansas law, prosecutors and judges no longer can routinely withhold from the public affidavits that detail the justification for searches and arrests in the state.

The change will require some adjustment by law enforcement and courts across the state, including those in Douglas County, but closing affidavits simply because attorneys agree it is a good idea no longer is an option.

Before the law was passed, Kansas was the only state in the nation that automatically sealed these affidavits. The legislation moved forward this year on the heels of a particularly egregious case in which a Leawood couple was denied access to the affidavit that led to what turned out to be an unjustified raid of their residence.

The law requires that arrest warrants and supporting testimony be made available to the public after arraignment in misdemeanor cases and after a preliminary hearing and arraignment in felony cases. Search warrant affidavits must be made available to the subject of the search immediately and to the public within 14 days of the search. After a request for an affidavit is made, the court has up to 10 days to release or withhold an affidavit, which can be redacted to withhold names or information that could damage an ongoing investigation.

Affidavits can be closed entirely, but that now is the exception, not the rule. According to the law, the documents can be closed only if the court finds that releasing them would cause harm to the legal proceeding.

As Rep. John Rubin, a primary sponsor for the law told the Journal-World, “Affidavits can only be sealed for specific reasons, not just because the prosecution and defense ask for it.”

Rubin was referring specifically to two cases in which Douglas County district judges sealed arrest warrants for three men charged with rape. The judges’ decisions are being challenged by the Journal-World.

Defense and prosecuting attorneys in one of the cases sought the closure for a variety of reasons, none of which conformed to the spirit or the letter of the law, Rubin said. The prosecutor in the case argued that the affidavit should be closed because it “is basically like my entire case … and I think that the risk to my case far outweighs the benefit to the public’s right to know.”

Probably not. Protecting the public’s right to monitor the actions of its law enforcement and court officials is at the heart of the new law. Affidavits can be redacted or perhaps written in a way that doesn’t disclose as much information, but they can’t routinely be closed to the public.

Leaders in the Kansas Legislature and the state news media worked long and hard to pass this law and open affidavits to the public. Courts and attorneys need to accept the new law and change the way they view and handle these records.


Topeka Capital-Journal, Nov. 3

Kansas City World Series run was welcome relief from worldly troubles

The last inning of a long baseball season didn’t end as the Kansas City Royals and their fans, new and old, would have liked, but in addition to packing a multitude of thrills into 15 post-season games, the Royals also get credit here for giving those who follow the team something to take their thoughts briefly away from more troubling issues.

Beyond the sports pages and broadcasts, news reports through the summer and fall have been dominated by issues much weightier - and of more significance to our country and its citizens - than baseball.

There was little respite from the long political campaign season, although we suspect the vast majority of voters knew a long time ago for whom they would cast a ballot. Thankfully, with the election a day away, that noisy season is about to end.

Other issues live on. Fears that the Ebola virus will jump the ocean and reach our shores in earnest captured the country’s attention last month, and still hold it. The threat posed by the Islamic State’s radicals must be taken seriously by all freedom-loving people, and the United States again is launching airstrikes against Iraq - and also its neighbor, Syria - in support of more rational, but overwhelmed, forces.

Closer to home, different agencies within the federal government appeared determined to trip all over themselves in an effort to dispel any myths about their competence. Even the vaunted Secret Service lost some luster when reports of its recent ineptitude in protecting the president became public.

Into all that, the Royals managed to inject a month of great joy and wonder that allowed their fans everywhere to escape for a while and turn their attention to the delightful, if frustrating, game of baseball - America’s game.

An eight-game winning streak led the team to the World Series, a mountain that seemed so out of reach on more than one occasion during the regular season. The season’s goal for the team, and its fans, had been postseason play. Beyond that, it was all gravy, and the Royals served up a huge helping by taking the World Series to seven games.

That it didn’t end the way people in this part of the country wanted it to end was a sad pill, but not a bitter one.

This year, the thrills provided were enough, and they came when a lot of thrills were just what we needed.

Thanks, Royals.

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