- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Manhattan Mercury, April 14

Kobach in Trump Cabinet would be bad for everybody

Let’s establish right off the bat that Kris Kobach and Donald Trump fit together pretty well. Let’s also acknowledge that there’s a job opening in President Trump’s administration that would seem to fit Mr. Kobach’s particular orientation pretty well.

We almost always root for Kansans in this sort of situation: It would seem to be good for Kansas, and for us here in Manhattan, to have one of our own in high public office.

But in this case, we need to send a strong contrary signal: Please, Mr. President, don’t put Mr. Kobach in charge of the border.

Mr. Kobach’s name has surfaced as a potential candidate to run the Department of Homeland Security after the departure of Kirstjen Nielsen as the secretary of that agency. Although she carried out President Trump’s controversial policies on immigration, it’s clear that she was at least an internal roadblock to some of his more extreme ideas. So he ran her off.

He wants somebody to do his bidding. Mr. Kobach, as you probably know, has long advocated anti-immigrant policies. He has also run headlong into the law itself, to the point where he was disciplined by courts here in Kansas for essentially ignoring rules.

Like Mr. Trump, he’s a populist. He got himself elected by telling people what he thinks they want to hear. He divides, rather than unites. He contends, for instance, that immigrants have swamped the electoral system to submit fraudulent votes, despite the fact that there’s no evidence at all.

Perhaps he believes all the stuff he says. We can’t really know that.

What we do know is that he would play to Mr. Trump’s worst instincts, and would likely run the federal government afoul of the law. This is why Sen. Pat Roberts, a fellow Kansas Republican, has tried to head off the idea of his nomination. Texas Republican John Cornyn followed up with this: “I wouldn’t be able to support him. I think his rhetoric on immigration is very damaging to Republicans and would not help us solve what is a very complex problem, which is going to require some negotiation and compromise.”

This echoes what we said about Mr. Kobach during his failed campaign for governor, and for that matter his earlier campaigns for secretary of state: He’s not good for Republicans.

He will ultimately run off a lot of voters. Mr. Trump would further damage himself and his party - not to mention the country itself - with such a nomination.


The Topeka Capital-Journal, April 14

Guard has important questions to answer

Members of the Kansas Army National Guard should be commended for their work defending our state and country.

But is the leadership of that guard operating at the same level as the guardsmen and women? It’s a question that lingers after explosive stories uncovered by The Topeka Capital-Journal in 2017, and one that has now been highlighted by the resignation of Capt. Tara Fields. Fields believes Guard leadership wasn’t taking suicides in the ranks seriously enough.

“We have to hold our organization accountable,” Fields told Capital-Journal reporter Katie Moore. “We are not doing right by our soldiers.”

Guard leadership responds by pointing out the difficulty of addressing mental health care among a 6,500-strong force of largely part-time personnel. There’s also the persistent stigma attached to receiving mental health treatment. A pilot project is underway, and all of the correct things are being said.

“The sooner we can identify that somebody has a problem, but more importantly that they realize they have a problem and want help, I’m very confident we have programs in place that can help them and their families deal with that situation and we continually improve the programs,” said Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli.

These are good words, and they describe good intentions. Yet the last time the state Guard was in the spotlight, in early 2017, we heard similar reassuring talk.

Back then, as reported by The Capital-Journal’s Tim Carpenter, reports of “toxic” leadership in the organization raised statewide concern. There were reports of racism, sexual assault and favoritism. After first declining to respond, the Guard put out the following statement from Tafanelli: “We take every allegation seriously, investigate it thoroughly and respond accordingly.”

In the aftermath of that story, we called for then-Gov. Sam Brownback, state lawmakers and Tafanelli to ask and answer tough questions about the Guard and the environment there. The men and women serving deserved no less.

Now that concerns about leadership have been raised again - about literally life and death matters - we renew that call, with added urgency.

What does Gov. Laura Kelly’s office think? Do lawmakers agree with suggestions from Fields for better tracking and increased support? What about embedding behavioral health officers in units? And are contractors being used to paper over gaps while being limited in the services they perform?

And perhaps most importantly, what does Guard leadership think? Will it once again say that all is well and proceeding according to plan, despite the voices of those inside who say otherwise? Will it put self-preservation first?

The answers are no less important now than they were two years ago.


The Lawrence Journal-World, April 10

Maybe it is time to change how students are disciplined

When it comes to getting in trouble at school, all types of images come to mind. There is that dreaded sit-down with the principal, or a detention that never did seem to turn out quite like “The Breakfast Club” sold it, or even an in-school suspension, which would leave you with an in-hot-water conversation with your parents.

Those are time-tested punishments that are almost baked into the American education system. But there are some suggesting that we turn down the heat on the oven. Or, at least, that has been the general impression many people have gotten when it is suggested Lawrence schools consider a concept called “restorative justice.”

The concept of restorative justice - or sometimes called restorative practices - has been floating around Lawrence for a few years now. While it has some pockets of support, it is an idea that hasn’t really gotten much traction. For some, it just sounds too New Age and like a prescription to create soft kids who turn into soft adults. For others, there may be skepticism based on where a large number of its supporters reside. Justice Matters has been a major proponent of restorative justice in the school district. Justice Matters is full of good people, but it is basically a faith-based organization, and some Lawrence residents are going to be skeptical of such an organization getting involved in public education.

But for lots of us, we simply don’t understand what anybody is talking about when they tout restorative justice. That may begin to change, though. There is a sign there might be a new champion for the idea. Superintendent Anthony Lewis told the Journal-World this week that he likes a lot about the concept.

Lewis was instrumental in bringing restorative practices to the Kansas City, Mo., public school system, where he was an assistant principal. Importantly, he’s an educator who can begin to educate the rest of us on what restorative justice may look like in Lawrence.

In one way, it looks like a caring adult.

One of Lewis’ mantras has been that every high school student should have at least one adult in the school building whom they can feel comfortable with. That’s an example of a restorative practice, and it also is an example of a good goal. The education system can become too focused on teaching to a test or making sure this or that academic standard is met. Academic learning is critically important, but the lesson of how to build and maintain relationships is one that students absolutely will use every day of their lives. And in high school, who doesn’t need an extra adult to lean on now and again?

Another example of restorative practices is the idea of a “classroom circle.” Many of the elementary schools in Lawrence now start the morning with circle time. Students are encouraged to respond to a prompt, such as “How was your weekend?” or “What’s on your mind?” Yes, “circle time” does sound like an exercise where a verse of some folk song may break out. But the underlying idea of getting students comfortable sharing and communicating is a good one.

Many times the idea of restorative justice is associated with how schools handle discipline. On this front there probably is a need for more real life examples of how the concept would be deployed. It is important to have a disciplinary system that reinforces the idea that actions have consequences. The real world certainly will emphasize that concept. But it also is worth thinking about whether the consequences meted out by today’s disciplinary process actually resonate with some students. It is possible that an out-of-school suspension is exactly what some troubled students are hoping for. It may be more productive for them to have to face those they have hurt and explain their actions.

More information and more thought are needed on that topic. Hopefully Superintendent Lewis will keep the community engaged on the issue. It is an idea worthy of more discussion - although, hopefully we don’t all have to stand in a circle and hold hands.

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