- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Manhattan Mercury, Feb. 9

Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts have cast their votes.

Soon, it will be time for you to cast yours. We all knew that was the end game anyway.

The U.S. Senate, including those two gentlemen with strong connections to Manhattan, voted this past week not to remove President Trump from office. In doing so, they both said that the impeachment case “failed to rise to the level” of the sort of crime for which a president should be convicted and removed.

A reasonable case can be made for that.



But it’s no longer really possible to argue with a straight face that President Trump did nothing wrong. The truth is, anybody paying attention has to acknowledge that Mr. Trump attempted to pressure a foreign government to influence a U.S. election. There is plenty of evidence - even from his own advisors and his own political allies - that he pressured Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. The elder Mr. Biden was - and might still be - the front-runner for the Democratic nomination to face Mr. Trump in the next election.

The question became whether President Trump’s actions were bad enough to merit removal from office. Most of the Senate said no, and that’s the way our process works, and so we need to move forward as a country on that basis.

Voters will now have to judge if they can stomach that sort of behavior. In the end, the presidential election in November will likely come down to a referendum on that question. Mr. Trump will try to make a case for his successes on the economy, and he has a strong hand there. He will also attempt to make the election about the weaknesses of his Democratic opponent, whoever that is.

And voters will have to make a judgment about which of those things is most important.

Some voters - maybe even you - will downplay what Mr. Trump did. The Access Hollywood tape - in which Mr. Trump was on record talking about grabbing women by their private parts - was not enough to make him lose the last election. So voters might choose to look past this, too.

But nobody can argue that it didn’t happen. It did. He used his position as the leader of the most powerful country on earth to try to get a foreign power to hurt his domestic political rival. That is a well-established fact.

What’s your view? Are you OK with that? In the end, that’s all that really matters.

____

The Topeka Captal-Journal, Feb. 5

The Kansas Legislature isn’t known for getting down to business quickly. Too often, sessions dawdle along for weeks or months, until business concludes in a whirlwind of activity during the final hours.

Representatives and senators have even been known to literally stop the clock in the final moments, extending session past its final moments as they squabble and cut deals. This last-minute wrangling seldom leads to transparent, nonpartisan breakthroughs. Instead, it often creates a cloud of animosity, broken promises and varying, Rashomon-like accounts of what actually transpired.

That’s why we’re pleased to see the Legislature moving with relative alacrity this year. The Medicaid expansion proposal has been heard in Senate committee, and the hot-button abortion amendment to the state Constitution has been voted on in the Senate and is headed to the House of Representatives for a likely vote this week. Gov. Laura Kelly’s proposal to refinance the state’s KPERS payments has likewise been debated, and various tax suggestions are being batted back and forth in committee.

This relatively early action allows the voices of voters and advocates to be heard plainly. Whatever the outcomes, senators and representatives are doing their business in the open, where it can be reported on and followed. We have consistently and forcefully advocated for transparent, open government, and we’re glad to see lawmakers acting in a way that allows for increased levels of both.

Of course, just because the Legislature is acting this way now doesn’t mean that it will continue. Much remains to be done.

Medicaid expansion needs to be brought across the finish line. The state’s budget for the next fiscal year will need to be shaped and passed. And while these important bill work through the legislative( process, the outcome of abortion debates could shorten tempers and sharpen rhetoric. In other words, the final days of this session could still see an abundance of last-minute wrangling.

But the business of the House and Senate is the business of Kansas. Everyone in this state deserves to know what’s going on in our government, and deserves to have their voice heard. Early, clearly defined action allows that to happen. The more that legislators accomplish early, the better for all of us.

So get back to work, senators and representatives! We’ll be watching.

____

The Wichita Eagle, Feb. 7

Passing legislation on abortion will never, ever be easy. It’s just too personal, too far-reaching, too politically radioactive.

But Kansas legislators could have made their vote on a constitutional amendment to allow legal restrictions on the procedure a little easier - and more successful - if they hadn’t tried to shoehorn the public vote on it into the August primary.

Instead the amendment failed in the House Friday 80-43, four votes short of the 84, or two-thirds, required for a constitutional amendment - with several representatives saying they voted against it because they were opposed to holding the public vote in the sparsely populated August election.

Immediately afterward, Senate President Susan Wagle took the chair in a mostly empty chamber to announce she was sending any House bills back to committee that might be used to expand Medicaid - effectively bottling up that effort in response to the failed abortion amendment in the House.

That’s just reprehensible, blocking expanded health care for lower-income Kansans because a vote on something else fell short.

“This vote just completely changed the course of the 2020 legislative session,” Wagle said in a written statement. “I will work with the pro-life community and will persevere to ensure (the abortion amendment’s) passage.”

Amendment supporters want an August vote because that’s when the more motivated, tuned-in voters show up and most of the rest don’t. And in Kansas, it’s when the vote skews more conservative.

Still, if abortion opponents have the courage of their convictions that the amendment is the right thing to do, they shouldn’t shy away from the challenge of persuading their fellow Kansans they’re right - even amid the maelstrom of 2020’s presidential-year general election in November.

Another reason November has more gravitational pull politically is the very real fear among moderate Republicans up for re-election that greater numbers of conservative voters in August could favor more conservative primary challengers.

So, practically, politically and arguably morally, a November public vote was always going to be the right thing. And it would have been the smart thing, to get the amendment through the House.

There are other reasons, besides the supporters’ August obsession, why House leaders had to essentially hold members captive in their seats much of the day Friday while trying to quietly twist a few arms and get the four more votes needed to pass the Senate-approved amendment. Kansans for Life announced it would oppose Medicaid expansion unless the abortion amendment were passed.

The House leadership’s decision to hold members hostage for hours Friday, in what is known as a “call of the house” procedure, is a fairly dubious method of persuasion. It’s essentially saying, “I’m digging in my heels until you stop digging in yours.” The gambit only seemed to deepen the heel-digging until the amendment disappeared into a hole.

“I assure you the eight (members) they targeted to change (their votes) are rock solid,” state Rep. Jan Kessinger, Republican of Overland Park, wrote The Star from the House chamber during the Friday forced sit-in.

State Rep. Bill Pannbacker, a Republican from Washington, told his colleagues he voted against the amendment because the public vote would be in August rather than November.

“We live in divided times and no topic is more divisive than abortion,” Kessinger wrote The Star and later wrote to his House colleagues. “This amendment, especially with its August primary date, serves to solidify the divide among Kansas citizens.”

This historic moment in Kansas legislative and abortion rights history is a product of the Kansas Supreme Court’s April 2019 ruling that the state’s constitution protects a woman’s right to abortion. Supporters of the constitutional amendment want to restore and make explicit the state Legislature’s authority to pass restrictions on abortion.

The problem is that, at least for now, the amendment’s proponents may have missed their moment.

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