Monthly Archives: August 2013

Curbing water use would have big impact on aquifer

If current irrigation trends continue, 69 percent of the groundwater stored in the Ogallala Aquifer in western Kansas will be depleted in 50 years, according to a new study published by David Steward, a professor of civil engineering at Kansas State University, and other K-State researchers. But the hopeful news is that immediately reducing water use could extend the aquifer’s life through the year 2110. “We really wrote the paper for the family farmer who wants to pass his land on to his grandchildren knowing that they will have the same opportunities that farmers do today,” Steward said in a news release. “As a society, we have an opportunity to make some important decisions that will have consequences for future generations, who may or may not be limited by those decisions.”

Technical-ed initiative a big hit

State legislation passed last year to encourage career and technical education is a big hit, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Under the initiative championed by Gov. Sam Brownback, the state pays the tuition cost of high school students who take classes at local community and technical colleges during their junior and senior years. Last school year, the number of high school students in such classes increased 50 percent, from 3,870 students to 5,800. It is expected to keep growing this year. The initiative comes with a cost, however: $12 million last year.

Should Wichita rename its new airport?

Jan Harrison and Phil Thompson of 104.5 “The Fox” started a petition drive to name the new airport terminal “Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower International Airport.” So far, more than 850 people support the idea, including former Sen. Bob Dole. What do you think? Wichita Mid-Continent Airport is an OK name, but as Harrison argues, it “is not memorable and a bit lackluster.” It’s also a hand-me-down name, as we took it after Kansas City renamed its airport.

Could be years to determine impact of state tax cuts

So far, the state’s income tax cuts haven’t acted like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy, as Gov. Sam Brownback said they would. Nor is that likely in the near future, according to top economists at the Kansas Department of Labor. They said this week that it was too early to tell if the tax changes are having an effect on job growth, and that it might take up to five years to determine the impact on employment, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

No surprise that Brownback didn’t release court names

It was no surprise that Gov. Sam Brownback redacted the names of applicants for a position on the Kansas Court of Appeals when responding this week to an open-records request. Brownback has made clear that he won’t follow the long-standing practice of a bipartisan nominating commission – which previously vetted and recommended nominees – and release the names of applicants, despite claims that the new nominating process would increase transparency. The concern of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, which sought the records, is valid: How can the public evaluate whether Brownback’s nominee – his chief counsel, Caleb Stegall – is indeed the most-qualified candidate, as Brownback said, if they don’t know who else applied? Still, obtaining the records likely wouldn’t change anything. Brownback nominated who he wanted, and the Kansas Senate is expected to confirm that pick next week.

Roberts now backs brinkmanship on Obamacare

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has now signed on to a campaign to shut down the federal government if necessary to block the Affordable Care Act. Roberts was the 14th GOP senator to support the threat – a strategy dismissed by many GOP leaders as crazy and a repeat of the politically disastrous government shutdown in 1995-96. Roberts joined the campaign after being targeted in an online ad by tea party groups. All four U.S. House members from Kansas were already on board. That leaves Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., as the only delegation member who hasn’t endorsed this brinkmanship.

Huelskamp challenged at town hall meeting

Some citizens at a town hall meeting Tuesday at Garden City Community College challenged Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, on his opposition to the Affordable Care Act and comprehensive immigration reform, the Garden City Telegraph reported. Leonard Rodenbur recounted how Obamacare has enabled his son to stay on his parent’s insurance and his daughter to get insurance despite a pre-existing condition, helped his mother-in-law afford her prescriptions because the Medicare Part D “donut hole” closed, and caused his brother-in-law to receive a reimbursement check from his insurance company. “You guys take that away, it’s going to go right back to insurance companies,” Rodenbur said. Sister Janice Thome of the Dominican Sisterhood in Garden City told Huelskamp that many religious organizations favor improving the legal immigration process, uniting separated families, legalizing undocumented workers to some extent, and establishing opportunities for permanent residency. As is his pattern, Huelskamp turned both comments into criticisms of President Obama.

Roberts thinks NSA program is needed

Though he doesn’t like the press coverage of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, or how President Obama has handled the leaks, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., thinks the program is needed. “The Constitution is not a suicide pact,” Roberts said at a Rotary Club meeting Monday in Salina. “The danger is still out there.” Roberts, who previously served as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he gives “the benefit of the doubt to the NSA,” but he acknowledged that “this has been a public-relations nightmare.”

Court backs Holder’s view on gun law

When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder wrote Gov. Sam Brownback this spring informing him that the state’s new “Made in Kansas” gun law was unconstitutional, Brownback responded that “the people of Kansas have clearly expressed their sovereign will.” But the courts are siding with Holder. A federal appeals court ruled last week against a similar law in Montana that says that firearms or ammunition that are manufactured in that state and remain within its borders are not subject to federal law or federal regulations. The Ninth Circuit ruled the law was preempted by federal law requiring gun sellers to record transactions, pay license fees and open their business to government inspectors, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Kansas Attorney General’s Office warned lawmakers last session that the law would be unenforceable – but they passed it anyway.

Writings, interviews add information about Stegall

Gov. Sam Brownback has released little information about Caleb Stegall, his nominee for the Kansas Court of Appeals. But the Topeka Capital-Journal examined some of the writings and interviews Stegall has done over the years. For example, in a 2005 interview with the website God Spy, Stegall described his work as editor of the New Pantagruel, an online magazine with a “radically new vision for humanity and the world.” He urged people to “read the classics and the church fathers instead of junk fiction and self-help crap. And, then, go about the hard work of learning the discipline of place. Get married. Have kids, lots of them. Don’t turn them over to others to raise.” Stegall also has criticized the controlling tendencies of liberals and conservatives. In a column he wrote for the Kansas Liberty website, Stegall said the political left was caught up in dreams of “an egalitarian utopia and of running everything by federal fiat,” while the political right was dreaming of “a Christian nation with social control and corporate giveaways.”

Dubious, bogus and utterly phony headlines

The following satirical headlines come from theonion.com:

Obama Deeply Concerned After Syrians Gassed to Death on White House Lawn

Israel Builds New Settlement to Host Palestinian Peace Talks

Psychiatrist Patiently Listens to Obama Complain about Every Single American

Economists Advise Nation’s Poor to Invent the Next Facebook

Few know about Common Core

The new Common Core education standards that Kansas and 44 other states are adopting received a lot of attention this past legislative session, as some lawmakers wrongly claimed that the standards were part of a federal takeover of education. But nearly two-thirds of Americans have never heard of the Common Core, according to a survey by Gallup and PDK International. And among the third who have heard of Common Core, only four in 10 said the standards will help make education in the United States more competitive globally.

SMG deal could benefit Orpheum

Once destined for demolition, the Orpheum Theatre is now a valued showplace for an eclectic array of live acts and film showings. The management deal in the works with SMG seems a positive step, given SMG’s booking power and administrative and accounting expertise. Best of all, such an arrangement might enable local Orpheum backers to concentrate on raising money to finish the 91-year-old theater’s long-running restoration. Certainly, Philadelphia-based SMG has proved its professionalism by managing the 3-year-old Intrust Bank Arena, which was about $301,000 in the black through June for the year and has a strong fall schedule. Any Orpheum deal would need to ensure the facility is no less affordable and available to nonprofit organizations and charity events.

KU chancellor’s support for Wichita campus is strong

The reason for University of Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little’s recent visit to Wichita was an exciting one for the community – to emphasize the importance of the KU School of Medicine-Wichita to KU and the state, and to drum up support for KU’s request for an additional $4.5 million in state funding to double the class size of the Wichita campus and to pay physician faculty. In a meeting with The Eagle editorial board, Gray-Little noted that the generous private funding that enabled the campus to expand to a four-year program in 2011 was not sufficient to sustain the program and help it expand to 56 first- and second-year students. Now, KU’s stated support for the Wichita campus needs to be backed up by state dollars.

Does Kansas have one transportation agency or two?

Did the Kansas Turnpike Authority and Department of Transportation merge after all? As the bill cleared the wary Legislature, its promoters stressed that it was not the full merger that Gov. Sam Brownback had wanted, and the governor said when he signed the bill in April that “there will still be two transportation agencies in Kansas.” But Brownback told the Wall Street Journal in June that Kansas is “combining the turnpike authority with the overall highway department in the state” and told the Pittsburg Morning Sun this month that “we think we’ve got quite a bit of money we can come up with in moving those two organizations together.” The bill says that the secretary of transportation shall serve as the director of operations of the authority and mentions KDOT and KTA contracting with each other, but that the “Kansas Turnpike Authority shall retain its separate identity, powers and duties as an instrumentality of the state.” Maybe the new reality will be made clear at the governor’s Sept. 5 transportation summit at Emporia State University, to be co-hosted by the governor and Transportation Secretary Mike King.

Discerning eyes see plenty of beauty in Kansas

So a Business Insider poll declared Kansas as having the worst scenery in the nation, while picking neighboring Colorado’s as the best? Well, maybe if you need to be hit over the head by a view to see its beauty. But those with a discerning eye know that mountains, oceans or forests don’t have a monopoly on scenic splendor. The beauty of Kansas is subtle, but the state’s lush open spaces, diverse topography and abundant wildlife can inspire awe – in the spacious and undulating Flint Hills (in photo), of course, but in many other places in the state. Don’t believe it? Check out The Eagle’s online gallery of images of Kansas at its least ugly.

So they said

“I don’t like this bill, but I’ve decided to quit hollerin’ about it.” – Sen. Pat Roberts (in photo), R-Kan., speaking in Garden City about his hope that a dispute about food stamps can be resolved so the new farm bill can pass both chambers

“I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” – Roberts again, patting a sedated spotted leopard at Great Bend’s Brit Spaugh Zoo

“I get my back up when people say that.” – Gov. Sam Brownback, on the Pittsburg Morning Sun’s suggestion that his administration has cut K-12 funding

“Wonder if Pres. Obama’s new dog Sunny gets its own plane too?” – Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, on Twitter

Brownback once criticized judicial nomination stealth

When President George W. Bush nominated his legal counsel, Harriet Miers, to the U.S. Supreme Court, then-Sen. Kansas Sam Brownback complained about Miers’ lack of a judicial record and the White House’s unwillingness to release information about her work. “Why do you need stealth?” Brownback asked at the time. That makes Brownback’s nomination last week of his own legal counsel, Caleb Stegall (in photo), to the Kansas Court of Appeals a strange “deja vu role reversal,” wrote Tim Carpenter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. Stegall also doesn’t have a judicial record, and Brownback isn’t providing information about Stegall’s work in the executive branch (or releasing the names of other applicants for the court opening). “The governor is setting precedent in Kansas by placing a lid on unwelcomed requests for executive branch information capable of helping the public clarify a nominee’s record,” Carpenter wrote, adding that “this new mantra of stealth, in Kansas judicial circles, could be called the Stegall Rule.”

State leaders need to stand up to Kobach

Now Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is suing the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to try to force it to modify the federal voter registration form to allow for requiring proof of citizenship. Rather than let Kobach continue his charade, other state leaders need to stand up, our Friday editorial argues. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Gov. Sam Brownback need to speak out and defend the 15,000 Kansans so far who have had their voting rights “suspended.” And Kansas legislators need to realize that they were misled by phony fears of voter fraud and rescind the proof-of-citizenship requirement. If they won’t step up and take charge, it will be up to the courts to rein in Kobach – again.

Should churches be able to endorse candidates?

A new report by a group of faith leaders calls for an end to the ban on churches and other houses of worship endorsing political candidates, the Washington Post reported. The faith leaders – mostly conservative evangelical pastors – argue that it is a free-speech issue and complain that the current decades-old ban is poorly enforced. Some argue that lifting the endorsement ban might not have a significant impact, because many churches would be concerned about driving away members who don’t like mixing partisan politics and religion. Overall, only 27 percent of Americans think churches should endorse candidates, with 66 percent opposed, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Pompeo won’t be like Huelskamp; will help constituents

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, isn’t following the lead of Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, who has said that he won’t help constituents with the Affordable Care Act. Though Pompeo opposes the health care law and wants to repeal it, he told The Eagle editorial board that his office will do its best to help constituents with whatever questions they have. Earlier this summer Huelskamp said that his office would tell constituents to “call your former governor,” referring to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. At a town hall meeting this week in Hutchinson, Huelskamp said his office wouldn’t be encouraging constituents to sign up for Obamacare.

Six’s endorsement of Stegall stands out

Of all the weighty names mentioned as having endorsed Caleb Stegall, Gov. Sam Brownback’s chief counsel, for the new 14th seat on the Kansas Court of Appeals, that of former Kansas Attorney General Steve Six (in photo) stood out. Six is a Democrat who was on the other side of Stegall on abortion-related cases involving former Attorney General Phill Kline. But his endorsement, and the governor’s decision to highlight it, is even more remarkable because of how conservative Republicans in Kansas conspired to trash Six’s name related to abortion and, with the shameless help of Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, block President Obama’s nomination of Six to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals two years ago. Given that context, Six’s letter describing Stegall as a “deep thinker, a scholar of the law,” “highly principled, ethical,” “always prepared and diligent” and someone who “would make a terrific addition” to the court carries particular meaning.

Roberts didn’t mean to endorse Yellen

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., inadvertently made national political news Monday in Wichita when he was asked at the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association annual meeting about a successor for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. “I wouldn’t want Larry Summers to mow my yard,” Roberts said of the former Treasury secretary. “He’s terribly controversial and brusque and I don’t think he works well with either side of the aisle, quite frankly.” Though he expressed reservations about Federal Reserve Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen as well, Roberts’ comments at the meeting about her being “very solid in how she approaches fiscal matters, the economy and the Fed” came across as an endorsement. He later told Politico that he was “not putting Yellen yard signs out in Kansas” and had already planned to vote against her out of concern that she would continue “easy money” policies. “I never intended to endorse her,” Roberts said. “I don’t like being the lone coyote on the Hill saying I’m for her.”

‘Pillars of Islam’ display taken out of context

So public school administrators now must worry about something on a wall being photographed and then uploaded for cultural warriors everywhere to see, misunderstand and condemn. That’s chilling and sad, our Wednesday editorial argues. Someone took a photo of a bulletin board at Wichita’s Minneha Core Knowledge Magnet Elementary School showing the Five Pillars of Islam. The photo was then widely distributed via social media, along with claims that the school had “banned all forms of Christian prayer.” The truth is that, in context, the bulletin board fit perfectly into the core knowledge curriculum’s study of the five major religions of the world – Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. The point was not to promote religion but to serve fourth-grade social studies this fall.

Kansas unemployment rate rises again

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Kansas was 5.9 percent in July. That’s the third straight month that the unemployment rate has increased. The Kansas Department of Labor attributed the increase to more people entering the job market and noted that the number of private-sector jobs continued to grow. Others question the impact of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts. “Though advocates of substantial tax cuts promised a shot of adrenaline to the Kansas economy, so far it’s more like a shot of Valium,” said Annie McKay of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth and Amy Blouin of the Missouri Budget Project, writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week.