Monthly Archives: March 2013

Don’t forget to vote

It may have gotten lost amid all the excitement about the NCAA basketball tournament, but there is an important election Tuesday. In Wichita, four City Council races are on the ballot, and there are two contested Wichita school board races. Those elected to these governing bodies will face difficult challenges, deciding how the city government promotes economic development and how the school district responds to reduced state funding. Visit The Eagle’s online voter guide to read the candidates’ stances on issues. The Eagle editorial board’s endorsements are at Kansas.com/opinion. And be sure to vote either in advance from 8 a.m. to noon Monday at the Sedgwick County Election Office or Tuesday at your polling place.

A turnpike merger by any other name?

“It is not a merger. It is not a money grab,” said Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, about a Senate-passed bill that would make the secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation also the chairman of the Kansas Turnpike Authority. But other lawmakers aren’t buying that. “Trust me, it’s a merger. KDOT will be running the turnpike,” said Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita. Donovan’s opinion of the Senate vote: “This is a sad day in the state of Kansas.”

So they said

“This may be the absolute worst idea I have ever heard in my life.” – Sen. Les Donovan (in photo), R-Wichita, about a proposal that Kansas Turnpike fees be higher the faster you drive

“If I had my way, you’d have to pass a test to get out of high school.” – House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, while saying he’s “not for mandates” but supports the governor’s proposal to hold back slow-reading third-graders

“Universal truth: the phrase ‘with all due respect’ precedes a statement devoid of said respect.” – Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, tweeting during a House debate

“Ten years ago, you’d have never heard of me again.” – U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, in Salina, crediting the Internet with giving him even greater influence since his ouster from House committees

Roberts locks down support from fellow GOP officeholders

“Roberts Racks Up GOP Endorsements, Thwarting Primary in 2014,” declared Roll Call, after Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., released a list of re-election endorsements Thursday from “every top Republican official in Kansas.” Roll Call noted that “the Sunflower State is safe GOP territory, and Republicans are expected to hold the seat in 2014. But earlier this cycle, some quietly wondered if Roberts would face a primary challenge.”

Don’t go to war with the Shockers

Congratulations to the WSU Shockers on their impressive win Thursday night and their first trip to the NCAA Elite Eight since 1981. They dominated La Salle, particularly during the first half. The Shockers play Ohio State on Saturday night. KU plays Michigan tonight, which could be a big challenge. And the KU women play their Sweet 16 game Sunday against Notre Dame. It would be great if our state could get multiple teams in the final eight or, better yet, the Final Four.

Reason to be unsure about reading reform

Gov. Sam Brownback is unsure about a Kansas Senate-passed bill that would establish new policies for retaining first-graders who lack reading proficiency. “We’ll look at it,” Brownback told the Topeka Capital-Journal, though he prefers his proposal for holding back third-graders who don’t pass reading assessments. Brownback’s plan didn’t make it out of either the House or Senate education committees – and with good reason. Educators note that holding kids back can be counterproductive. There also were concerns about making retention decisions based on only one test and about whether the focus should be on earlier grades, including preschool.

Supreme Court bias in the eye of beholder

As the U.S. Supreme Court considers how to rule on two same-sex marriage cases, its favorability rating is at a near historic low – though it is sky-high compared with Congress. A Pew Research Center poll found that 52 percent of Americans view the court favorably, while 31 percent view it unfavorably. Overall, 40 percent of the public considers the court’s ideology to be “middle of the road,” while 24 percent says it is liberal and 22 percent says it is conservative. However, 45 percent of conservative Republicans think the court is liberal, while 48 percent of liberal Democrats think it is conservative – showing how bias often is in the eye of the beholder.

Court-fee bill looks like another money grab

Rep. Mark Kahrs, R-Wichita, said that a House-passed bill that puts revenue from court docket fees under the control of the Legislature would provide “more transparency, more accountability and more trust,” the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. But others see it as yet another attempt by the Legislature to sweep up designated fees and use them for other purposes. Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, noted that the docket fees were instituted because the Legislature was inadequately funding the courts. The only people who think the state won’t use this money to cover its budget shortfalls, Ward said, also “believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.”

First new law of 2013 bad for Kansas courts

How regrettable that the first bill to become law this year – House Bill 2019, which Gov. Sam Brownback signed Wednesday – was one that needlessly politicizes a merit-selection process for the Court of Appeals that has served Kansas well for 36 years. Now, Kansas reportedly is unique in the nation for selecting Court of Appeals judges one way and Supreme Court justices another way. Because the new system lets the governor pick anyone he wants but requires that his choices be confirmed by the Senate, which only works during the spring, the change could result in long-vacant seats on the court. Never mind that January poll showing 61 percent of Kansas voters opposed changing how appellate judges are selected. And so much for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2012 opinion that the nonpartisan nominating commission long used for Kansas’ appellate courts “is designed to ensure the conduct of the executive branch does not threaten the integrity of the judicial branch.”

Differing views of mental health funding

Our March 22 Eagle editorial, “Speak now on budget,” referred to the unsuccessful effort by state Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, to amend the Senate budget plan “to help community mental health centers recover from the deep cuts they’ve sustained.” That drew an e-mail to the editorial board from Shawn Sullivan, secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, who said “the mental health centers have not received deep cuts” and cited, among other increases, an “increase of $209 million in fiscal year 2011 to $252 million in fiscal year 2014 (budget projection) for total community mental health center funding.” Sullivan’s perspective differs sharply from that of Michael J. Hammond, executive director of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, who has said that mental health reform dollars, which are what the system relies on to serve the uninsured and underinsured, have been “reduced by 50 percent since fiscal year 2008” and that “funding cuts to mental health reform dollars continue to place the public mental health system at a breaking point.”

Silver dislikes chances for a WSU or KU championship

Nate Silver, the New York Times statistical wizard known for his accurate predictions in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, gives Wichita State University a 24 percent chance of reaching the Final Four but only a 1.2 percent chance of winning the championship. “Wichita State has had as favorable a tournament as any team in the country so far,” Silver wrote. “Its win against No. 1-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday got lots of attention, but the team also crushed No. 8-seeded Pittsburgh in its first game, a team that the computer rankings regarded highly. As their reward, the Shockers will face an overachieving La Salle team in the Round of 16. Their next game, against Ohio State or Arizona, would be much tougher.” Silver put the odds of another University of Kansas championship at 4.5 percent, down from 7.9 percent. “The decline in Kansas’ winning odds might seem a bit punitive,” he wrote, “but the Jayhawks played three underwhelming halves of basketball before finally turning it on against North Carolina late on Sunday. Kansas will have much less margin for error against No. 4 seed Michigan, its opponent on Friday, and then in a potential matchup against Florida over the weekend, two teams that are well-regarded by the model.” Silver sees Louisville as the most likely winner, with a 32.4 percent chance.

Smart to back off on collective bargaining

Good for the Legislature for backing off on a bill that would limit the collective-bargaining rights of teachers. Instead, lawmakers decided to give groups representing teachers, school superintendents and local school boards the rest of the year to work on the issue, the Associated Press reported. “Hopefully, some good can come out of this,” said Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park. But as Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, noted, “It should have been done this way in the first place. It would have created a lot less angst.”

Moran disputes that he ever supported disabilities treaty

The Boston Globe did an autopsy of the U.S. Senate’s December vote failing to ratify an international treaty on the rights of individuals with disabilities – a measure championed by former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who appeared in the chamber in a wheelchair for the vote. “The deepest wound – some considered it betrayal – came from a Republican senator from Dole’s home state of Kansas. That senator, Jerry Moran (in photo), had announced he supported the treaty and would be ‘standing up for the rights of those with disabilities,’” the Globe noted. Asked why he voted against it, Moran told the Globe: “I tried to help (the treaty) come to the floor, and had never made a conclusion as to whether I was for or against it, and concluded that it was a bad idea to have the United Nations involved in this.” Dole told the Globe: “The home-schoolers thought the U.N. would be involved in how they dealt with their children. I don’t know how they got there, but once the stampede starts, they notify their leaders to start ringing the phones, sending the e-mails. It’s really effective.”

Tax help for disaster victims

Praise is due members of the south-central Kansas legislative delegation for their bipartisan efforts to spare disaster victims from paying property tax on destroyed homes. There are significant differences between the bill that passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday and the House version, including whether the cost of the tax relief would fall on the state or individual counties. But many lawmakers clearly recognize the unfairness of receiving a property-tax bill in December for a house that was blown away in April, which is what some south Wichitans experienced in 2012. Good for area legislators for leading the way on this commonsense fix.

Victors’ comment went viral

State Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita, the only American Indian serving in the Legislature, inspired a meme on social media after last week’s House hearing on whether to stop allowing some children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates. Addressing Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who testified in favor of the bill, Victors said: “When you mention illegal immigrants, I think of all of you.” The cheers and applause were hushed by the committee chairman. But they continued online. A Londoner tweeted: “Fabulous. The ultimate people-in-glasshouses putdown. Ponka-We Victors, you’re my kinda gal.” Others variously tweeted: “Oh, snap!” and “bazinga!”

How will state fund its budget without income tax?

Count former state budget director Duane Goossen among those wondering how Kansas will fund a state budget without a state income tax, which currently represents 46.5 percent of state general fund revenue. None of the options Goossen offered sounded possible, let alone politically viable, including more than doubling the sales tax or newly applying it to professional services, pharmaceuticals, farm machinery and more, or implementing a 100-mill statewide property-tax levy. “A decision to not replace the income-tax revenue would dramatically lower education and human service budgets,” Goossen wrote on his blog for the Kansas Health Institute. “The governor and other supporters of a zero income tax have not identified how income-tax receipts might be replaced other than to suggest that economic growth will somehow take care of it.”

So they said

“‘The sky is falling’ is so much rhetoric.” – House Speaker Ray Merrick (in photo), R-Stilwell, defending the House budget’s 4 percent across-the-board cut to the state’s higher-education system

“I would submit to you that higher ed is out of control.” – Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, pointing to rising tuition in defending the proposed cut

“I think they understand that there is so much bad stuff in this budget that they don’t want people to have time to read it – or else they wouldn’t support it.” – Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, on the 512-page budget

Pro-con: Should U.S. boost energy exploration?

Can increasing American energy exploration improve our economy? Yes, but more to the point, it’s already happening. Energy – and the jobs and growth it will drive – is the foundation for our economic recovery. Our nation is blessed with some of the most abundant energy resources on Earth. Thanks in large part to the technology-driven shale boom, we have enough natural gas to power America for 120 years. We also have at least 200 years of oil under our lands and off our shores and more than 250 years of coal. And that’s just what we can recover with today’s technology. With continued advancements, we will be able to access even greater domestic supplies in the future. Energy presents the biggest opportunity to build a stronger foundation and a brighter future for our country. The 21st century has brought America an era of energy abundance. Let’s make the most of it for the sake of our economy, competitiveness and national security. – Karen A. Harbert, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Abandoning fossil-fuel exploration altogether is not feasible for America. But significant further government support of oil and gas drilling in places like the Alaskan wilderness or the American heartland in the name of economic growth would be a huge mistake. Instead, for our national security, economic growth and a sound energy policy, what we need is to shift to promoting industries and technologies that focus on clean, renewable and alternative sources of energy. Clean-tech is a fast-growing global industry that holds the potential to fix our current climate and other environmental challenges and build the jobs of tomorrow. The 2010 BP oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and the serious concerns raised about hydraulic fracturing have not merely been the results of chance. Nor are the extreme storms, droughts and heat waves, which are expected to rise in frequency and severity with fossil fuel use-linked climate change. The U.S. cannot afford to invest and lock itself into many more decades of reliance on the dirty and unsustainable sources of energy of the past. – Tseming Yang, Santa Clara University

GOP still dealing with wounds of Iraq War

The parade of commentaries looking at the Iraq War 10 years after “shock and awe” include Peggy Noonan’s blunt take on the wounds it inflicted on her Republican Party. Among her conclusions: “It ruined the party’s hard-earned reputation for foreign-affairs probity.” “It muddied up the meaning of conservatism and bloodied up its reputation.” “It ended the Republican political ascendance that had begun in 1980.” And “it undermined respect for Republican economic stewardship.” Noonan also writes that the war was bad for GOP debate: “The high stakes and high drama of the wars – and the sense within the Bush White House that it was fighting for our very life after 9/11 – stoked an atmosphere in which doubters and critics were dismissed as weak, unpatriotic, disloyal.” Meanwhile, she wonders, where are the Democrats’ self-examination and self-criticism about their foreign policy?

Huelskamp unmoved by Portman’s marriage flip-flop

Sen. Rob Portman (in photo), R-Ohio, created a buzz by announcing a change of heart on same-sex marriage, a decision that followed a son’s announcement that he is gay. But according to ThinkProgress, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, was dismissive, calling Portman “a senator who couldn’t deliver his own home state in the presidential election” and complaining that “somehow we’re supposed to believe that if we abandon traditional marriage that liberals are going to flock to us.” Speaking at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, Huelskamp also said, “The principle is, traditional marriage and family is the foundation of society.” Asked whether he would re-examine his own position if he had a gay son, the Kansan said: “I support traditional marriage.”

Leave statewide smoking law alone

The 2013 Legislature has spent time trying to undermine past legislatures’ decisions on the sales-tax sunset, the transportation plan, the state’s renewable-energy goals and more. But a new poll confirms that lawmakers should not repeal or weaken the Kansas Clean Indoor Air Act, which is more popular now than when it became law in 2010. In the poll, sponsored by Topeka-based Sunflower Foundation: Health Care for Kansans, 78 percent of registered voters and 81 percent of GOP primary voters said they support the law, which prohibits smoking in public spaces and workplaces including restaurants and bars. A January 2010 SurveyUSA poll had found that 65 percent favored a statewide smoking ban. The latest poll followed a Kansas Health Institute study last month that found “no apparent evidence that smoking bans in Kansas have been associated with a decrease in statewide restaurant and bar sales, or with a decrease in the number of establishments serving liquor.” The law does have one obvious flaw: the loophole for state-owned casinos.

Roberts says Obama can help get things done

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., was characteristically vivid in describing the meeting that he and other Senate Republicans had last week with President Obama. “He’s smothering us with the milk of human kindness and hoping it doesn’t curdle,” Roberts said. The Kansan also said that Republicans “tried to stress that it’s extremely helpful for the president to weigh in on some of these big-time issues. We have to have him if we’re going to get anything done.” After Obama’s previous visit to the Senate GOP caucus in 2010, Roberts famously told reporters that the president needed “to take a Valium” and had some “pretty thin-skinned” moments.

Brewer, Pompeo united on Obama’s jet rhetoric

A Reuters article examines the impact on Wichita of President Obama’s bad-mouthing of business jets and push for a seven-year depreciation schedule for private-plane buyers. “I’m certainly disappointed that he would do something of this nature. As long as you’re doing something to threaten my aviation industry … I’ll continue to speak out against it,” Mayor Carl Brewer told Reuters, which noted Brewer is a Democrat who has Obama’s portrait on his wall. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said: “It’s so frustrating. All the aviation manufacturers want is for him to stop talking down their industry. Don’t write them a check, don’t give them a tax credit, don’t hand them a subsidy. Stop bashing them.”

Lawmakers shouldn’t pass medically inaccurate bills

As a retired physician, Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, should be a valued resource for her House colleagues when they consider health-related legislation. But as the House gave initial approval to the latest big anti-abortion bill Tuesday, it ignored her efforts to excise medically inaccurate language linking breast cancer to abortion. She made another excellent point: Legislation dealing with health issues should go through the chamber’s health committee.

Demographics make Kansas imperfect model for GOP

Is Gov. Sam Brownback’s Kansas the model for the future Republican Party? The Atlantic Wire’s Elspeth Reeve has doubts. “The Kansas House of Representatives is 72 percent Republican. The Kansas Senate is 80 percent Republican. That might have something to do with the fact that Kansas looks a lot like the Republican Party. It’s 78 percent white,” Reeve wrote. And “according to 2012 exit polls, 39 percent of voters are conservative, 48 percent are moderate, and only 17 percent are liberal.” The Republican National Committee’s new internal review suggests that the nation’s 30 GOP governors, including Brownback, will lead the way for the party, and there are tax and education reforms to watch in those states. “It is time for Republicans on the federal level to learn from successful Republicans on the state level,” the report said. But Reeve argued that in the cases of “less reliably red states, governors’ conservative policy records are more mixed.”