- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Hutchinson News, Aug. 30

Stegall surprise:

Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday chose his appointment to fill a vacancy on the Kansas Supreme Court, and in a completely surprising move, he selected his longtime friend and former chief legal counsel Caleb Stegall.

There were a handful of other candidates, but few people knew their names, because the process of evaluating and considering the candidates for the highest judicial seat was little more than a dog-and-pony show. It was a given that Brownback, who previously had selected Stegall to sit on the Kansas Court of Appeals, would elevate his favorite judge, despite the governor’s claims that Stegall didn’t have an advantage in the process.

In fact, there was so little doubt that Stegall would become a Supreme Court justice, Las Vegas oddsmakers wouldn’t open a line for bets on the selection. But they did offer a list of things more likely to happen in Kansas than Caleb Stegall not ending up on the Kansas Supreme Court:

- The Kansas City Chiefs will win the Super Bowl.

- The NRA will support a ban on preschoolers owning fully automatic weapons.

- KU will become the dominant football school in Kansas and the Big 12 and win a national championship.

- State Rep. Jan Pauls of Hutchinson and gay rights lobbyist Tom Witt will become fast friends.

- The Kansas Chamber of Commerce will push to increase the minimum wage.

- Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity will change its name to “We own Kansas.”

- State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook will be found with a well-worn and dog-eared copy of “50 Shades of Gray.”

- Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce of Hutchinson will answer his phone when The News calls.

Brownback’s plan seemingly is almost complete.

First he purged the Kansas Senate of all who disagreed with him and installed hand-picked replacements who wouldn’t second guess him. Then, he moved to consolidate more power in the executive branch, and now he’s putting his pals up in high places to interpret the law exactly as the governor wants. If only he could’ve put more of his own people in the Kansas House this year.

One safe bet, however, is that the governor won’t soon end his practice of trying to make the Kansas Legislature and the Kansas judiciary little more than cabinet positions under his administration.


The Wichita Eagle, Aug. 29

Voting law is what’s ‘silly’:

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said a demand that he release his income tax returns was “silly.” Maybe so. But what is really silly - and irritating - are the hoops that Kobach made a 92-year-old woman - and many others - jump through in order to exercise their right to vote.

Kobach’s Democratic challenger, Jean Schodorf, released her past three tax returns Wednesday and called on Kobach to do the same. She contends that Kobach, an attorney, spends too much time moonlighting on immigration issues, and she apparently thinks the tax returns will reflect that.

Kobach responded that the Kansas secretary of state has never had to release tax returns before. He also said that a form officials must file disclosing substantial financial interests should be sufficient documentation of his outside income - though the form, which is posted on the Secretary of State’s Office website, doesn’t include income figures.

“It’s sort of intrusive to put out your tax returns for everybody to see,” Kobach said. “So I think it’s just a silly request.”

As it happened, on the same day Schodorf was releasing her returns, Kobach was presiding over a meeting of the State Elections Board. Evelyn Howard of Shawnee, who was born in rural Minnesota in 1922 at a midwife’s house and does not have a birth certificate, appealed to the board to allow her to vote.

A state law that Kobach championed requires people registering for the first time in Kansas to prove they are U.S. citizens. Because Howard moved to Kansas in 2013, she fell under the new requirement - even though she has voted all her adult life.

After Howard submitted as evidence a family Bible, which included a registry of births, and early census records, the Elections Board decided she had proven her citizenship and could register.

Howard’s situation is not that uncommon. Quite a few older Americans never had a birth certificate. Many others, both young and old, don’t have official copies of their birth certificate. And if they were born in other states, obtaining the document can be costly and time consuming. Also, women who are married and have changed their names may have to obtain additional documentation.

For many people, it’s not as simple as sitting on your couch and pressing send on your smartphone, as Kobach likes to portray it.

It’s no wonder that more than 18,000 Kansans have their voter registrations “in suspense.”

What’s particularly irritating is that the proof-of-citizenship requirement is a solution in search of a problem. There is no evidence that illegal immigrants voting is a serious concern. In fact, it doesn’t make sense that they would even try to vote. Why would they risk being caught committing a felony when the odds that their vote would make the difference in an election are remote?

Rather than deterring illegal immigrants, Kobach’s rules are ensnaring senior citizens.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 2

Voting must become a priority:

Though by no means unexpected, the low voter turnout percentages from the August primary were nonetheless disheartening.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach last week reported turnout numbers for individual counties and the state as a whole at a meeting of the State Board of Canvassers. Statewide, 20.2 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the primary - 350,699 of 1.735 million registered voters. This was the first primary in which unaffiliated voters have been required to register with a party in order to vote; the state Democratic Party last year joined the Republican Party in closing its primaries to unaffiliated voters.

Shawnee County recorded 23.5 percent turnout. Among its closest neighbors, Wabaunsee County led with 27.5 percent turnout and Geary County marked 13.6 percent turnout.

With the November general election just over two months away, we consider this an important time to remind voters - and all those who have failed to register so far - of the importance of their time and their ballot. It’s too easy to think that “one vote” is inconsequential.

The Republican candidates for the seat in Kansas House District 50 clearly would disagree. There, Topeka lawyer Fred Patton bested incumbent Rep. Josh Powell by just 62 votes. Every vote counts and very well could make the difference for the candidate you favor.

If only all residents - or all voters, for that matter - were as committed as 92-year-old Evelyn Howard, of Shawnee. She brought her case to Topeka, to Kobach, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who make up the three members of the State Election Board. Daughter Marilyn Hopkins said her mother was born in a midwife’s home in northern Minnesota in 1922. Bearing the page from the family Bible on which her birth is inscribed and copies of U.S. Census records, Howard made her case that she is a citizen and should be allowed to vote under Kansas’ new proof of citizenship law, and the board agreed.

While there remains some dissension over the Kansas law requiring voters to show photo ID when voting and new voters to demonstrate proof of citizenship, no one should be surprised by the stipulations.

Take action now to secure ID if you are without it; better still, check with older and younger friends and relatives - those most likely to be without photo ID - and offer to help them secure it if needed. The www.gotvoterid.com website can walk you through the steps.

Get registered to vote if you aren’t already. The deadline for the November general election is Oct. 14, and advance voting begins in Shawnee County on Oct. 20.

We hope to see many more voters casting ballots. Whether you love or hate those currently in office, or the policies they have enacted, vote to ensure that you have a voice.


The Manhattan Mercury, Aug. 29

Who wants the data, and why?:

We don’t blame officials in a number of Kansas school districts for being curious about why one or more legislators want records about certain contacts school personnel have initiated with legislators and statewide officeholders. We, too, are curious, even though the request hasn’t reached the Manhattan-Ogden School District.

The request, submitted in August by the Kansas Legislative Research Department, also includes school invitations to Kansas Board of Education members and even former candidates for state offices. Further, it involves any invitation school personnel made to them for the entire last three years, as well as two periods this year - Aug. 23-Sept. 30 and Oct. 1-Nov. 3. The request covers not just written invitations to lawmakers and candidates but invitations made electronically and even by phone.

There is no question that districts should comply with the request. They are public entities supported by tax dollars. As state Sen. Steve Abrams, who chairs the Senate Education Committee and is a former KBOE member, told The Topeka Capital-Journal, open records requests are an important part of the democratic process and are sometimes required by the need for transparency.

It isn’t the request - though we’d like to know more about it - that bothers us. What we find troubling is that while Legislative Research is making work for school employees at taxpayer expense in multiple school districts in the pursuit of government transparency, that transparency apparently doesn’t apply to the legislator or legislators who seek the information. He or she or they are unidentified. Legislative Research staff said they cannot answer questions about who asked the department to request the information nor the school districts involved.

Hiding behind Legislative Research in the interest of government transparency, if not downright hypocritical, is hardly admirable. Moreover, it fuels speculation that the request for information may be politically motivated. We would note that one of the periods for which information is sought covers the entire month before Election Day.

The person or persons behind this request would do well to come forward and explain the nature of the request and what the information will be used for.

As for why districts might extend the invitations, they include the reality that legislators control school funding. But elected officials also are invited to speak to students in government or U.S. history classes, judge debates or for a host of other reasons.

No doubt schools will dutifully record such invitations in the future.

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