Monthly Archives: April 2013

Moran’s NRSC lagging on fundraising

The proof of Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran’s effectiveness as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee won’t be known until the midterm elections in November 2014. But it doesn’t reflect well on Moran that the NRSC raised $6.9 million in the first three months of the year, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $13.7 million. According to the Hill newspaper, the NRSC was slow to hire fundraising staff after Moran took over in November. “We’re confident we’ll have the resources needed to win in 2014,” NRSC spokeswoman Brook Hougesen told the Hill.

Will Kansas be a model for nation or a warning?

Gov. Sam Brownback’s effort to turn Kansas into a “red-state model” was featured in a long report on National Public Radio last weekend. Brownback explained how he wants to put Kansas on a “glide path” to zero income taxes as a way to create growth and attract investment. But economist Brad DeLong warned that Brownback’s approach likely will produce “a relatively low-wage form of economic development” and result in social services that are “quite lousy.” Former Gov. Bill Graves also was interviewed and blamed Kansas’ sharp shift to the right on a well-funded effort to “suggest that less government is gonna be better for everyone.”

Obama shows his comedic chops

After he leaves office, President Obama might consider a second career as a comedian. (Yes, I know, many of you already consider him a joke.) He had great timing during the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner last weekend. Among his many jokes: “These days, I look in the mirror and I have to admit, I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be.” “I know Republicans are still sorting out what happened in 2012, but one thing they all agree on is they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities. And look, call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they could start with. Hello? Think of me as a trial run.” “My charm offensive has helped me learn some interesting things about what’s going on in Congress – it turns out, absolutely nothing.” “We need to make progress on some important issues. Take the sequester. Republicans fell in love with this thing, and now they can’t stop talking about how much they hate it. It’s like we’re trapped in a Taylor Swift album.”

Pass gas-storage safety act

Praise is due Sens. Pat Roberts (left) and Jerry Moran (right), R-Kan., for trying again to do something about the 11 natural-gas storage fields in the state that have gone without government inspection since a 2009 court ruling. Like their similar 2011 bill, the latest legislation should be a no-brainer – “allowing states to step in when the federal government fails to monitor natural-gas storage sites,” as Moran said in a statement. Anyone wondering why this matters should check with residents in Hutchinson, the site of a 2001 tragedy in which migrating gas underground caused explosions that killed one couple and destroyed a block of downtown businesses. The longer Congress waits to respond to the federal government’s inaction and to restore the state’s authority to regulate interstate gas storage, the greater the risk of more explosions.

Phantom turnpike savings could save the day?

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, has a novel way to help prevent budget cuts to higher education: Use the $15 million to $30 million in savings resulting from the merger of the Kansas Turnpike Authority with the Kansas Department of Transportation. “I would be willing to use (those savings) to keep higher ed where it was at in the governor’s proposal,” Masterson said. The problem is that the savings are a made-up number. The Brownback administration was never able to explain how a merger would save that much money. Also, lawmakers were so concerned that the merger could degrade the turnpike that they only partially merged the agencies, and they made clear that turnpike fees could not be spent on other roadways.

Congress should act on more than FAA furloughs

At least Congress proved last week that it still has the ability to pass legislation when a crisis arises, in this case the sequestration cuts that prompted furloughs of air traffic controllers and many flight delays. Both chambers quickly passed a bill giving the Obama administration flexibility to move money among Transportation Department accounts. As Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a dogged critic of the Federal Aviation Administration’s sequestration decisions, said Thursday night: “This bipartisan solution is a victory for air travelers and communities nationwide.” Still, it was hard to disagree with comments along the lines of this tweet: “Sequester Head Start classrooms, deny cancer patients, reduce Meals on Wheels, but don’t delay a senator’s flight!”

Welcome collaboration on law enforcement center

It’s good to see city and Sedgwick County officials communicating about a new law enforcement training center. A joint tour last week of the outdated facility at 37th Street North and Meridian underscored the need to act soon. The governments should try to stick to their earlier commitment to join the Kansas National Guard and build at the new Heartland Preparedness Center at K-96 and I-135, and try to scale back the original plan and $30 million shared cost to fit their current budget challenges. County Commission Chairman Jim Skelton’s (in photo) idea of a design to allow expansion makes sense. But officials need to get moving on the project.

So they said

“We got rid of the wind production tax credit. I worked really hard on it. We got rid of it for 23 hours. Crowning achievement of my time here in Congress so far. And then in the Senate, they stuck it back in, in the dark of night.” – Rep. Mike Pompeo (in photo), R-Wichita, at a Politico forum on energy and taxes

“There was a bright light in the room.” – Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., sparring with Pompeo

“An alien who has a terrorist background can call himself ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ without having to prove that that is his real name.” – Secretary of State Kris Kobach, arguing against an immigration-reform bill last week in Senate Judiciary Committee testimony

“The testimony had nothing to do with this office.” – Kobach spokeswoman Kay Curtis, after Sunflower Community Action asked in a news release, “Has Anyone Seen Kris Kobach in Kansas?”

“If I do vote for it, it would end my political career. Politics in this state are brutal.” – Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, at a Garden City forum, saying he won’t support the governor’s effort to retain the higher sales-tax rate

Lawmakers pass bad laws; taxpayers get legal bills

It’s amazing how flippant some state lawmakers are about the state’s legal bills, considering them just a cost of doing business. No, they are a cost of making bad laws. The Kansas Attorney General’s Office estimated last week that it will need an additional $1.2 million to defend likely challenges to the state’s new gun, abortion and drug-testing laws. It’s already spent more than $750,000 defending previous abortion laws (and cases are still in the courts). The Attorney General’s Office even told lawmakers earlier in the session that parts of the new gun law couldn’t be enforced and would spur costly lawsuits, but lawmakers passed the bill anyway. It’s as if they are spending other people’s money. No, wait – they are.

Does Obama need to be more ruthless?

“After more than four years in the Oval Office, the president has rarely demonstrated an appetite for ruthless politics that instills fear in lawmakers,” noted a New York Times article about how President Obama is unlikely to “punish” lawmakers who voted against gun-control legislation. “That raises a broader question: If he cannot translate the support of 90 percent of the public for background checks into a victory on Capitol Hill, what can he expect to accomplish legislatively for his remaining three and a half years in office?”

Salina mayor backing same-sex marriage

Salina Mayor Barb Shirley is the first Kansas mayor to join Mayors for Freedom to Marry, which supports same-sex marriage, the Salina Journal reported. “I want all people to have the same civil rights,” she said. Shirley’s announcement came six months after Salina residents voted 54.2 to 45.8 percent to repeal a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Women dominate teaching jobs, not administration

Though the roles of men and women in the workplace have changed greatly in the past few decades, education has been slower to see changes, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. For example, 89 percent of all the active elementary teaching licenses in Kansas are held by women, according to the Kansas State Department of Education. But men still hold 58 percent of the leadership and administrative roles. Education could benefit from more male elementary teachers and more female administrators.

Huelskamp stars in another rebellion

No surprise that Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, starred in another clash of the House Republicans – or “Fight Club on the Hill,” as the headline of Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post dubbed it. Huelskamp and others rebelled this week against an effort by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to help people with pre-existing health problems get insurance, which Huelskamp dismissed as “expanding Obamacare.” As part of a “Making Life Work” agenda meant to move the party “beyond the fiscal debate,” Cantor also has sought changes to comp and flex time and worker retraining. But he shelved the insurance bill Wednesday. Huelskamp said: “In August, we’re going to hit the debt ceiling and we can’t avoid that. We’re running out of money, and as Republicans, we have to get ready now and talk about the vision of what we have to do to get our country on a 10-year plan to balance the budget,” adding that theme “is the kind of message that gets lost in little things.” Milbank responded: “So helping workers and the sick are ‘little things’? Cantor can forget warm and fuzzy for now; he has enough trouble just making his colleagues sound humane.”

State revenue dropping by $1 billion over two years

The state’s new revenue estimates released last week show the stark budget challenge facing the state – how to cover the loss of nearly $1 billion of revenue over two years, mostly due to the tax cuts signed by Gov. Sam Brownback and the scheduled reduction in the statewide sales-tax rate. Actual revenue receipts in fiscal year 2012 were $6.4 billion. The new revenue estimate for next fiscal year is $5.45 billion. That drop is considerably more than what occurred during the Great Recession, when revenue dropped by $618 million over a three-year period, according to former state budget director Duane Goossen. Federal stimulus money helped offset a significant amount of that drop. Another big difference between then and now: The previous budget problems were triggered by a global economic crisis that was beyond our control; the current shortfall is self-inflicted.

Dole also backing Roberts

Despite being publicly rebuffed by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on a December vote on the United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled, former Sen. Bob Dole (in photo) endorsed Roberts’ re-election bid next year. “No one fights harder or more effectively for the people of Kansas than Pat Roberts,” Dole said in a statement Wednesday. “He never stops working for our values and our concerns.” Roberts also has been endorsed by the state’s four members of the U.S. House as well as five statewide officeholders.

Rich are getting a lot richer

Another report documents how the rich are getting richer while most everyone else is treading water or sinking. According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, the upper 7 percent of American households saw their average net worth increase 28 percent from 2009 to 2011, while the wealth of the other 93 percent declined by an average of 4 percent. “The changes mean that the wealth gap separating the top 7 percent and everyone else increased from 18-to-1 to 24-to-1 between 2009 and 2011,” the Washington Post reported.

Public opinion of George W. Bush is improving

As George W. Bush’s presidential library is set to open Thursday, Americans are changing their opinion of the former president. When he left office in 2009, Bush’s approval rating was at 33 percent. A new Washington Post/ABC News survey shows Bush with a 47 percent approval rating (the same as President Obama). That is Bush’s highest approval rating since December 2005. The biggest gain was in Bush’s handling of the economy, which went from 24 percent approval in 2008 to 43 percent today. However, 57 percent of Americans still disapprove of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

Norquist on side of immigration reformers

Predictably, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was a star witness at Monday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill, fearmongering about its potential to lead to more attacks like the Boston Marathon bombings. But another witness, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist (in photo), surprised some with his testimony in favor of reform, arguing that “people are an asset, they’re not a liability,” and that those who would make the nation less immigrant-friendly “would also make us less successful, less prosperous and certainly less American.” Afterward, Norquist tweeted: “Anti-immigrant witnesses @ Senate Judiciary hearing were quite weak. The communities of faith, farmers and business guys are all with Reagan.” When Norquist visited Topeka in January with a similar message for conservative legislators, Kobach responded that Norquist “has no legal expertise in immigration law.”

Busch beer heir has had it with the NRA

The National Rifle Association won the legislative fight against new gun-control measures but lost one of its prominent members. Adolphus Busch IV, who has been an NRA member since 1975, asked that his name be removed from the NRA membership roles. “The NRA I see today has undermined the values upon which it was established,” he wrote in a letter to NRA president David Keene. “Your current strategic focus places a priority on the needs of gun and ammunition manufacturers while disregarding the opinions of your 4 million individual members” (74 percent of whom, he noted, support universal background checks).

State joins Wichita in cracking down on human trafficking

Law enforcement authorities in Wichita can take pride in having helped pass the state’s new anti-human trafficking law, which Gov. Sam Brownback signed Monday. Because of local officials’ good work investigating and prosecuting such cases in recent years, traffickers now will face tougher justice statewide, as vulnerable victims and survivors are handled with more care and compassion. “Kansas has made great strides forward in the fight against modern-day slavery with this new law,” said Brownback, who was a leader in the global fight during his time in the U.S. Senate. As the bill passed the Legislature unanimously, though, one concern got too little attention: its resulting costs to local governments. In February, Sedgwick County commissioners were told by county staff that such legislation would cost the county about $255,000 more a year.

Jesus, Mary and new abortion law

An Associated Press photo showing “JESUS + Mary” written at the top of Gov. Sam Brownback’s notes about the abortion bill he signed Friday has received some national media notice. The sweeping bill blocks tax deductions for abortion providers and those who receive abortions, requires abortion clinics to provide information about how abortion may cause an increase in breast cancer, and declares that life begins “at fertilization.” The typewritten portion of Brownback’s notes stated that the bill would create “a culture of life” in Kansas.

Deputize all Kansas gun owners?

Proponents of the Second Amendment Protection Act, which Gov. Sam Brownback signed last week, see no legal problem with its wording exempting Kansas-made guns from federal laws. But Robert Cottrol, a law professor at George Washington University, told the Huffington Post that the Constitution’s commerce clause generally covers trade within a single state that affects trade in a given industry nationwide. He suggested another way to exempt Kansas gun owners from federal gun laws: “Declare a large number of citizens deputies. That would be in the power of state government.”

Push-back on closing air towers transcends party, geography

“We don’t have the money to keep the towers open. We simply don’t,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a House committee last week. But the fight against LaHood’s plan to close 149 air-traffic control towers is strong and bipartisan, spanning the likes of Sen. Jerry Moran (in photo), R-Kan., and actor and pilot Harrison Ford. “General aviation is more than guys in corporate aircraft,” Ford told Bloomberg. “It’s police and fire services. It’s EMS. It’s a guy flying his fish to market. It’s tractor parts getting to a rancher or a farmer. It’s a broad range of businesses that are affected.” On the administration’s plan, Moran told Bloomberg: “There’s a rural aspect to it that certainly catches my attention, but it’s more a belief in government doing its job responsibly as compared to seat of the pants.”

Acts of bravery, dedication amid tragedies

The bombings in Boston and the explosion at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, again showed Americans the bravery and dedication of law enforcement and other first responders. Boston police and medical personnel rushed to the bomb site to aid victims. Then local and federal law enforcement worked nonstop to identify and apprehend those responsible. In Texas, firefighters and other emergency responders gave their lives trying to prevent the explosion. Other acts of heroism occur every day in this country but often go unnoticed.

Still want to be like Texas?

Is Gov. Sam Brownback sure that Kansas should be like Texas? An annual report by the Texas Legislative Study Group lists some of that state’s poor performance measures, including that it’s first among states in the percentage of population uninsured, 50th in percentage of pregnant women receiving prenatal care in first trimester, first in amount of hazardous waste generated, 50th in percentage of population who graduated from high school, 47th in average SAT combined scores, seventh in percentage of children living in poverty, third in percentage of population with food insecurity, 44th in median net worth of households, and 50th in per capita state spending on mental health.