Monthly Archives: February 2012

Important wins for Romney; hotel tax loses big

Tuesday was a big election day. Mitt Romney won easily in Arizona and eked out a win in Michigan. That doesn’t leave the race any more settled heading toward Super Tuesday. But if Romney had lost in Michigan, his home state, his candidacy would have been in trouble. Wichita voters also overwhelmingly rejected a city-approved incentive that would have allowed a new downtown hotel to keep a portion of the city’s guest tax that it collects. John Todd, one of the leaders of the group opposing the incentive, said of the vote result: “I think the citizens are waking up. They’re tired of giving away incentives to developers – not only for downtown but all over town.”

More bad polling for Brownback

The latest SurveyUSA poll, sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12, showed the numbers of Kansans who view President Obama more favorably than Gov. Sam Brownback to be growing: 42 percent of those surveyed last week said they approved of the president’s job performance, compared with 34 percent approval for the governor. A month ago, Obama was at 38 percent and Brownback at 36 percent. The Republican governor fared better than the Democratic president in disapproval ratings, which were 50 and 53 percent, respectively. The other approval numbers in the poll: 34 percent for Secretary of State Kris Kobach, 46 percent for Sen. Pat Roberts and 44 percent for Sen. Jerry Moran. The party affiliation of the sample of 501 registered Kansas voters was 43 percent GOP, 29 percent Democratic and 28 percent independent.

O’Donnell was right to apologize

Wichita City Council member Michael O’Donnell deserves credit for his public apology at Tuesday’s council workshop for having misused his city computer to raise money for a friend in the Legislature. “I will fully cooperate with the (Kansas Governmental) Ethics Commission and look forward to resolving the issue and moving forward, civilly and in good faith, for important city business,” he said. His welcome statement came a week after he suggested the ethics case against him was a “political hit job” stemming from his opposition to the Ambassador Hotel’s tax break. As Mayor Carl Brewer’s quick acceptance of O’Donnell’s apology demonstrated, there’s nothing like a sincere mea culpa to clear the air.

Air Force move reflects problems with light air support contract

The Air Force’s decision to set aside the light air support contract awarded to Sierra Nevada Corp. and its partner, Brazil-based Embraer, does not guarantee the contract will end up going to Wichita’s Hawker Beechcraft. But it supports the contention by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and Hawker officials that there were serious problems with the bidding. The Air Force eliminated Hawker Beechcraft from the competition in November for reasons that have yet to be fully explained. Many Americans would question whether any reason would justify outsourcing U.S. jobs on military aircraft to a Brazilian planemaker.

Was Obama wrong to apologize for burning of Quran?

GOP presidential candidates have been criticizing President Obama for apologizing to Afghanistan for the accidental burning of some copies of the Quran. Newt Gingrich said that Obama “is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the president of the United States. Period.” But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the apology as “the right thing to do.” She also criticized the GOP candidates for trying to politicize it. “I find it somewhat troubling that our politics would inflame such a dangerous situation in Afghanistan,” she said.

Bush among those worried about GOP

“I used to be a conservative, and I watch these debates and I’m wondering, I don’t think I’ve changed,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in a Dallas speech last week. It’s a view shared by many Republicans and independents worried about how far right the GOP presidential candidates have moved during the primaries. Bush added that it’s troubling “when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective, and that’s kind of where we are.” Bush said he hopes this changes during the general election.

Santorum sick about Kennedy’s view of faith, politics

GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum said in October that he “almost threw up” when he read John F. Kennedy’s 1960 address on the role of religion in public life. When asked Sunday if he still felt that way, Santorum didn’t back away. “Well, yes, absolutely,” he told ABC News. Kennedy’s well-received address was aimed at reassuring Protestants that he would make decisions as president independent of his Catholic faith and without the influence of the pope. But Santorum, also a Catholic, reads Kennedy’s statement that he believed “in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute” as saying, as Santorum put it, that “people of faith have no role in the public square.” He said: “You bet that makes you throw up.”

Romney repeating old stimulus myth

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been repeating an old myth about President Obama having said that if Congress passed its stimulus plan, unemployment would stay below 8 percent. In fact, Obama never said that. The myth is based on a report that two of Obama’s economic advisers drafted before Obama was sworn in as president. “This was merely a staff report about a generic stimulus package, not even Obama’s own plan,” according to Washington Post fact checkers. The report also warned several times that this was merely a projection and there was considerable uncertainty. Obama did say that if “dramatic action” were not taken, “the unemployment rate could reach double digits.” That ended up happening anyway.

New respect for the first President Bush

When the Washington Post asked readers to name the most underrated president, the winner was George H.W. Bush. As a reader put it: “The country owes 41 a collective apology for voting him out of office. Our deficit ballooned under Ronald Reagan, and Bush was left holding the bag. Conservative purists butchered him when he tried to get the country’s finances under control. Bush also wisely understood what driving to Baghdad in 1991 would have meant — a long, bloody quagmire.” Rounding out the top five: Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Harry Truman and Calvin Coolidge.

Moran, Brownback trying to save wind tax credits

Good for Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., for helping lead a bipartisan Senate effort to extend the wind-power production tax credits scheduled to expire after 2012. Like the man he replaced in the Senate, now-Gov. Sam Brownback, Moran understands that the end of the credit could hurt Kansas’ ability to be a wind-power leader and to build on its rank as No. 1 among states in wind turbines under construction. As Moran and 11 other senators argued in their letter to Senate leaders, “An extension of the wind production tax credit should provide for some long-term stability while setting forth a path for how the wind industry can move towards a market-based system.”

Kansans getting more preventive care

About 529,000 Kansans were able to receive at least one new free preventive service through their private insurance plans in 2011 as part of the federal health care law, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. An additional 313,000 Kansans qualified for free preventive services through Medicare. These free services range from annual wellness visits to mammograms. “With more people taking advantage of these benefits,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, “more lives can be saved, and costly, and often burdensome, diseases can be prevented or caught earlier.”

Brownback’s backing led to groundbreaking

Gratitude and congratulations are due Gov. Sam Brownback, who, as a U.S. senator, sponsored the legislation that led to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and who spoke at last week’s groundbreaking on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. As Brownback said at the event, the museum is “a celebration of a uniquely American triumph of will. This museum cannot be for Caucasian grandchildren just to see how awful the crimes of their white ancestors were, or for African-American grandchildren to see how terrible their ancestors were treated. This museum is for our American grandchildren to see the triumph of great Americans.” The museum, which is scheduled to open in 2015, will be the 19th in the Smithsonian’s collection. The federal government will cover half the estimated $500 million cost, with private donors funding the rest.

Rolfe’s enthusiasm will be hard to replace

It’s hard to imagine a more enthusiastic advocate for Wichita than John Rolfe. So it will be hard to see the native Wichitan leave his job as president and CEO of Go Wichita next month to join the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. As head of Go Wichita since 2001, Rolfe has unabashedly marketed Wichita as a premier destination for conventioneers and tourists and has welcomed bowlers, square dancers, athletes, gearheads, decorative painters and more. As the bureau wishes Rolfe and his family well in Houston, it will need to seek a replacement who similarly understands that Wichita can be a contender in competing for big conventions and the dollars they bring to the local economy.

Pro-con: Is Obama to blame for rising gas prices?

We’ll stipulate that pump prices are driven by many factors – not the least being Middle East uncertainty. But if the American people think President Obama hasn’t done everything possible to buffer oil shocks, there’s reason: He hasn’t. Blocking the Keystone pipeline is but one of many Team Obama decisions that have left America’s oil supply more vulnerable to the vagaries of world events. Under Obama, the American Petroleum Institute notes, leases on federal lands in the West are down 44 percent, while permits and new well drilling are both down 39 percent, compared to 2007. Also, in the wake of the BP oil spill, Obama shut down most Gulf of Mexico drilling; there’s been a 57 percent drop in monthly deepwater permits over the last three years. – New York Post

The average price of gas is up more than 10 percent since the start of the year, a point that was made repeatedly during Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate. Predictably, the four GOP presidential candidates blamed President Obama for the steep increase. Actually, the president doesn’t have that kind of pricing power. The more likely reason behind higher prices is the recent spate of refinery closures in the United States. Over the last year, refineries have faced a classic margin squeeze. Prices for Brent crude have gone up, but demand for gasoline in the U.S. is at a 15-year low. That means refineries haven’t been able to pass on the higher prices they are paying for oil to their customers. As a result, companies have chosen to shut down a handful of large refineries rather than continue to lose money on them. – Matthew Philips, Bloomberg Businessweek

Posturing about auto bailout ignores reality

GOP presidential candidates are arguing about which one hated the auto-industry bailout more. Though that may play well with some GOP primary voters, columnist and former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson thinks it is disingenuous. “Specific bailout policies can be disputed,” Gerson wrote, “but one fact cannot: No president — Republican or Democrat — would have allowed the economic collapse of the upper Midwest in the midst of a national economic panic. A conservatism that prefers ideology to reality is not particularly conservative.”

More people who dislike Ike’s memorial

The proposed memorial to President Eisenhower in Washington, D.C., continues to draw criticism, especially for its statue of the 34th president as a boy and 80-foot metal “tapestries” depicting images from his Kansas childhood. Washington Post columnist George Will called the design “an exhibitionistic triumph of theory over function – more a monument to its creator, Frank Gehry, practitioner of architectural flamboyance, than to the most underrated president.” The Daily Beast’s David Frum added: “Go back to the drawing board. Shrink the monument’s footprint. Then hire a designer who has something to say about Eisenhower and his time.”

Paul, Romney were debate winners

The winners of Wednesday’s GOP debate, according to the Washington Post blog the Fix, were Ron Paul (“Who knew the Texas congressman was such an attack dog?”) and Mitt Romney (“He did what he had to do for the here-and-now — knock Santorum down a few pegs”). Losers included Rick Santorum (“For a guy who finally gained front-runner status after a long haul, he didn’t handle it very well on the debate stage”) and former Pennsylvania senator and Kansas native Arlen Specter (“This guy didn’t exactly have a great end to his political career, and now his name is again being dragged through the mud in a GOP presidential primary”).

O’Donnell should show more respect for ethics law, panel

As a newbie on the Wichita City Council, Michael O’Donnell could be forgiven by citizens for misusing his city computer to send 39 e-mails last fall to solicit financial sponsorships for a state senator’s political meet-and-greet. O’Donnell acknowledged he made a “silly mistake.” But he also accused Mayor Carl Brewer and other City Council colleagues of a “political hit job” and suggested the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission’s case against him was related to his “conservative voice” and opposition to the Ambassador Hotel’s guest-tax deal. Given that O’Donnell is the one who did wrong, he should show more respect for the ethics inquiry and the Kansas Campaign Finance Act, not to mention his council colleagues.

Employer-based insurance is part of problem

Columnist Matt Miller argued that what the contraception controversy really exposed is why the U.S. needs to move beyond a system in which most people get their insurance through their employers. “If individuals were able to buy group coverage outside the employment setting – without risk of being denied coverage or priced out of the market due to pre-existing conditions – this entire blowup would never have happened, because the idea of requiring employers to offer specific kinds of coverage would be irrelevant,” he wrote.

Open thread on GOP debate

GOP strategists scared about Santorum

GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s recent comments about contraception and President Obama believing in “a phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible,” aren’t hurting him so far with many GOP primary voters. But GOP strategists worry that if Santorum is the nominee, his stances on social issues will scare off women and independents, as happened when he lost his Senate re-election race in 2006 by 18 percentage points. They fear that could lead to an easy re-election victory for President Obama. One prominent GOP senator predicted that Santorum would lose 35 states.

Laffer wants Kansas, Missouri to coordinate tax policies

Economist Arthur Laffer apparently doesn’t understand the border war between Kansas and Missouri. Otherwise, he likely wouldn’t have suggested this week that Kansas avoid a tax policy that disadvantages Missouri. Laffer, who is being paid $75,000 by the Brownback administration to consult on tax policy, told the Kansas City Star editorial board that if Missouri eliminates its income tax and replaces it with a higher sales tax, as a ballot measure proposes, Missourians could dodge the higher sales tax by purchasing goods and services in Kansas. “For Kansas City’s sake, you really want to coordinate policies,” he said. Yeah, right.

Converting KPERS easier said than done

There is a lot of interest among state lawmakers in converting the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to a 401(k)-type plan. And with good reason. KPERS is chronically underfunded and faces a long-term liability of about $8.3 billion. But when reforms are seriously reviewed, lawmakers tend to balk, realizing that switching to a 401(k)-type plan would cost the state more money initially and make it even harder to cover KPERS’ unfunded liability. That seems to have happened again. The GOP leaders of the House Pensions and Benefits Committee backed away from a KPERS study commission proposal to move to a defined-contribution plan. “Conceptually, it sounded fairly easy to do,” said committee Chairman Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, “but once they got into it, started drafting the bill, it became fairly problematic.”

Workers’ comp bill hardly favors employees

Much can be said about House Bill 2531, which would change the selection process for the administrative law judges who decide the fate of workers’ compensation and unemployment claims. But it’s a stretch to say, as the Kansas Department of Labor tweeted Monday as the bill won House approval, that “this provides better representation for employees in the selection process of judges.” Such judges are now chosen by a panel consisting of one member picked by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and one picked by the Kansas AFL-CIO. The bill would use a seven-member panel composed of the state labor secretary, a person from an employee organization chosen by the labor secretary, and representatives of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Businesses, Kansas AFL-CIO, Kansas State Council of the Society of Human Resource Management and Kansas Self-Insurers Association. More people at the table may be a good idea, but the proposed lineup is hardly rich with employee representation.

So where are the abortion records?

Do the abortion records still exist or not? That’s the puzzling question after an investigation of the supposed shredding of documents needed by prosecutors in a case against a Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park. Last November, a judge dismissed 49 charges against the clinic because the Johnson County district attorney said the records had been shredded by the Attorney General’s Office in April 2009, triggering speculation by some anti-abortion activists that the Sebelius administration was involved in a cover-up. But the Shawnee County sheriff investigated and determined that none of the shredded documents was related to this case. An attorney for the clinic says that the records still exist and were held by the Attorney General’s Office as of last fall. So where are the records now?