- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Wichita Eagle, Aug. 17

Gov. Sam Brownback is correct. The Legislature needs to review the state’s role in overseeing amusement park safety following the death of a 10-year-old boy last week at the Schlitterbahn water park.

As is, state and local officials have shockingly little oversight.

Kansas City Star reporting also raised questions about whether the owners of the Kansas City, Kan., park put thrills and hype ahead of safety.

Caleb Schwab, son of state Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, was killed on the Verrückt waterslide on Aug. 7. An official investigation might take months, but the accident has already raised concerns about a lack of regulations.

Contrary to what many people might assume, the federal government doesn’t regulate waterslides. And state and local officials had minimal input and oversight of the design and safety of the Verrückt - which at 168 feet is billed as the tallest waterslide in the world.

The Kansas Department of Labor, the state agency that oversees amusement park rides, never directly inspected the waterslide, relying instead on inspectors hired by Schlitterbahn. Meanwhile, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan., was focused on zoning and building codes.

The process of designing and building the waterslide was guided primarily by Schlitterbahn, the Star reported.

Though there were building inspections, they were concentrated on structural issues - such as steel reinforcements, footings and bolts - not on whether the slide would be safe to ride. Ride inspectors are primarily concerned with whether a slide is operated and maintained to a manufacturer’s specifications.

Among the design and engineering concerns now being raised include whether there were too many variables to control - such as the weight and distribution of riders, the inflation levels of the rafts, wind and water pressure - and whether anyone examined how the safety netting across the top of the slide might create its own hazard.

Some riders of the slide from the past few weeks also have said they experienced problems with the restraints coming undone and rafts going airborne.

Brownback said last week that the state’s restricted oversight role needs to be reviewed, and that he was open to tightening regulations.

“What you really want taking place is more inspections more often by competent people,” he said.

And that the safety of the design is also inspected.

People go to amusement parks for the thrills. But they also expect - and should be able to trust - that the rides will be safe.


Topeka Capital-Journal, Aug. 20

Among social justice activists, the word “woke” has developed in recent years as an ultimate compliment. It’s a badge of honor describing people who are fully aware of the political and social inequities experienced by the poor, women, the LGBT community, and particularly, communities of color.

It’s a sharp, punchy word. The hard “k” at the end sounds like defiance. Its four letters make it a perfect word for the Twitter era - where so much activism happens now - in which economy and directness are the order of the day.

But the word is complicated. “Woke” sounds like a destination one can reach - as if, once a person or organization or institution checks off certain boxes, they have reached some certification that lets them know they can ease up on the work. The truth is, no such place exists. The struggle for equity, peace and justice is exactly that: a struggle. It is active, it is present, it is ongoing. There is very honest, immediate and vulnerable pain caused by the many social ills of our society; it’s a pain that is felt right here in Topeka.

When reflecting on the fallout from last Friday’s abruptly ended community meeting on policing standards, we would do well to think about what that ongoing struggle really entails. The interruption of Chief Brown’s speech was indeed disruptive and derailing. But what struggle for social equity and justice has ever worked without disrupting and derailing the status quo? We have to honor the fact that the outbursts were born of sincere pain and frustration - it wasn’t just some class clowns back at your junior high’s all-school assembly.

Topeka is a Midwestern city. Midwesterners hold dearly to values of politeness and civility. But we also must realize our prioritizing of politeness comes at a cost. Frank discussions of race make us skittish. Real talk about race exposes how we as citizens do not lead equitable lives. Honest discussions about race open up deep wounds and pull forth emotions that we have been conditioned as Midwesterners to bury for the sake of false harmony.

And yet, we still must have them.

Topeka proudly trumpets itself as the capital city of “The Free State,” as the home of crusading Browns, John and Oliver. Perhaps that’s why some speakers wanted to quickly move the meeting’s discussion to reconciliation with “can’t we all just get along” rhetoric. While the endgame there is admirable, it skips a vital step. It does not allow communities of color to bring out their dead and speak honestly about the centuries-long struggle for just policing. As much as Topeka is a Midwestern city, it is an American city, and that means we carry our own weight and responsibility in solving the racial discord experienced nationwide.

It’s an ongoing struggle. There will be pain expressed and felt. There will be disruptions. It will not be comfortable. But surely the dignity and equity of all of us is worth that much.


Lawrence Journal-World, Aug. 21

We all have shared dates where we should stop and remember: Memorial Day, Veterans Day, 9/11, are a few. But Lawrence has one that is unique to this community. It is today.

On Aug. 21, 1863, William Quantrill led a band of pro-slavery guerrillas into Lawrence during the early-morning hours, then proceeded to kill more than 180 men and boys and burned much of the city.

Sometimes the event is called Quantrill’s Raid, but, as this newspaper has noted before, that is inaccurate: It was a massacre.

Local historian Pat Kehde, who is a descendant of one of the victims, once did some back-of-the-envelope math. Records indicate Lawrence’s population in 1863 was 1,645 people. Assume half of them were male. Some were male children, and some of the adult male population already had left to fight in the Civil War. Kehde believes a fair estimate of the number of adult males in the city that day is about 700. If so, Quantrill killed about a quarter of the entire adult male population in the city. In today’s terms, a killing of 25 percent of Lawrence’s male population 15 years and older would be more than 9,000 deaths.

We should never forget the brutality that occurred in Lawrence. We also should never forget why it occurred. Lawrence was a special place. While so many other communities are founded on the idea of commerce, Lawrence was founded on a conviction: Slavery must be abolished. This part of Kansas, with Lawrence as its moral compass, became the place where beliefs first turned to blood in what would become a terrible Civil War.

For much of its beginnings, the eyes of the nation really were focused on Lawrence. It was that special of a place. Residents here made a courageous stand, and paid a heavy price for it on Aug. 21, 1863.

If that is all we remember, though, we are committing an injustice. Perhaps part of today’s remembrance should be a stroll down beautiful Massachusetts Street. It is still here and extremely prosperous, despite the tragedy that occurred there in 1863.

Losing a quarter of the adult male population would have killed many communities. It did not kill Lawrence, although there were days that the community struggled mightily. It endured, and is a special place today.

But Lawrence didn’t survive because of some magic or some spirit that hung over the city. It survived because of the people who lived and worked here every day. It is good that history books still remember the Lawrence Massacre, but the danger is it simply becomes a story in a history book. These were real people who died, real people who suffered in the aftermath.

Today, we should be pained by their suffering. Tomorrow, we should be inspired by their perseverance.

May Lawrence long be a special place.


Salina Journal, Aug. 20

In Kansas, there are 523,596 voters who don’t affiliate with an established political party. There also are 13,181 voters who declare themselves as Libertarians.

Nevertheless, the two major parties have such a stranglehold on political discourse that candidates who might represent those nearly 600,000 voters struggle to get their messages out to voters, in large part because they aren’t part of the established political machine that excludes them.

Such was the case last week, when the agricultural forum/political debate held annually at the Kansas State Fair included an invitation for 1st Congressional District Republican nominee Roger Marshall, but excluded Alan LaPolice, an independent from Clyde, and Libertarian candidate Kerry Burt, of Hutchinson.

By the next week, however, the outcry had grown intense enough that the radio station that sponsors the debate, WIBW, decided to drop Marshall from the lineup rather than extend an invitation to the other candidates. Now, the only participant at the state’s signature political event will be U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts.

The same thing occurs at the presidential level. The Commission on Presidential Debates requires that a candidate secure 15 percent support in national polling before he or she will be invited to participate in a presidential debate. Yet, those candidates struggle to get their names out in front of voters when they are excluded from debates and policy discussions because they are arbitrarily labeled as unviable.

In the case of the 1st Congressional District, LaPolice already has proven his worth by capturing 45 percent of the vote in the 2014 Republican primary against Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who lost to Marshall in August. After LaPolice’s showing in 2014, there’s little reason to sideline someone who should be viewed as a viable candidate.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the major political parties are fractured, with shades of populism emerging on the right and the left of the political spectrum. Often, those voters look to independent, or minor party, candidates to support instead of being somewhat forced to throw in with the sometimes unpalatable choices offered in the major parties. They ought to be given the choice to at least hear them out.

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