- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Kansas City Star, Dec. 28

Gov. Brownback, it’s time to resign and let Kansas move on

Governor Brownback, it’s time to walk away.

As a convert to Catholicism - someone who wasn’t just born into the faith, but chose it - maybe think of it this way: It’s time to follow the selfless and historic example of Pope Benedict XVI and step down from the job, ceding power not because you have to, but for the good of the faithful.

Or in this case, for the good of the good people of Kansas, who as we’ve argued before, need a real, full-time governor and not one who’s waiting for his ride.

The job you’ve been waiting on might or might not materialize now, we know, and you do, too.

That’s because those in your own Republican Party didn’t put a vote for your confirmation as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom on the Senate calendar by the end of the year.

They did not simply run out of time, either. After all, you were nominated by President Donald Trump in July, and dozens of other long-deferred votes on appointments were cleared in a flash before senators left town for the holidays.

Was it something you said, at that confirmation hearing for which you appeared so ill-prepared?

Was it something you did, or undid, like protections for state employees against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?

That’s definitely why Democrats decided to delay the vote. And perhaps why one or two of those Republicans who will be running for reelection next year weren’t eager to have to defend a vote for you.

Then again, maybe all the excuses of how the year just got away from your former Senate colleagues - very busy, very busy - were not just excuses. Maybe you’ll be renominated and will get the job, too.

That’s the best possible outcome, since by all accounts, the role was made for you, and vice versa.

After all, you and former Rep. Frank Wolf, the Virginia Republican who drafted the bill that created the post of U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom almost 20 years ago, were the first Americans to visit Sudan’s Darfur region as the Janjaweed militias burned villages and gang-raped women out gathering firewood. The two of you were not only among the first to call what was happening there genocide, but are among the all too few who understand that it’s not over, even now.

There are moderate Muslims and Christians who’ve hidden from religious extremists in caves in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains who know your name, Governor Brownback, and are grateful that you’ve heard of them, too.

That’s why we’re confident you’d be a zealous advocate for some of the world’s most oppressed people.

In fact, the same stubbornness that made you so unwilling to ever acknowledge that your tax cuts had failed would serve you well in that role.

And far more importantly, it would serve the now nearly extinct Christian communities in Syria and Iraq, the cradle of that faith. And the Muslim Uighurs, whose faith has been criminalized in China.

And the tortured Buddhist Falun Gong detainees whose organs are reportedly being harvested in that same country, where their fellow inmates include human rights lawyers and Christian pastors jailed for singing “Jesus loves you.”

But to come back to the governorship now, after handing off many of the important duties of the job to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, would not be in the state’s best interest. If he’s your hoped-for successor, don’t disadvantage him further by dragging this out. Especially with the state of the state address coming up, along with the new legislative session and the new budget.

Colyer has been patient, and so have we. But we wrote before that if nothing happened by the end of the year, you really need to either give up the governorship or get back to it. The problem with the latter option at this point is that you’ve made clear your heart is no longer in it, and the feeling’s mutual. Still, we believe you do care about your state and its people.

As you know, Benedict stepped down because he loves the church, and saw first-hand that in John Paul II’s final days, he couldn’t be the steward his flock needed. Benedict vowed not to let that happen in his pontificate, and he didn’t. Instead, he did what someone at the top of an organization only rarely does. He gave up control willingly.

Kansas needs new leadership as much as oppressed religious minorities around the world need your passion for their situation. We do wish you the best in that capacity, or in anything else you choose to do.

But as a fictional victim of religious persecution in pre-revolutionary Russia - yes, in “Fiddler on the Roof” - asked God to “bless and keep the tsar, far away from us,” we wish you well, too, far from Topeka.

____

The Lawrence Journal-World, Jan. 2

It will be an uphill battle, but an effort to appeal to political centrists deserves to gain momentum.

One of the interesting developments to watch in 2018 will be efforts to establish another major political party in Kansas.

The Party of the Center’s mission is to draw upon voters’ dissatisfaction with Republicans and Democrats. According to a Gallup Poll, 51 percent of Americans disapprove of the Democratic Party while 57 percent disapprove of the Republican Party.

The new party hopes to appeal to centrists, specifically those whose political philosophies are more liberal on social issues but more conservative on fiscal issues.

“What we’ve realized is that parties have fundamentally changed over the last 120 years,” Lawrence’s Scott Morgan, one of the organizers behind the Party of the Center, said recently. “And you see this throughout the economy, where things have been disrupted by technology, by the way we have changed regulatory schemes. Parties, the same thing. It just hasn’t reacted to it yet.”

Despite the dissatisfaction with the two major parties, third-party efforts have largely been unsuccessful on state and national levels. Even if a majority of voters identify more with the general philosophies of the center, most feel strongly about one or two issues that can drive alignment with one of the two major parties.

That creates an uphill battle for the Party of the Center.

Under Kansas law, in order for a new party to be recognized and have its candidates listed on the ballot, organizers must collect petition signatures equal to 2 percent of all the ballots cast in the last election for governor. That would be about 18,000 signatures, based on the turnout in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

Thereafter, it must nominate at least one candidate for a statewide office each gubernatorial election cycle, and its candidates must get at least 1 percent of the vote in order for the party to keep its recognition.

Independent Greg Orman, a wealthy Johnson County businessman who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2014, has indicated he will launch a run for governor this year as a centrist. Orman’s gubernatorial bid is supported by the national Centrist Project.

Morgan told the Topeka Capital-Journal that while Orman’s candidacy is a significant political moment, it isn’t enough to create a third party even if he wins.

“It does nothing to create sustainable change,” Morgan said. “It’s a one-off, personality-driven candidacy. You need something built around a philosophy. People want a label, a shortcut for picking people.”

Morgan is right. Long-term, a third-party breakthrough will require a slate of candidates at all levels, awareness of the party’s core philosophies and funding to compete with the major parties. It is a major challenge, but given the dissatisfaction with partisanship and the rise of political moderates in Kansas’ 2016 elections and 2017 legislative session, it’s a cause worth pursuing.

_____

The Topeka Capital-Journal, Jan. 1

Editorial: Why are so many black babies dying in Kansas?

We shouldn’t pretend like black infant mortality is more of a mystery than it is

According to a recent report from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the infant mortality rate in our state is 5.9 per 1,000 live births - a proportion that jumps to 15.2 per 1,000 for black babies. The report also found that socioeconomic factors are correlated with infant deaths in Kansas. Although 32.4 percent of live births were funded by Medicaid between 2012 and 2016, this group accounted for 44.5 percent of infant deaths. This correlation exists across the country, as does the gross racial disparity in infant mortality.

While KDHE spokesman Jerry Kratochvil says the agency isn’t sure what’s causing this disparity, it isn’t difficult to come up with a general explanation. The high rate of infant deaths in the black community is a symptom of deeply ingrained racial inequality that still persists at all levels in Kansas and around the country.

For example, in a 2016 study published in Labour Economics, Michigan State University researchers Steven J. Haider, Todd Elder and John Goddeeris found that “infant mortality gaps for our six racial/ethnic groups exhibit many commonalities, and these commonalities suggest a prominent role for socio-economic differences.” One of the most pronounced commonalities they identify is a lack of education among nonwhite mothers.

When you take a look at ACT scores in Kansas, you’ll see huge racial disparities that demonstrate how far some students have fallen behind by high school and how difficult it will be for them to succeed in college.

Only 6 percent of black students reached all four of the college readiness benchmarks on the ACT in 2017 - something 36 percent of white students were able to do. This is one of the factors that has led to the substantial gap between the proportions of white and black Americans who hold college degrees: 36 percent and 23 percent, respectively. Now consider the fact that the average median salary for college graduates is around $60,000 per year and less than $36,000 per year for Americans who only have a high school diploma.

And socioeconomic factors are often directly tied to health care access.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s most recent “Race for Results” report, 77 percent of Kansas children are fortunate enough to live in low-income areas, but this proportion falls to 51 percent for black children. Perhaps this explains why a 2012 study in Health Services Research found that almost twice as many African-Americans live in “zip codes with few or no primary care physicians” than whites. And in 2016, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 21 percent of African-Americans either didn’t receive or had to delay health care in 2014, while only 14 percent of whites faced the same problem.

While 6.4 percent of white Kansans don’t have health insurance, the rate is 14.3 for African-Americans in the state.

CDC data suggest that gap in health care is having an adverse effect on black mothers. While 25.8 percent of black mothers say they “received late (after first trimester) or no entry into prenatal care,” this proportion collapses to 12 percent for whites. Meanwhile, only 79.5 percent of black mothers “received prenatal care as early in their pregnancy as wanted,” compared to 87.5 percent of white mothers.”

Finally, according to KDHE, women who weren’t married when they got pregnant accounted for 36.3 percent of the live births but almost half of all infant deaths. More than 70 percent of the births in the African-American community are out of wedlock.

While it isn’t clear exactly what has caused the high infant mortality rate among black Kansans, we can certainly make a few educated guesses.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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