Monthly Archives: January 2013

Is GOP moving away from Kobach on immigration?

Secretary of State Kris Kobach said President Obama’s plan for comprehensive immigration reform was out of touch with Congress and the American public. But the plan is strikingly similar to proposals being developed by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., which have been endorsed by former GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Rubio wants to allow illegal immigrants currently living in the United States to gain provisional legal status and eventually citizenship. “Ultimately it’s not good for our country to have people permanently trapped in that status where they can’t become citizens,” Rubio said. Last week anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist told Kansas lawmakers in Topeka that Kobach’s hard-line approach to immigration was bad for the economy and bad politically for Republicans.

Advice to new lawmakers: When in doubt, vote ‘no’

Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, cautioned new state lawmakers that they won’t know the answers. “There is no way you can know all you need to know about every issue,” Donovan told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “When you look at 1,000 bills before you in a year – you can’t. They come at you fast, and you have to vote on it.” If lawmakers can’t decide how to handle an issue, they should make a “no” vote the default position, he said. “Pay attention to someone that you can trust,” Donovan said. “Otherwise, you’ll walk off into the swamp with the alligator.” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said it was important for lawmakers to keep their word. “Your word is your bond,” he said. “You lose a lot of credibility by telling somebody one thing and then do something altogether different.”

Norquist’s play-by-play of State of the State

One of those tweeting from the Statehouse during Gov. Sam Brownback’s State of the State address was Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who was in Topeka to address legislators on immigration and other issues. His running commentary of tweets included:
“Liberal state Supreme Court entering … tepid applause.”
“This is just like the Golden Globe event…. Different dress code. No color commentary by Joan Rivers. Otherwise similar.”
“Hey, Sebelius…. Brownback called last decade a ‘lost decade.’ Now KS is creating jobs.”
“Standing ovation for Brownback’s call to abolish the state income tax. A few Democrat legislators remain seated.”
“Brownback letting state Supreme Court know that if they want to write budgets they will have to stand for election. Glum judges.”

Brownback overstated reading problem

In calling for a new reading initiative, Gov. Sam Brownback said in his State of the State address last week that “29 percent of Kansas fourth-graders can’t read at a basic level.” That’s not correct. Brownback’s statistic came from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress survey. But as Lawrence Journal-World education reporter Peter Hancock explained, the sole purpose of NAEP is to see how students in one state compare with those in other states. “It is very specifically not intended to be used as a measure of how any given student measures up against an objective standard of what kids should know at certain grades, which is what the governor attempted to do in his speech,” Hancock wrote. Such an objective standard is provided by the Kansas state assessments, which in 2012 showed that 11.9 percent of fourth-graders failed to meet the state standard in reading. That’s still a significant number, but far less than 29 percent. Hancock also noted that the 2011 NAEP results ranked Kansas 10th best in the nation for the percent of fourth-graders who scored proficient or better on NAEP’s reading test.

New judges, assignments at District Court

As the Legislature debates judicial-selection reform for the appellate courts, the Sedgwick County District Court is going through major change as well. Two newly elected judges, Dave Dahl and Steve Ternes, were both assigned to family law. Judges Tim Henderson, Eric Commer and Eric Yost are the newly assigned presiding judges in juvenile, family law and probate, respectively, and the Probate Department has relocated from the Courthouse to the Juvenile Courthouse, 1900 E. Morris. And more change is coming, in the wake of Gov. Sam Brownback’s appointment of Judge Tony Powell to the Kansas Court of Appeals; the governor will accept applications and name Powell’s replacement. It was surprising to see Judge Richard Ballinger reassigned from probate to civil, given how Eagle letter writers and others cited his expertise and long tenure as presiding probate judge in supporting his successful re-election bid in November. Ballinger recently told The Eagle editorial board that the change was not his preference. Chief Judge James Fleetwood said Friday that the probate changes make for a “more efficient use of staff and supervisory personnel” and that Yost had some impressive and creative ideas for how to manage resources. “I am convinced it’s a good move,” Fleetwood said.

So they said

“That’s not the response I get on MSNBC.” – Rep. Tim Huelskamp (in photo), R-Fowler, getting a standing ovation at the recent Big First District Republican Party meeting in McPherson

“There’s no getting along with the president of the United States – you have to beat him.” – Huelskamp again, pledging not to back down on the debt ceiling or other fiscal crises

“When they finally took all the wallboards down I thought, ‘Wow, this really looks like a nice place – $300 million can still buy you something.’ Sore subject.” – Gov. Sam Brownback, joking with legislators about Capitol renovation

“The governor proposes and the Legislature perfects.” – Brownback’s budget director, Steve Anderson, on the state budget process

Pro-con: Do Obama gun proposals hit the mark?

The much-needed push for gun safety in America is on. President Obama set the wheels in motion by announcing 23 executive orders aimed at reducing gun violence. He asked Congress to pass substantial laws, including bans on assault weapons and magazines of more than 10 rounds. He also called for background checks on all firearms purchases, including private sales and those made at gun shows. Those steps alone would decrease the likelihood of casualties in shootings and make the United States a safer and saner nation. Better tracking of who is buying and selling firearms would give police valuable tools to prevent the shootings that ravage Kansas City and other urban areas. Only irrational obeisance to the gun lobby would prevent Congress from passing such a sensible law. – Kansas City Star

I am disheartened by the White House gun violence task force’s recommendations, which primarily focus on gun control and missed the opportunity to provide bold proposals that would address the root of these tragedies: mental illness. I will fight proposals in the Senate that threaten our Second Amendment rights and fail to take real action to curb a culture of gun violence in America. I fully support enforcing the gun laws currently on the books instead of creating new ones that erode basic rights of self-protection. It has been statistically proved that passing gun legislation has no effect on removing guns from the hands of criminals. In the end, it is law-abiding citizens who are punished by gun control. With the emphasis mostly on gun control, the president avoided serious measures to tackle the increasingly violent culture in America. – Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

Could Biden be a serious contender in 2016?

“The goofy Uncle Veep persona that follows (Joe) Biden around like a stray dog, largely thanks to his garrulousness and occasional slips of the tongue, could not be further from the reality of the role this seasoned Washington insider is playing,” wrote David Rothkopf, who contends that Biden is the most influential vice president in U.S. history. What’s more, “insiders say that Biden, who would be 74 come the 2016 election, is intent on succeeding Obama in the Oval Office.”

Poll finds support for status quo on selecting justices

As state lawmakers heard testimony this week on both sides of Gov. Sam Brownback’s call to change how Kansas selects appellate-court judges, a new poll was released favoring the status quo. Commissioned by Justice at Stake, a group based in Washington, D.C., “dedicated to the preservation of fair and impartial courts,” the survey found that 61 percent of Kansas voters would oppose changing the state constitution to mirror the federal model, so the governor could nominate justices for the Supreme Court subject to Senate confirmation; 21 percent supported that change, while 18 percent were undecided. In the same poll, 73 percent said they were not satisfied with the results of the 2012 elections in the nation and state, and 57 percent said Kansas was on the wrong track.

‘Daily Show’ takes aim at Tiahrt on ATF limits

In one segment of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” Wednesday, former 4th Congressional District Rep. Todd Tiahrt was shown saying in 2007 that mayors shouldn’t be tracing guns used in crimes or cracking down on illegal gun sales because the ATF was on the case – a point noted with relief by host Jon Stewart. But a clip later in the show showed Tiahrt defending his amendment restricting gun-trace data and otherwise limiting the law enforcement powers of the ATF. “You have broken my t-heart,” Stewart said.

Kansas gets bad grade on school spending

A national report card reached the same conclusion that a three-judge panel did last week: Kansas is doing a bad job funding its schools. The annual Education Week “Quality Counts” study gave Kansas a D on school spending. Kansas also received low marks for lack of improvement on national achievement tests and for teacher pay. Overall, Kansas received a C grade and was ranked 37th in the nation.

KanCare off to rocky start

Gov. Sam Brownback failed to mention KanCare in his State of the State speech – remarkable given the sea change it represents for the 380,000 individuals and the providers affected by the Jan. 1 privatization of Medicaid and HealthWave. But at least in Johnson County, the 2-week-old reform is off to a rocky start, warned Kansas City Star columnist Steve Rose. Some primary care physicians and hospitals haven’t signed up with the three managed-care contractors, he said, and there have been contractual issues between providers and insurers. Anecdotes include an 8-year-old boy whose assigned primary care physician is a gynecologist and a 25-year-old man assigned to a pediatrician. A 90-day grace period “gives KanCare a short time to resolve its issues with the would-be providers, and to get the 380,000 Kansans assigned correctly to their primary care physicians and dentists,” Rose wrote.

Brownback budget math is unrealistic

Our editorial about Gov. Sam Brownback’s State of the State address asked: Does the math work? The release of his budget plan provided the answer: Not really – particularly based on what’s politically realistic. Brownback said in his optimistic speech Tuesday night that his two-year budget proposal would further reduce taxes, balance the budget, maintain the state’s 7.5 percent ending balance and “meet the needs of our people.” What wasn’t clear was how it could do all that and cover the loss of an estimated $700 million in tax revenue in fiscal year 2014. Well, it mostly does so by raising taxes – which is unlikely to happen. Brownback wants the state to make the temporary statewide sales-tax increase permanent. Doing so would generate about $262 million per year. But many lawmakers campaigned against the tax increase or promised that it would expire after three years. That’s why the idea went nowhere when Brownback first proposed it last year – and why it’s likely to die quickly again. Brownback also revived another idea that flopped last year: Eliminating the mortgage interest tax deduction. Brownback’s budget also ignores last week’s court ruling that school funding is unconstitutionally low. Rather than increase funding by about $440 million to return it to 2008 levels, Brownback keeps base state aid flat next year and includes only a slight increase the following year.

Racial, ethnic makeup of Legislature stays same; fewer women

Though the past election resulted in the largest turnover of state lawmakers in decades, the racial and ethnic makeup of the Legislature barely changed. “The state went from seven black legislators to eight, added a representative of Asian descent for the first time in two years, stayed at four Latino legislators and retained its lone American Indian representative, Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita,” the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Latinos, which accounted for 10.5 percent of the state’s population in 2010, are the most underrepresented, with only 2.4 percent of the Legislature, or 4 of 165 members. African-Americans, who were 5.9 percent of the state’s population in 2010, make up 4.8 percent of the Legislature this year. Meanwhile, the number of women lawmakers decreased to 39, down from 55 in 1999 and the lowest total since 1988.

Impressive work on federal gun prosecutions

If there is anything that people of all political persuasions can agree on regarding guns, it may be that existing gun laws should be better enforced and felons with firearms should be prosecuted. So it’s impressive that only Puerto Rico and the Western District of Texas had more federal gun prosecutions in the fiscal year ending September 2012 than Kansas, where the office of U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom (in photo) filed gun-related charges against 447 people. Kansas also led the nation in such prosecutions in fiscal 2011. Grissom said he has told local agencies: “If they are felons and you can pull them over and they are armed, give them to us and we will cut them out of your community. You can have a huge impact on the crime rate.”

District 4 residents need representation now

Because their next meeting isn’t until Feb. 5, Wichita City Council members need to make it a priority Tuesday to fill the open District 4 seat, which Michael O’Donnell exited last month to join the Kansas Senate. Last week council members had two chances to hear from the three capable men still seeking the temporary appointment – real-estate agent Jeff Blubaugh and former council members Stan Reeser and Paul Gray – but deferred the vote. Citizens in the southwest Wichita district deserve council representation without further delay, and it would be unacceptable if the council’s indecision left the seat empty until after the April election.

Schodorf’s sentiment resonates for others

Some will see the voter-registration switch from Republican to Democrat by former state Sen. Jean Schodorf as confirmation that she was a Republican in name only, and inevitable after her August primary defeat and subsequent announcement that she would leave the party. But the explanation offered Sunday by the former Senate Education Committee chairwoman and 2010 congressional hopeful resonates with many Kansas Republicans concerned about the state party’s hard-right turn. “Has the Republican Party left you?” Schodorf asked on Facebook. “Well, I think it’s time to leave the party. As a lifelong Republican I feel as though the Republican Party, nationally and at the state level, no longer represents me.” By midday Monday, Schodorf’s announcement had garnered nearly 600 “likes” and 215 comments.

Kansas chamber to stay out of judicial selection

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, newly led by former House Speaker Mike O’Neal, has an aggressive legislative agenda aimed at phasing out all individual and corporate income taxes and pushing for changes related to state employees’ pensions and unions’ political influence. But both Kent Eckles, the chamber’s vice president for governmental affairs, and Eric Stafford, the chamber’s senior legislative affairs director, told Associated Press that the chamber will stay out of the debate about changing how appellate judges are chosen. O’Neal has said the Kansas Supreme Court stepped over the line in requiring the Legislature to increase school funding. But he once responded to a proposed constitutional amendment to change how Supreme Court justices were chosen by asking: “What’s wrong with what we’ve got now?”

Dubious, bogus and utterly phony headlines

The following satirical headlines come from borowitzreport.com and theonion.com:

Republicans Apologize to Top 1.5 Percent

Washington Celebrates Solving Totally Unnecessary Crisis They Created

Senate Outraged at Having to Work Weekend to Save Nation

Al-Qaida Disbands; Says Job of Destroying U.S. Economy Now in Congress’ Hands

GOP Freshmen Saddened by Failure to Shut Down Government on First Day

Gorilla Sales Skyrocket After Latest Gorilla Attack

Russell Crowe Praised for Stunning Portrayal of Man Who Cannot Sing or Act in ‘Les Miserables’

School-funding lawsuits are common

Kansas isn’t the only state battling in court over its school funding. Nine other states (including Colorado and Texas) have school-funding lawsuits in the courts, and four other states recently wrapped up legal challenges, the Washington Post reported. Since 1973, when a U.S. Supreme Court case indicated that it was OK to challenge school-finance plans at the state level, all but five states – Delaware, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada and Utah – have had funding lawsuits. But winning a lawsuit does not necessarily result in more money, or consistent funding. The Kansas Legislature agreed to large funding increases in 2005 and 2006 after having lost a funding lawsuit. But because of funding cuts in recent years due to the economic downturn, the state’s education budget this fiscal year is 13 percent less when adjusted for inflation than it was in the 2007 school year, according to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities.

Grants will help struggling mental health centers

Good for Gov. Sam Brownback for wanting to add $10 million in funding to treat Kansas’ most serious cases of mental illness. The increase was prompted by the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but the mental health system in Kansas has been struggling for several years with reduced funding and increased demand. Though Medicaid spending has increased significantly in recent years, state grants to community mental health centers were cut by more than $19 million, or 52 percent, from fiscal years 2000 to 2011.

Roberts has seen worse times in Washington

“People ask me, ‘Is this the worst time you have served in Congress with approval ratings so low and the challenges so great?’ I say, no,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. Roberts served as a congressional staff member during the Vietnam War and Watergate, and he was a member of Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal and President Clinton’s impeachment hearings. “All these were terribly controversial,” Roberts said. “Somehow we found a way to do the nation’s business and do what’s right for the American future in regards to the economic future. That’s the thing that is missing now.” And he’s not optimistic that elected officials are nearing a path to accommodation, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. “I don’t see that happening any time soon,” he said.

So they said

“It’s not a long walk across the rotunda.” – House Speaker Ray Merrick (in photo), R-Stilwell, promising better communication and less conflict between chambers in the 2013 Legislature

“Given that you won’t have a situation where the House Republican leadership has declared war on the Senate Republican leadership, it can only get better.” – House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, on the upcoming session

“I have member after member after member say, ‘Agriculture? Let’s cut it.’ It’s going to be tough sledding, folks.” – Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., speaking to the Kansas Soybean Association about agriculture’s weakening political coalition in Congress

“We’re Kansans. We’re Americans. We want our steaks hot, our beers cold and our politicians – temporary.” – Milton Wolf, a radiologist and blogger who is President Obama’s cousin, in a Washington Times commentary criticizing Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran for their fiscal-cliff votes and combined 46 years in Washington, D.C.

“I bought a toilet at a local store lately and I’m telling you, you probably want to get off that thing before you flush it because it sucks anything down.” – Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton, at Wednesday’s meeting, after Commissioner Karl Peterjohn expressed relief that he owns “a toilet that actually works”

Pro-con on Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary

On Monday, President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel, 66, a Republican who served two terms in the Senate from Nebraska before stepping down in 2008, to succeed Leon Panetta as secretary of defense. He would become the first Vietnam veteran, and the first former enlisted man, to head the Pentagon. You’d think Republicans as well as Democrats would be delighted with this appointment. The wiser ones are. Here’s a man who grew up in poverty, got drafted, earned two Purple Hearts, worked his way through college, made a fortune in the cellphone business and then entered public service. He’s subsequently in the private equity business and now teaches at Georgetown University. If Horatio Alger were a Republican, he’d look a lot like Chuck Hagel. Barring any new disclosures, there is nothing in Hagel’s past or present that should keep any senator from voting for confirmation. And there is a great deal to suggest that he is precisely the leader the Pentagon will need as the nation transitions out of an era of too many wars and unlimited military spending. Hagel, rifle squad leader-turned-internationalist, would bring the right perspective to Pentagon priorities. Troops first. Contractors last. Look before you leap. – St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Chuck Hagel, the president’s nominee to be the next secretary of defense, must face serious questions about his record, his statements and troubling hints of anti-Semitism. Once a Republican senator who supported the war in Iraq, he turned against the war, and opposed the surge. Long a darling to those eager for rapprochement with Iran, he has sharply criticized sanctions and opposed the designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity. Hagel has decried “intimidation” by the “the Jewish lobby” in Washington. Taken in the context of other positions and in light of his consistent willingness to downplay the threat posed by terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah, it is not unreasonable to ask whether Hagel has a problem with Jews and the Jewish state. Last but not least, one must wonder at the president nominating a man with a history of slurs against homosexuals, an A rating from the National Rifle Association and a zero rating from the pro-choice lobby NARAL, all questions on which Obama is at odds. – Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute, in USA Today

Of course the state lost school-funding lawsuit

It was no surprise that a three-judge panel ruled Friday that state funding for public schools is unconstitutionally low. After all, the Kansas Supreme Court reached the same decision in 2006, and the state agreed to a significant funding increase. But when the recession hit, the state began abandoning that promise and cutting spending, to the point where per-pupil base aid is now lower than it was in 2006. The Brownback administration and many lawmakers have acted as if that earlier court ruling never happened, and they no doubt will appeal this case to the Supreme Court. But why would the result be any different this time?