- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Hutchinson News, Sept. 22

Barely matters:

News surfaced Saturday that Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Paul Davis was found in a Montgomery County strip club when officers raided the establishment, whose owner was suspected of selling methamphetamine.

Based on the reaction, one might think the story just broke, with Davis found tossing “Davis for Governor” handbills on stage. In truth, however, the story occurred 16 years ago, when Davis was a 26-year-old rookie attorney. Davis wasn’t arrested or charged with any crime.

“In just the past two weeks, we have learned that Paul Davis has chosen to surround himself with meth dealers and sexual deviants. I think the question all Kansans want to know is, what else are you hiding, Paul?” Kansas GOP executive director Clay Barker said in an email announcement.

To be certain, being mentioned in a police report is something any politician in a tight race should have known would surface. Whether a visit to a strip club is immoral is up to the individual making the judgement, and voters individually will weigh whether Davis’ strip club experience is more than they can look past at the ballot box.

But when the conversation about the future of Kansas turns to talk of sex, strippers and indiscretions from 16 years ago, the truth is that the opposition is hopeful the real news of the day will be overshadowed by some salacious scandal that has little, if anything, to do with public policy that has real meaning for Kansans.

So long as we’re talking about strip clubs, we’re not talking about the state’s number of uninsured residents nor its failure to expand Medicaid, which hurts rural hospitals and leaves upwards of 130,000 Kansans in a cruel coverage gap where they don’t qualify for a federal insurance subsidy and make too much for Medicaid.

As long as we talk about nudity, we’re not talking about inequity in the state’s tax code, which assesses labor but leaves free the fruit of capital. If we focus on lap dances, we’re not focused on efforts to strip Kansas counties of their authority to regulate business activity within their borders.

When we talk about poor choices from 16 years ago, we’re not talking about poor decisions that are being made today that increase childhood poverty, squeeze the state’s education system, shift the tax burden to local property owners and remove support services for the state’s most vulnerable families.

When we talk about sketchy businesses, we’re not thinking about a Legislature that is bullied and pushed around by the state’s richest and most powerful business lobbyists.

It’s little wonder that a group of people who have worked so hard to strip Kansas of its rich history of fair taxation, strong education and pragmatic approach to progress would rather see voters talking about Davis’ experience with a woman stripping off her clothes.

If it is perfection Kansans want in their governor, they’ll not find it in Sam Brownback or Paul Davis. That leaves voters with a choice between what sort of imperfections and faults they’re willing to tolerate and which candidate’s history of poor choices is the most destructive to Kansas’ future.


The Iola Register, Sept. 22

Everyday Kansans good role model for elected officials:

In a state as solidly Republican as Kansas, it’s not unusual to have no Democratic opposition.

Once Rep. Kent Thompson secured the Kansas House 9th District Republican primary nomination, it also garnered him a win in the general election precisely because he faces no further opposition.

That’s not a good thing, but until now, state officials have not mandated candidates face opposition in the general election.

But Thursday’s ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court that Democrat nominee Chad Taylor could withdraw from the U.S. Senate race, prompted Secretary of State Kris Kobach to insist the Democratic Party field another candidate in Taylor’s place.

No matter that incumbent Pat Roberts has an opponent in Greg Orman, who has filed as an independent.

It would be fabulous if more candidates from more political persuasions ran for office in Kansas. We are the land of politically bland: conservative and ultra-conservative Republicans. In the 2012, the ultra-conservatives defeated more than a dozen moderate incumbents in state House and Senate elections, further tilting decisions to favor big business and the privatization of Medicaid, with Medicare now on the horizon.

Today, Republicans hold a super-majority in both the Kansas House of Representatives and Senate, both U.S. Senate seats, and all four U.S. House seats.

Only 25 percent of Kansas voters are registered Democrats, yet, perhaps tellingly in the race against Roberts, a full 30 percent of Kansans claim no party affiliation.

The Republican advantage speaks volumes in terms of fundraising.

So far, slightly more than $10.5 million has been raised this election cycle. Of that, not quite $2 million will go to the campaigns of Democrats. More than 75 percent of all campaign donations go to the campaigns of Kansas Republicans.

At this point, it’s too soon to tell how much of that money will translate at the ballot box.

In finance reports on 2nd District Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins for the 2012 election, only 2 percent of her almost $2 million campaign donations came from small donations. The majority came from Political Action Groups, including those representing Koch Industries, ExxonMobile, Honeywell, and multiple accounting, banking, and insurance firms.

Jenkins, no doubt, has just as big a campaign chest this time around against Democrat Margie Wakefield, but whether that represents voter support has yet to be determined.

In truth, Kansans are not well represented by their elected officials. And perhaps those of us in rural communities know that better than our city counterparts. In small towns we have learned we must all come together to effect change and that divisiveness is our doom. We have learned to sacrifice our egos; that our word means something, and that our allegiance is to God and country, only, and not some special interest.

We are to blame for the state of Kansas politics. Fortunately, a democracy is a forgiving beast. We should let it out of the cage.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 20

A sad state of affairs:

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach must honor Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor’s request to have his name removed from the ballot for the U.S. Senate seat held by incumbent Republican Pat Roberts.

The Democrats are claiming victory, but while it was a sad day for Kobach, and perhaps a sad day for Roberts’ re-election hopes, it was a really sad day for the Kansas Democratic Party.

For the first time in decades a sitting Republican senator from Kansas is vulnerable - the polls say Roberts is very vulnerable - and the best plan the Kansas Democratic Party can come up with is to get its man out of the race and toss the party’s weight behind an independent candidate?

No, Thursday was not a good day for the Kansas Democratic Party. Not at all.

Kansas Democrats probably are wondering why they bothered with the primary, and feeling like they’ve been tossed under the bus by state party chairwoman Joan Wagnon, whose job is to support the party’s candidates. However, Wagnon and Democrats in Missouri, and probably elsewhere, decided to sacrifice Taylor, winner of the Democratic primary in August, and support independent Greg Orman, a Johnson County businessman.

Taylor won a narrow victory over his opponent in the Democratic primary while Roberts was equally challenged on the Republican ticket. Once the votes were in, everyone knew how precarious Roberts’ position was.

The national Republican Party machinery went to work to give Roberts more help with his campaign. The money he needs to finish the race also will be forthcoming.

The Democrats could have come to Taylor’s aid in similar manner. Granted, he didn’t have great name recognition across the state, but Greg Orman wasn’t exactly a household name either. Orman had more financial backing than Taylor, but if money was the issue the Democrats could have called on some of their wealthy friends.

Instead, Wagnon and other Democratic Party officials decided the right thing to do was leave the field open for the independent challenger.

That decision does not say much for current condition of the Kansas Democratic Party.

If Roberts retains his seat, it may be a very long time before a Republican senator from Kansas appears so vulnerable and the state’s Democrats have another shot at the seat.

Recent happenings are enough to make one wonder whether the Kansas Democratic Party deserves another shot.


The Manhattan Mercury, Sept. 21

Efficiency panel hits sensitive topics:

It’s not hard to understand why much of the recent attention that the task force to improve Kansas schools has generated involves school consolidation and issues related to teachers.

Those were among topics advanced to the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission earlier this month by the commission’s chairman, Wichita businessman Sam Williams.

School consolidation is a red-flag issue, particularly for smaller, rural districts that often have much more school spirit than either enrollment or money. And because such districts exist across the state, their lobby is a powerful one.

Teachers’ issues such as pay, workload, evaluations and benefits can spark heated debate, and in the Kansas National Education Association, teachers also have a vocal lobby.

The efficiency commission last week took up the recommendations as part of a process that will lead to proposals to the Kansas Legislature. This commission was part of the same 2014 school finance bill that, at the Kansas Supreme Court’s direction, injected $129 million into mostly poor school districts. It also stripped teachers of a job security measure commonly referred to as tenure. (The Manhattan-Ogden School District and some others effectively restored it.) If the reaction of a KNEA representative to Mr. Williams’ recommendation pertaining to teachers is any indication, Kansas teachers could have more yet to worry about. Mark Desetti, KNEA’s legislative director, called the recommendation dealing with changes to teacher contracts an attempt “to destroy what’s left of the rights they have and voice they have in their profession.”

One recommendation, which surfaced first in the separate Governor’s School Efficiency Task Force of 2013, would replace teachers’ present salary schedules with a salary range. The former is based on education level and years of experience, while the latter would also take into account such things as area of expertise. Another recommendation would limit topics teachers could negotiate with districts.

Although the recommendation wouldn’t “destroy what’s left” of teachers’ rights, many Kansas teachers are still smarting from last session’s changes. They believe they have reason to be wary of such recommendations and of lawmakers, many of whose views of public schools are colored by their obsession with tax cuts.

As for school consolidation, though the possibility never disappears for small districts, they should be at least a little relieved by the tone of the consolidation recommendation. It focuses on creating incentives for districts to pool their resources. Merging with neighbors might not be ideal, but districts would have some say in the matter and could even boost educational opportunities for their students, which ought to appeal to all parents and administrators.

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