Monthly Archives: January 2012

Medical marijuana bill deserves full hearing

State Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, is having trouble getting the House leadership to respect her bill to legalize and regulate medical marijuana. All she can get is an informational hearing, which will occur Tuesday. But this isn’t some hippie movement. It is a serious, compassionate effort to provide real relief to people who are suffering. It also has the backing of such law-and-order Republicans as former Kansas Attorney General Bob Stephan, and it should appeal to libertarian-leaning lawmakers who want to get government out of people’s lives. At the least, the Legislature should respect suffering Kansans enough to have a real committee hearing about the measure.

Kansas delegation solid against SOPA, PIPA

Years from now political scientists may still be studying Jan. 18, 2012. That’s when Wikipedia and other websites went dark and social media lit up in a protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., an original sponsor of PIPA, long ago withdrew his support and changed his Twitter avatar on Wednesday in sympathy with the protesters. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, spent the day tweeting about his opposition. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., made the Kansas delegation’s opposition unanimous later Wednesday, also via tweet: “Put me down for NO. The current #SOPA and #PIPA bills could destroy online entrepreneurship and innovation.” By Friday, both the Senate and House had retreated from action on the bills in their current form. But the problem of online piracy isn’t going away. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said his House Judiciary Committee “remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation.”

Sales-tax exemptions aren’t fair, flat or simple

Gov. Sam Brownback’s goal of a “fairer, flatter and simpler” state tax code doesn’t extend to the state’s nearly 100 sales-tax exemptions. As a candidate, he likened ending such exemptions to raising taxes, and he told The Eagle editorial board last month that he’d been advised by current and former legislators that trying to end such exemptions would invite “a big fight for not a lot of money” – though they add up to $4.2 billion a year in tax savings for select groups. But state Sen. Dick Kelsey (in photo), R-Goddard, argues that doing away with dozens of sales-tax exemptions would enable the state to lower both the statewide sales-tax rate and individual income-tax rates. “My mantra is very simple. Everybody or nobody,” Kelsey said. “Why should government decide that my good works are better than your good works?”

Crack down on human trafficking

Human trafficking cases have more than tripled in four years, with 28 cases last year, according to Wichita police statistics. That’s shocking and intolerable. The Legislature needs to heed prosecutors and victims’ advocates who appealed last week for tougher laws. Sedgwick County Deputy District Attorney Marc Bennett urged lawmakers to increase penalties on those who buy sex. Currently, men who pay 16- and 17-year-old girls for sex face only a Class C misdemeanor, which carries the same type of penalties as driving with a suspended license. As Bennett argued, “We need to do more to attack the guys who are the purchasers.”

So they said

“They’re probably closer to 1 percent.” – U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (in photo), R-Fowler, on how Congress’ approval ratings in the 1st Congressional District compare with its 11 percent nationally

“To clarify my video – I’m not wearing a pink shirt! It’s just the lighting!” – Huelskamp again, tweeting about a Fox Business network interview on the debt ceiling

“I’m hopeful that we will be strong enough, actually have the guts to do this.” – Rep. Melody McCray-Miller, D-Wichita, on whether the Kansas House will take action against House Speaker Mike O’Neal for forwarded e-mails mocking the Obamas

“I’m just thankful that the speaker hasn’t put me on any of his e-mail lists.” – Wichita schools superintendent John Allison, when asked by The Eagle editorial board about whether he’s enjoying his job despite state budget cuts, boundary struggles and claims by O’Neal and others that the district has plenty of cash

“I see this being a nightmare for all providers.” – Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, on the governor’s plan to convert Medicaid into a managed-care program

“The dark lord of the anti-immigration movement.” – Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., referring to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his new alliance with Mitt Romney

Pro-con: Was Obama correct to block pipeline?

The Obama administration has rejected the Keystone XL pipeline for tar-sands oil. This decision puts the health and safety of the American people above the interests of Big Oil. And it confirms President Obama’s commitment to combating the threats of climate change, air pollution and oil addiction. Obama’s decision represents a victory of truth over misinformation. Here in the United States, oil companies trumpet false job claims and promise a secure supply of oil. But in the Canadian press, oil companies talk freely about using the pipeline to export oil to Asian markets and charge more money for the oil they do sell in the U.S. The facts reveal this pipeline was never in America’s national interest. It would have endangered our people, our air, our water and our lands for the benefit of oil companies. The Obama administration rejected the Keystone XL pipeline for all the right reasons. – Natural Resources Defense Council

The central conflict of the Obama presidency has been between the jobs and growth crisis he inherited and the president’s hell-for-leather pursuit of his larger social-policy ambitions. The tragedy is that the economic recovery has been so lackluster because the second impulse keeps winning. Proof positive was the White House’s repudiation of the Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada’s $7 billion shovel-ready project that would support tens of thousands of jobs if only it could get the requisite U.S. permits. Those jobs, apparently, can wait. The State Department claimed that the two-month congressional deadline was too tight “for the president to determine whether the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest.” The White House also issued a statement denouncing Congress’ “rushed and arbitrary deadline.” This is, to put it politely, a crock. Keystone XL has been planned for years and only became a political issue after the well-to-do environmental lobby decided to make it a station of the green cross. – Wall Street Journal

Obama administration not waging ‘war on religion’

There is a good debate about whether the Obama administration was correct in requiring faith-based groups to abide by anti-discrimination rules in order to receive certain government contracts. Does that infringe on a group’s religious freedoms? Or should faith-based groups follow the same rules as everyone else, as there is no constitutional right to a government contract? But the Obama administration’s actions, including requirements related to the federal health care law, do not constitute a war on religion, as some have charged, including former GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry. Douglas Laycock, a constitutional attorney who argues cases on behalf of religious groups, said that the Obama administration officials “aggressively protected religious liberty in some issues and failed to protect it in other issues. But they’re not hostile.”

Many of the Marines’ critics OK with torture

Many Americans agree with global observers about the unbecoming conduct of the four Marines caught on video urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters. There is some important context to consider, though, not only of the long, scary and bloody war the men were fighting but of a broader confusing war on terrorism, noted author Sebastian Junger in the Washington Post: “The Internet and the news media are filled with self-important men and women referring to our enemies as animals that deserve little legal or moral consideration. We have sent enemy fighters to countries like Syria and Libya to be tortured by the very regimes that we have recently condemned for engaging in war crimes and torture. They have been tortured into confessing their crimes and then locked up indefinitely without trial because their confessions – achieved through torture – will not stand up in court. For the past 10 years, American children have absorbed these moral contradictions, and now they are fighting our wars. The video doesn’t surprise me, but it makes me incredibly sad – not just for them, but also for us. We may prosecute these men for desecrating the dead while maintaining that it is OK to torture the living.”

Administration didn’t listen on developmentally disabled

Mark Dugan, the chief of staff of Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, said at a forum Saturday in Wichita that the Brownback administration consulted with InterHab, a statewide association of developmental disability service providers, before deciding to include long-term care for the developmentally disabled in its Medicaid managed-care plan. But that depends on the definition of “consulted,” said Matt Fletcher, assistant executive director at InterHab. “We met with them and repeatedly expressed concerns, which for the most part were ignored,” he said. InterHab recommended that the administration “carve out” long-term care for the developmentally disabled from any managed-care proposal. But Tom Laing, InterHab’s executive director, said it was clear at the first meeting he attended that administration officials had already decided to include the developmentally disabled in the reform plan. “They get high marks for continuing to engage with us,” Laing said, “but not such high marks for listening.”

Perry out; Santorum won Iowa

Rick Perry dropped out of the GOP presidential race today and endorsed challenger Newt Gingrich. “I have come to the conclusion that there is no viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign,” said Perry (in photo), who was an instant front-runner when he entered the campaign but then faded nearly as quickly. Meanwhile, it appears that Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses after all. He leads Mitt Romney by 34 votes, though results from eight precincts aren’t yet included.

Laffer linked to Ponzi scheme?

Reagan economist Arthur Laffer, an architect of Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed tax reform, will speak before the House and Senate tax committees today. He also is among the defendants named in a Texas lawsuit filed this month by 52 investors claiming that Wallace Bajjali Development Partners fraudulently funneled more than $3 million to support a media company Ponzi scheme, reported the Amarillo Globe-News. The suit alleges that the partners put $3.16 million into Business Radio Network knowing “it was unable to support itself.” The complaint states that “Mr. Laffer lent his name to Wallace and Bajjali for a fee to increase the credibility of their offerings and effectively vouched for the credibility of the limited partnerships.” A fund formerly headed by Laffer also reportedly put money into BizRadio, which carried a program Laffer co-hosted.

Ending balance not what Brownback said

During his State of the State address, Gov. Sam Brownback touted his proposed fiscal year 2013 budget for its ending balance of $465 million, which exceeds the 7.5 percent statutory requirement. But that doesn’t account for an expected $89.9 million drop in revenue from his tax-cut plan, which brings the projected ending balance down to 6.2 percent. “That’s kind of a big mistake,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. Still, 6.2 percent would be a major improvement over recent years, when the ending balance was nearly nonexistent.

Is Medicaid managed-care plan ‘boneheaded’?

Wendell Potter, a former top insurance executive turned industry whistle-blower, thinks that the Brownback administration plan to contract Medicaid services to private managed-care companies is a “boneheaded idea,” the Kansas Health Institute News Service reported. “The biggest problems in our health care system have been caused by insurance companies,” Potter said. “And to give them more control over not only private dollars but tax dollars is nonsensical.” But Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, argues that there are incentives and requirements in the managed-care contract aimed at protecting and improving care.

Gingrich scores in debate, but Romney leads in poll

Newt Gingrich gave the best performance at Monday night’s GOP presidential debate, according to the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza. Gingrich proved again “that when he is on — and he isn’t always on — he is the best debater in the field,” Cillizza said. But is it too late? Mitt Romney has opened up a large lead over Gingrich and the other GOP candidates, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. Romney has 36 percent support among registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, while Gingrich and Ron Paul are tied for second with 16 percent each and Rick Santorum is fourth with 13 percent. Romney is also the only GOP candidate who polls well against President Obama, according to the survey. Romney leads Obama 48 to 46 percent, while Obama leads Gingrich 52 to 40 percent, Paul 49 to 42 percent, and Santorum 52 to 41 percent.

Scant sympathy for Wichita in Mobile

Columnist K.A. Turner at the Press-Register in Mobile, Ala., saw irony but no surprise in the news of Boeing’s planned pullout of Wichita. “The Kansas political delegation, particularly then-U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, was generally seen as the most strident in its opposition to letting a ‘foreign company’ win the tanker war,” Turner wrote. “Never mind that the ‘foreigners’ – the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. – would have assembled the Air Force planes in Mobile, and that the company’s Airbus subsidiary has a 300-employee engineering center in Wichita. ” She noted that Tiahrt didn’t respond to a Press-Register call for comment about Boeing’s departure. “Nor did he join the initial chorus of shouts from politicians who felt betrayed. Boeing was his employer before his time in Congress, and Boeing is the first client listed on the website for the consulting firm Tiahrt opened after leaving office, so perhaps he delivered his response in person,” she wrote.

Does God care who wins a football game?

The fact that God didn’t help Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (in photo) defeat the New England Patriots in Saturday’s NFL playoff game was no surprise to former NFL quarterback Fran Tarkenton. “I never understood why God would care who won a game between my team and another,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, adding that there are far more important things going on in the world. That said, Tarkenton found it refreshing that the chatter around the NFL has been about a great athlete with great character and “not about more arrests and bad behavior from our presumptive ‘heroes.’”

King’s legacy

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the first since a towering, powerful chiseled portrait of the civil rights icon took its proud place among the national memorials in Washington, D.C. Twenty-seven years in the fundraising and making, it is a historic and appropriate honor for the “black preacher with no official rank or title who somehow gave voice to our deepest dreams,” as President Obama called King at the memorial’s October dedication. King’s likeness is now in stone in the nation’s capital, but his legacy can be best appreciated and tended in its neighborhoods, workplaces, classrooms, churches and lives.

Clinton likes idea of wife being on ticket

A push for Hillary Clinton to replace Joe Biden as President Obama’s 2012 running mate is apparently being encouraged, or at least not squelched, by former President Bill Clinton (in photo). Clinton likes the idea of his wife making history by being the first female vice president, and he thinks the Democratic Party needs a jolt of excitement, Arkansas-based political writer Suzi Parker wrote.

Chamber faults senators for what it now supports

It’s confusing why the Kansas Chamber of Commerce is so determined to oust moderate Kansas state senators, including Sens. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, and Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita. Its specific complaint is that the lawmakers supported the temporary sales-tax increase two years ago while increasing general fund spending. “Some in the Kansas Senate opted for tax increases instead of responsible spending cuts,” said Ivan Crossland, the chamber’s political action committee chairman. Yet the chamber didn’t raise a peep of protest when Gov. Sam Brownback and lawmakers it backed declined to repeal the sales tax last year, or when they increased general fund spending. And now Brownback wants to make the sales-tax increase permanent. Meanwhile, McGinn has proposed ending the sales tax early.

Does O’Neal e-mail fit partisan pattern?

Some national observers have used the offensive “Mrs. YoMama” e-mail that Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal forwarded as an opportunity to highlight how the partisan ire for President Obama has spilled onto his wife in nasty, juvenile and sometimes racially tinged comments about her weight, spending and vacations. “Could you see former first ladies Jackie Kennedy or Barbara Bush receiving this kind of disrespect without national outrage?” asked Washington Post blogger Barbara A. Reynolds, writing about O’Neal’s “toxic hateful speech” in an item headlined “GOP: red, white and racist?” In a BET website commentary, Jonathan P. Hicks noted that “the election of America’s first black president reveals how much the country has changed. On the other hand, so much of the unsavory discourse on the president and his wife reveals how much changing there is yet to achieve.” And another thing, said the Root’s Mary C. Curtis: “When people who aren’t black use slang that purports to be ‘black,’ it just makes them look incredibly foolish.”

Pompeo would ax agency that could help Learjet

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, participated in the Bombardier Learjet expansion announcement Tuesday, saying “we are thrilled that you all have made the decision that this is a place you want to continue to grow.” But U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez told The Eagle editorial board that Pompeo, unlike many other Kansas elected officials, hadn’t sent a letter of support on behalf of a Learjet-related grant application to the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The Wichita Airport Authority applied for a $2 million EDA public works grant to help defray the cost of a new parking lot for Learjet’s expansion. Pompeo has offered a bill to eliminate the 45-year-old EDA, railing against it on the House floor as a “wasteful” and ineffective “giant wealth-redistribution machine” and mocking its past grants. “Much like a stimulus bill or earmarks, the EDA provides loans and grants to pet projects of the administration in power,” he said. After the Learjet announcement, his spokeswoman told the editorial board that Pompeo’s opinion of the EDA hadn’t changed.

King made good move in resigning

Wichita public relations executive Beth King was smart to stop assisting the developers of a STAR bond project in northeast Wichita. Three Wichita City Council members had raised concerns about her involvement in the project because she is engaged to City Manager Robert Layton (in photo). Layton told The Eagle in 2010 that he would recuse himself from discussions of any city issue in which King is involved. He argued that he didn’t need to do that in this case, because King was working only with the media and not directly lobbying the City Council. But King’s connection to the project created the appearance of a conflict of interest and provided fodder to those who already think the city approves projects based more on connections than merit.

Pro-con: Was Obama justified in making recess appointments?

No court has addressed the question of whether a president is precluded from making recess appointments during pro forma Senate sessions. But we believe the president’s action is justifiable, as former Bush Justice Department officials Steven Bradbury and John Elwood have argued persuasively in the past. The Constitution vests the president with the power to fill vacant executive- and judicial-branch slots when the Senate is in recess. This power should not be undermined — indeed, nullified — through the use of ploys. To argue that phantom pro forma sessions render the Senate “open for business” is to defy common sense. The same holds true for the fiction created when lawmakers head out of town but decline to formally acknowledge an adjournment. Both the consumer bureau and the labor relations board are agencies of the U.S. government, created by Congress, and it is inexcusable that congressional obstructionism would leave them unable to function. – Washington Post

President Obama’s attempt to unilaterally appoint three people to seats on the National Labor Relations Board and Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (after the Senate blocked action on his nomination) is more than an unconstitutional attempt to circumvent the Senate’s advise-and-consent role. It is a breathtaking violation of the separation of powers and the duty of comity that the executive owes to Congress. Yes, some prior recess appointments have been politically unpopular, and a few have even raised legal questions. But never before has a president purported to make a “recess” appointment when the Senate is demonstrably not in recess. That is a constitutional abuse of a high order. James Madison made clear that the separation of powers was not to protect government officials’ power for their sake but as a vital check on behalf of individual liberty. To prevent future tyrannical usurpations of power, Congress must act to redress this serious threat to our liberty. – Edwin Meese, Todd Gaziano, Washington Post commentary

Wichita finally getting Southwest Airlines

After years and years of trying and wishing, Wichita is getting Southwest Airlines. Gov. Sam Brownback announced today that AirTran Airways, which Southwest acquired, will remain in Wichita and transition to Southwest Airlines in 2013. Routes haven’t been announced yet, but the discount carrier’s move into this market could be a boon to both business and leisure travelers.

Pity the billionaires

Thomas Frank, author of the best-seller “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” will do a reading and book signing a 7 p.m. today at Watermark Books, 4701 E. Douglas. His latest book, “Pity the Billionaire,” explores how the GOP’s right wing has used the economic downturn to fuel a political comeback. In a commentary at Kansas.com, Frank argues that Mitt Romney may turn out to be the truest to the spirit of the tea party movement of all the GOP presidential candidates.