By Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 1

Republicans have legitimate questions about the potential politicization of an audit of the Missouri attorney general’s office by state Auditor Nicole Galloway’s staff. Questions of objectivity were raised based on an audit staffer’s comment in an errant email. Galloway, a Democrat running for governor, has cultivated a reputation as a straight shooter who keeps personal politics out of her work - a reputation that could dissolve quickly under an unresolved controversy like this.

Galloway cannot hope to win over the state’s Republican majority voters in her upcoming election fight against Republican Gov. Mike Parson if she has anything short of a spotless record in the one statewide office she’s held. While keeping to the legal confidentiality requirements of pending audits, she should offer as much information about this troubling development as possible - as soon as possible.

At issue is an Aug. 29 email chain between Pamela Allison, one of Galloway’s audit managers, and multiple officials with both Galloway’s office and the state attorney general’s office. It was related to the pending audit that is required after a statewide elected official leaves office. Former Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, left that post for the U.S. Senate in January.

In the email chain, during a discussion about internal policies under the attorney general’s office, Allison wrote: “I’m thinking I’ll just drop the confidentiality paragraph in the report and beef up the personal email/personal calendar section.” One minute later, she followed up with: “Please disregard that last email.”

Hawley apparently discovered the comments in audit documents that were copied to his office this month. Employing a big dose of cynical assumption, he took to Twitter and alleged that the email is proof that Galloway’s office was “CHANGING & manipulating the audit to make it more critical of my office or me.”

A plain reading of the short, vague email doesn’t prove that at all, but it definitely raises the question. By “beef up,” was she suggesting embellishing it with negative conclusions, as Hawley assumes? Or is it something less sinister? There simply isn’t enough context to know - though the followup note to disregard it doesn’t bode well for an innocent explanation.

In light of all that, state legislators were justified in grilling Galloway about it during a committee hearing. Her explanation that she isn’t allowed to discuss pending audits wasn’t a dodge - it’s the law - and her assurances that there was no political bias in the audit, while vague, will come out in the wash one way or the other when it’s finally released.

Still, Galloway should consider whether she could at least explain the “beef up” comment in general terms without violating audit confidentiality standards. Absent some kind of explanation, the public is left with only assumptions of the worst.


The Kansas City Star, Feb. 3

Anyone who flips a light switch, or plugs in a toaster, or enjoys air conditioning - that is, all of us - must start paying close attention to the growing battle involving Evergy, the local power utility.

The price you pay for electricity is at stake. So are local jobs and ownership of a vital regional resource.

Evergy is a publicly traded, investor-owned power company, providing energy to roughly 1.6 million customers in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. About 5,000 people work for the company.

In October, the outside investment firm Elliott Management contacted Evergy to complain about the company’s business strategy. Elliot Management said Evergy should invest in newer energy technologies and pay for it in part by ending a stock buyback program.

Or, Elliot said, Evergy should offer itself for sale. Either way, Elliott Management said, Evergy needed to perform better for shareholders.

The suggestions were not idle recommendations. Elliott owns more than 11 million shares of Evergy, about 5% of the company. It’s run by billionaire Paul Singer, a hyper-aggressive businessman once called a “doomsday investor” by The New Yorker magazine.

Evergy said it studied Elliott’s recommendations and rejected them; Elliott says shareholders will suffer as a result. Expect louder voices and a deepening dispute in the days ahead.

Both sides will insist they’re protecting the interests of all stakeholders in the energy utility. Perhaps. But there are other motives: Elliott clearly aims to boost its own profits, while Evergy has reason to want to protect its current management.

Both approaches are defensible in a market economy. In this case, though, electricity customers and Evergy’s workforce could end up caught in the middle, which would be a disaster.

Ratepayers and workers must be considered the most important stakeholders in the dispute.

Any major change in ownership of Evergy will face regulatory review. The Kansas Corporation Commission and the Missouri Public Service Commission should make it clear to all parties that rate increases and significant layoffs will not be a part of any wholesale corporate changes at Evergy.

Investors and potential buyers should be on notice that Evergy’s value won’t be lifted on the backs of people who want to turn on the lights, or on companies that depend on electricity to operate.

Evergy’s profits should not depend on unnecessary layoffs, either.

Local and state officeholders should make these points publicly. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly are aware of these concerns, and should say so. Other officials should do the same.

To be clear: Elected officials need not take one side over the other, at least not yet. Investors, advisers and analysts can and should examine ways that Evergy’s energy can be cheaper, cleaner and more dependable.

Evergy should not resist such an examination. Last week, the company committed to cleaner energy during the next decades. The motive for the announcement seems clear.

Electric rates in our region are high enough. Regulators should make it clear that higher rates and fewer workers should not be a part of the war over Evergy.


The Joplin Globe, Jan. 31

There’s an old parenting adage: When otherwise rambunctious children suddenly become quiet, better pay attention.

That’s good political advice, too.

When normally loquacious politicians are not talking about something, better pay attention.

And the one thing no one is talking about in this election year is the nation’s spending habit.

Until last Tuesday.

Into the middle of the 2020 campaign, with both parties laying out agendas and making promises that in effect buy votes, the Congressional Budget Office just dropped a reality bomb.

The deficit this year is projected to top $1 trillion, according to the CBO report; the country will take in a little more than $3.6 billion from taxes and other sources, and spend more than $4.6 billion.

Over the next decade, the deficit is projected to average $1.3 trillion a year, or more than $13 trillion.

This isn’t the first time the deficit has pushed over over a trillion dollars - it last happened in 2009-2012 - but there are some worrisome new trends this time around.

• Those deficits a decade ago were reined in, whereas deficits of $1 trillion and more are likely the new norm, and no longer just an aberration or an economic stimulus, according to experts.

• This deficit is occurring amid a robust economy; traditionally, deficits contract when the economy grows.

“The alarming budget outlook during a period of sustained economic growth and low unemployment reflects the continuing failure of elected officials in Washington to acknowledge that the federal budget is on a perilous path, much less do anything about it,” Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, said in a statement. “At a time when we should be seeing budget deficits shrink, they are projected to average over $1.3 trillion annually for the next decade.”

It took all of us - left, right and everyone in between - to get to this point, and by that we mean we are all on the receiving end of a government that continues spending an unfathomable amount of money beyond what it is taking in.

It is going to take all of us to claw our way back to normalcy.

And that, no one wants to do.

Or even talk about.

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