- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Topeka Capital-Journal, Jan. 25

The possibility of an anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution being brought before voters during the August primary election is an obviously bad and unfair idea.

First, let’s make this clear: We do not have a stance on this amendment itself. We’re watching from the sidelines and simply concerned about fairness. We’d feel this way about amendments on infrastructure, education or anything else lawmakers ask voters to decide.

And because of this, we are duty bound to point out that holding a vote like this during the primary plays right into an obviously unfair conservative advantage.

Most of the reasons why are so apparent that even partisans can agree on them, but for those playing at home or in case you missed it, here’s why the timing of this vote would be so unfair:

Abortion is a hotly contested topic with strong opinions drawn along party lines. Republicans mostly lean anti-abortion. Democrats are often pro-choice.

Kansas is one of the most conservative states in the union. As a result, the Republican primary election is often the most important election in the state on all levels by default.

The Democratic Primary often is nonconsequential and as a result, yields a low voter turnout.

Factor all of those things together and an automatic advantage goes to conservatives and those who support the anti-abortion amendment.

Essentially holding this amendment vote during the primary would be like spotting the Jayhawks an extra 80 points in basketball before they even tip off against an opponent at home. They’re not going to blow a lead like that. Neither will the voting blocks supporting this amendment.

If lawmakers want the people of Kansas to vote on this issue, and it possible they likely will, then for the love of all things wheat, get the actual will of the people. This is a topic for the general election.

Proponents of the amendment might say that the voting blocks are charged and this will get pushed through either way. That’s fine. But from our view, they still need to win the day fair and square or what is the point of voting in the first place?

Lawmakers, set this for the general election. Check your politics at the door, and let all the voters decide for themselves what abortion rights should look like in Kansas.

It’s the right thing to do. It’s the fair thing to do.


The Kansas City Star, Jan. 23

Your chance of getting justice in court shouldn’t depend on where you live or who governs your city or county.

Yet, it may in Kansas - especially when an unarmed or unthreatening person is gunned down by police.

In four such cases in the state during the past few years, the judicial outcomes have been wildly different - in part because the circumstances in every case are always different, but perhaps also because Kansas is so loosey-goosey with how such cases are investigated and adjudicated.

In two 2017 cases - in the Sun City shooting death of Steven Myers by then-Barber County Undersheriff Virgil “Dusty” Brewer, and the shooting death of Antonio Garcia Jr. by then-Leavenworth police officer Matthew Harrington - the Kansas Bureau of Investigation was called in. The officers were charged with involuntary manslaughter in both cases.

Brewer is accused of shooting a departmentally unapproved bean bag that killed Myers. Harrington is accused of shooting into Garcia’s SUV after the two men tussled at the scene of a domestic call. Garcia allegedly had a pocket knife on his lap, but a KBI agent testified Garcia posed no threat to Harrington.

By contrast, in two officer-involved shootings investigated at the local level, no charges were brought against the officers - in the 2017 shooting death of Andrew Finch by Wichita police officer Justin Rapp, and the 2018 Overland Park shooting of John Albers. In fact, Rapp has filed suit against the city of Wichita for wages lost during his suspension in the case.

The innocent Finch was killed in a “swatting” hoax after an Ohio gamer asked another man to phone in a false report of a homicide and hostage situation at Finch’s home.

In Albers’ case, authorities said the troubled youth piloting the family’s van out of a garage had menaced two officers who’d been called there to check on his welfare. The family disputed that account and ultimately received a $2.3 million settlement from the city of Overland Park.

The teenager’s mother, Sheila Albers, is advocating for the passage of House Bill 2424, a measure in the Kansas Legislature that would require written policies on such cases, outside investigations and release of investigative records when officers aren’t charged.

The bill needs to pass, and should be a no-brainer. The state desperately needs consistency and transparency in officer-involved shooting probes. Protocol and accountability should not vary from city to city, county to county.

“Justice in Kansas completely depends on the community you live in,” Sheila Albers told The Star. “I think it’s hugely problematic.”

More uniformity in investigations might also help produce a badly needed open-to-the-public database of officer-involved shootings - and that information, Albers figures, can help law enforcement departments in their policies, procedures and training.

But while uniform protocols and independent investigations would help, they’re not much use without transparency, which is the key to public trust in law enforcement.

Without the transparency that comes with the release of police records, Albers argues, “Then nothing will change. It will be a checkbox rather than a tool for real improvement.”


The Lawrence Journal-World, Jan. 25

Civility has not been rampant in Lawrence recently. The uncivil incident that much of the country saw last week involved an end-of-game brawl between the KU and Kansas State basketball teams. But the incident that should stick in the minds of those who live in the community involves a brick through the mayor’s window.

First, the brawl. KU and the Big 12 Conference handled the aftermath pretty well. The suspensions were fair, and both coach Bill Self and Athletic Director Jeff Long seemed appropriately concerned.

Unfortunately, some KU fans didn’t perform nearly as well. They made a lot of ill-conceived attempts at justification. In that regard, they were no smarter than Silvio De Sousa. Both need to know when to throw up their hands and walk away.

We will see what happens next, but fans - and, more importantly, Long - should use this incident to pause and take stock. Put the fandom aside. Is this basketball program really trending in the right direction?

Now, the rock through the window. Mayor Jennifer Ananda confirmed what the Journal-World had reported. A brick was thrown through the window of her home. It included a message related to the contentious debate about funding levels for services for the homeless.

Ananda said she refused to meet “rage with rage,” and invited the person to participate in restorative justice and meet with her to discuss the issue of homelessness. That’s admirable, and such a conversation could be appropriate. But, make no mistake, it should happen in the visitors room of the Douglas County Jail.

Hopefully the individual who threw the brick will be caught, and hopefully prosecutors will find a law to charge the individual that goes beyond simply vandalism. Just like how battery of a law enforcement officer is charged differently from battery on a normal individual, there should be a higher law that applies to vandalism or threats against public officials. A person is not just attacking an individual, but rather is trying to damage our system of government. We should take that seriously not only in Washington, D.C., but here at home.

Ananda, who along with her two traumatized children deserve our good thoughts, is correct that discussion is needed in the aftermath of this incident. It should be a broad community discussion, and it should go beyond the idea that we need to be more civil. We all know that.

Instead, we need to have a discussion about how to use the enormous amount of energy that exists in Lawrence. Currently, there are few positive outlets for that energy. Railing against something or someone consumes much of the community’s energy. Lawrence is at risk of having its brand become the Angry Activists. We need to guard against that.

One strategy would be to really work at finding an issue where we all could direct our energy at creating something positive rather than stopping something negative. Yes, there are times we must all take stands, and sometimes those stands involve negativity. That will continue to be the case. But we need to find a common cause to offset some of that negativity.

To do that, we must first agree on some sort of common vision. What can Lawrence be the best at? To have that conversation, we must first get everybody to come together. That is no easy task. Lawrence is in need of a crossover leader: someone who can earn the respect of people in multiple camps. It is unclear who that will be. Maybe one of the new voices on the City Commission can play that role. It would be their most important contribution to the community.

Let’s hope that happens. In the meantime, let’s thank Ananda and all our public officials for their service. There is a risk to serving, and we should thank them for taking it. We should give thanks because it is the civil thing to do. Recent events show we could use the practice.

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