Monthly Archives: December 2011

Congress had ‘worst year in Washington’

The 2011 Congress received the “Worst Year in Washington ” award from Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza. He noted how Congress “managed to underperform even the low regard in which the American people hold it,” adding that “the mismatch between the bigness of the country’s problems and the smallness of Congress drove the institution’s approval ratings down.” He gave President Obama a “bad year” award, noting how “the economic turnaround that the White House expected simply didn’t materialize, leaving Republicans to giddily bash the president as a know-nothing.” Newt Gingrich received a “good year” award for his improbable political comeback.

Put government on a diet

Taxpayers should resolve to put the government on a diet this coming year, columnist Cal Thomas said. “Any program or agency that wastes money ought to be updated or eliminated,” Thomas wrote. “If taxpayers don’t force big government at the state and federal levels to go on a diet, the bloating will only continue to the detriment of our economic health.”

Rove predicts bright future for GOP

While acknowledging that predicting the future is dangerous, former Bush administration political adviser Karl Rove nonetheless made political predictions for 2012 (nearly all of which were good for Republicans). Among them: The GOP will lose seats in the U.S. House but still maintain its majority; the GOP will gain the majority in the U.S. Senate; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or both will leave the Democratic leadership by the end of 2012; President Obama won’t be re-elected.

Romney, Santorum surging in Iowa

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum (in photo), of all people, are now surging in Iowa. In the latest Time-CNN poll, Romney led with 25 percent, closely followed by Ron Paul at 22 percent. Santorum was third with 15 percent, followed by Newt Gingrich (who had a big lead just a month ago) at 13 percent.

GOP panicked about Ron Paul

GOP bigwigs are in a panic that Ron Paul (in photo) could win next week’s Iowa presidential caucuses. “This threatens the coalition that can put Karl Rove and Wall Street and the religious right at the same table to slice the pie of power,” columnist John Kass wrote. If Paul wins Iowa, his libertarian ideas might catch fire, Kass wrote, “and then the bosses won’t be able to feed as easily.”

Wichitans stepping up to help homeless teens

Good for the Wichita community for stepping up yet again to help a worthy cause. Local businesses, churches and a large crew of volunteers are converting an old church in Midtown into the base for the Wichita Children’s Home Street Outreach program. Social workers and law enforcement officers hope that getting homeless teens off the streets and helping them get services will help prevent them from being preyed upon by sex traffickers. For those who want to help, the volunteer-organizing group ICT SOS is planning a workday at the resource center on Jan. 16. Go to ictsos.org for more information.

The biggest Pinocchios of 2011

Washington Post fact-checkers were kept busy this year reviewing all the exaggerated and flat-out wrong statements made by politicians. They assigned “Pinocchio” ratings ranging from one Pinocchio for some shading of the facts to four Pinocchios for “whoppers.” Among the biggest whoppers of the year were the GOP claims that President Obama apologized for America and that he thinks Americans are lazy, Obama’s claim that he passed the biggest middle-class tax cut in history, GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s claim that she hasn’t said anything inaccurate in any of the debates, and Democrats’ claim that GOP lawmakers voted to kill Medicare.

Kansas delegation not among the wealthiest

A Washington Post analysis of the growing gap between the economic experience of average Americans and their lawmakers reported that the median net worth of a member of the U.S. House is $725,000, excluding home equity. Kansas’ House members are below that, though it may be partly because they haven’t been in Washington, D.C., very long. Second-term Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, has a net worth of $510,013, according to financial disclosure forms. The net worths of first-term Reps. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, are $287,007, $267,514 and -$91,998, respectively. Kansas’ senior senator, Pat Roberts, has $845,022 in net worth, while Sen. Jerry Moran has $768,009.

Yoder blames Obama but thinks he will win

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, gave President Obama a “D” grade on his job performance but thinks Obama will narrowly win re-election, the Kansas City Star reported. Yoder said that Obama has “completely failed in an effort to make Washington function better,” and he blamed Obama for division in this country. “All of this division is I believe a result of the president’s speeches, his approaches, his tone, his tenor,” Yoder said. So the GOP Congress, talk radio and others played no part in the division?

Tweet response a top 10 public-relations blunder

The handling of a tweet by Gov. Sam Brownback’s staff was included in the “Top 10 PR Blunders of 2011” by Dorothy Crenshaw of the website business2community.com. Brownback’s staff reported to school officials a disparaging tweet that Shawnee Mission East High School student Emma Sullivan posted about Brownback. Sullivan’s principal then reportedly pressured her to write an apology to Brownback. After the incident became a national news story, Brownback ended up apologizing for his staff’s overreaction. “Meanwhile,” the website noted, “the student’s Twitter following soared from 65 to over 14,000. Who’s sorry now?”

KU needs higher admission standards

The Kansas Board of Regents was correct in requesting that the University of Kansas increase its admission standards. Low admission standards is one reason why KU has low graduation and retention rates, which are threatening KU’s membership in the American Association of Universities. “We are probably one of the few AAU schools with students who have ACT scores between 12 and 36,” Matt Melvin, KU’s associate vice provost for recruitment and enrollment, told the Lawrence Journal-World. “I’m not sure that benefits the state, if it benefits the institution and, most importantly, if it benefits the student.” The challenge for KU is whether it can raise its admission standards without harming its enrollment and finances.

GOP-led Legislature may not be governor’s rubber-stamp

As the minority leaders of the Kansas Legislature talked up their jobs legislation to The Eagle editorial board last week, they suggested that Gov. Sam Brownback’s “huge agenda” for the 2012 Legislature might be too much too fast even for some Republicans. With the governor’s proposed school-finance formula, “I think he has scared the bejesus out of rural legislators,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, who predicted it will invite litigation, rather than end it. House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, suggested GOP lawmakers also will have a problem with Brownback’s failure to get legislative or stakeholder input before coming up with his sweeping reforms.

Making life difficult for illegal immigrants

Because state laws requiring local law enforcement to verify citizenship are now tied up in the courts, some state lawmakers may focus instead on making daily life difficult for illegal immigrants, USA Today reported. Of particular interest is a provision in Alabama’s law that invalidates all contracts entered into with illegal immigrants. “That is one that has a much greater effect than some people might expect at first glance,” said Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped write the law. But Karen Tumlin of the National Immigration Law Center complained the provision “has led to nothing short of chaos” in Alabama, as it has been “applied to a striking range of activities, from getting tags on your cars to getting public utilities to changing title on your cars.” Still, that seems to be the objective for Kobach and some others: Create enough fear and uncertainty, and illegal immigrants will leave a state on their own.

Joy to the world, and to Wichita

Always a race to the finish for some shoppers, the Christmas season also has been a roller coaster this year. For the country, violence tempered joy over the end of the Iraq War as partisanship brought the federal government to the brink. The community has fretted about whether Boeing will leave town, as the Salvation Army and other charities have struggled to make their seasonal goals. Yet the spirit of this holy Christian day prevails, as families and friends come together to exchange gifts, share food, renew their hopes for the future and, most important, celebrate Jesus’ birth. Joy to the world, and to Wichita.

Did Kansans mean to elect a revolutionary?

“It’s a revolution in a cornfield,” Arthur Laffer said about the reforms that Gov. Sam Brownback is pushing. Laffer, who developed President Reagan’s trickle-down economic theory and is a paid consultant of the Brownback administration, told the Washington Post that “Brownback and his whole group there, it’s an amazing thing they’re doing. Truly revolutionary.” Kansans can be forgiven if they didn’t realize they were electing a revolutionary. Brownback certainly didn’t campaign on slashing school spending and eliminating public funding for the arts. Even some tea party leaders are suspicious as to whether Brownback’s reforms are really aimed at fueling another presidential run. “I hope the cuts he makes are able to last,” Lynda Tyler of Wichita told the Post. But, she added, “for some reason, I don’t know why, I have this feeling he’s going to come in slashing and burning and he’s doing it so he can point back and say, ‘See what I did for Kansas? Maybe I can do it for the country.’”

Not a very good year for some pols

The year-end awards of Roll Call contributing writer Stu Rothenberg included: Herman Cain’s “Uzbecki-becki-becki-stan” joke, for worst mistake by a presidential candidate. The demise of the Iowa straw poll, for most noteworthy political development. Ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner (in photo), D-N.Y., for most entertaining political scandal. Solyndra, beating Tim Pawlenty and Jon Corzine as biggest flop of the year. And Newt Gingrich, for “most amazing comeback by someone disliked by his colleagues.”

Get act together on unemployment appeals

One Christmas gift the state could give thousands of Kansans is to get its act together on resolving unemployment appeals. More than 6,500 Kansans have been waiting months to find out if they’ll qualify for unemployment benefits. The backlog in appeals is more than twice what it was three months ago and four times the level in 2010, before Gov. Sam Brownback came into office. It’s inexcusable. The primary cause of the delay is that the Kansas Department of Labor laid off judges who heard the appeals.

Weary of Capitol renovation costs

It was disappointing to learn that the state needs to replace the Capitol’s leaky copper dome and roof — projects not planned as part of the decade-long Capitol renovation, once estimated to cost $90 million and now at $340 million-plus. Statehouse architect Barry Greis told the Capitol Preservation Committee that he expects bidding to begin in the spring. According to the governor’s office, replacing the copper dome and copper sections of the roof will cost $10.3 million and $11.3 million, respectively. That’s on top of what Greis called the “couple million dollars” of repairs already done on the dome and roof. At least, according to Greis, the state might salvage copper from the dome worth $250,000 to $750,000. But Kansans are weary of the seemingly endless Capitol renovation and growing price tag.

Pro-con: Should there be a check on the courts?

No doubt the court must check the president and the Congress when they exceed their powers. But who is checking the court when it violates the Constitution? Under a system of judicial supremacy, the answer is simple: no one at all. Rather than having ambition counteract ambition, a system of judicial supremacy assumes that judges are angels while allowing their ambitions for power to roam free. This explains why Thomas Jefferson once said that such a system would produce “the despotism of an oligarchy.” It is a dangerous despotism indeed. The same court that gave us Brown v. Board of Education also gave us the right to slavery in Dred Scott v. Sandford, the internment of the Japanese in Korematsu v. United States, and the deaths of 50 million unborn citizens in Roe v. Wade. It is the same court that flouted its own precedents and common sense to give terrorists the right of habeas corpus in Boumediene v. Bush, a 2008 decision that Justice Antonin Scalia said “will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” The ultimate guardian of the people’s liberties must be the people themselves. — Newt Gingrich, in USA Today

Gingrich’s newest harebrained crusade is to strip courts of the right of judicial review, which our republic has managed to live with since the Supreme Court headed by John Marshall (arguably America’s first great conservative) propounded it in 1803. If Congress or the president doesn’t like a court decision, Gingrich thinks the offending judges should be called before Congress — U.S. marshals could haul them in — to justify their decision. If Congress didn’t like the explanation, the lawmakers could impeach them. Gingrich insists that he understands there are three separate branches of government, but their larger purpose seems to elude him. The president and Congress are supposed to represent the will of the people, whom they serve by virtue of democratic election. In the broadest sense, they represent the principle of majority rule. The courts act as a check on majority rule by protecting the legal rights of minorities against the abuses of the majority. If the courts had been subjected to congressional overrule during the 1950s, when Southern segregationists chaired most key House and Senate committees, it’s not clear when or how the South’s schools would have been desegregated. — Harold Meyerson, Washington Post

Help for medically underserved communities

Good for Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., for backing a bill by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., to make permanent the State 30 program, which permits states to recommend visa waivers for physicians recruited to care for patients in medically underserved communities. “Access to quality health care determines whether Kansans can remain in the communities they call home and whether their children can return to raise families of their own,” Moran said in a statement. “The Conrad State 30 program is a commonsense way to address medical workforce shortages by allowing more physicians to serve in underserved communities.”

Dole thinks Romney is GOP’s best hope

Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole wrote an “Open Letter to Iowa Voters” urging them to support GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Dole, who twice won the Iowa caucuses, wrote: “A number of my friends are currently candidates seeking the GOP nomination. But the time has now come for us to decide who among them can defeat Barack Obama in 2012. I’ve made my decision, and I believe our best hope lies in Gov. Mitt Romney.” Dole praised Romney’s work organizing the 2002 Winter Olympics and as governor of Massachusetts, and Dole said that “when it comes to agricultural policy, you can trust Mitt — I do.” Dole also created a bit of a stir when he called Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and said he would recommend Branstad as a vice presidential pick.

Remember, help the homeless

At the time of year when attention focuses on faith, hearth and home, it’s vital to remember as a community those who are homeless and, in some cases, defenseless. The Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness group deserves the community’s gratitude for hosting Wednesday’s annual memorial vigil remembering the 10 or more homeless Wichitans who died in 2011, and for being among the local faith-based and other nonprofit groups that help this population and raise awareness. The community has made progress in recent years in trying to curb chronic homelessness, including with a Housing First program. But challenges remain. When someone who’s been living under a downtown bridge is found murdered, as 41-year-old Marshall Hauschulz was last week, it’s both a local shame and a societal failure.

Public now trusts Obama more than GOP on taxes

In a sign of how badly the GOP has been hurt by the payroll tax-cut standoff, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that 50 percent of Americans trust President Obama to protect the middle class, while only 35 percent trust Republicans in Congress. On who can be trusted to do a better job on taxes, 46 percent pick Obama and 41 percent pick the GOP.

Time needed to decipher hotel ballot question

Wichita City Council members had hoped to get the public vote on the Ambassador Hotel project over with as soon as possible. But there is nothing wrong with giving the community the time to understand and debate the issue, which is whether the developers should get 75 percent of the guest tax to be paid by the hotel’s guests over 15 years, estimated to be $2.25 million. As the Feb. 28 date allows Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman to get ready for the election, the first under the state’s new voter-ID law, it will allow voters to familiarize themselves with the arguments and decipher the convoluted and confusing ballot question. Worded to meet legal requirements, the ballot question is: Shall Charter Ordinance 216 entitled: ‘A charter ordinance amending and repealing Section 1 of Charter Ordinance No. 213, of the city of Wichita, Kansas, which amended and repealed Section 1 of Charter Ordinance No. 183 of the city of Wichita which amended and repealed Section 1 of Charter Ordinance No. 174 of the city of Wichita, Kansas, pertaining to the application of revenues from the transient guest tax’ take effect?” For supporters of a vibrant downtown, the answer will be “yes.”

Is GOP House helping re-elect Obama?

“GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell famously said a year ago that his main task in the 112th Congress was to make sure that President Obama would not be re-elected. Given how he and House Speaker John Boehner (in photo) have handled the payroll-tax debate, we wonder if they might end up re-electing the president before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest,” a Wall Street Journal editorial complained. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post said it is unclear what point the GOP is trying to make. “Is it making sure the tax cut is paid for? For the last decade, Republicans approved billions of dollars in tax cuts, mostly for the rich, without paying for them,” he wrote. “Is it because they want the tax-cut extension to be for a year rather than just two months, as the Senate approved? Then why did so many Republicans originally criticize any tax-cut extension?” But a National Review editorial applauded the House action, saying the 60-day extension “is both irresponsible and unworkable, and House Republicans were right to hold the line against it.”