GOP looks strong in most down-ballot statewide races

thumbsupdownBeyond the headline, which was “Roberts, Brownback both struggling in Kansas,” the latest survey results from Public Policy Polling were about as expected in this heavily Republican state. Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s lead over Democrat Jean Schodorf was only 43 to 38 percent in the survey of 903 likely voters conducted Aug. 14-17, but Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Treasurer Ron Estes were favored by 24 percentage points over their respective Democratic challengers, A.J. Kotich and Carmen Alldritt. And Ken Selzer, the winner of this month’s GOP primary for insurance commissioner, was leading Democrat Dennis Anderson 43 to 29 percent. One data point further indicates that losing GOP challenger Milton Wolf has left a mark on Kansans’ view of Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.: 61 percent said the senior senator does not spend enough time in Kansas.

State support of universities likely to keep dropping

collegetuitionState funding makes up about 20 percent of the total operating expenditures of Kansas’ public universities, down from 28 percent in 2008, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. In 10 years, the percentage of state support could drop into the single digits, said Kansas State University president Kirk Schulz. “Our financial picture will look much more like a private, middle-sized university,” Schulz said. As a result, much more of the cost of higher education will be shifted to students and families, who already have seen tuition rates soar during the past decade.

Response to Davis’ call to Tiahrt a sign of divided times

donkeyelephantfightThe phone message that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis left last week for former GOP congressman Todd Tiahrt and his wife, Vicki Tiahrt, was a simple act of kindness. “I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry the election results did not turn out as hoped,” Davis said, reacting to Todd Tiahrt’s loss in his GOP primary bid to unseat successor Mike Pompeo. And the Tiahrts showed similar grace in noting the voice-mail message approvingly on Facebook. But some of the responses to their posts were disappointing, with people calling Davis a “socialist,” telling the Tiahrts they were “being gamely played by Davis” and to “beware of the dark side,” and bringing abortion into it. Yes, social media can be rough these days, but have politics so divided people that they have to seize upon a gracious nonpartisan gesture and rip it to shreds? If so, how sad.

Union Station TIF deserves public hearing

unionstation1Though Wichita’s downtown reinvention is ongoing, bringing more people and activity to the city’s core, Union Station remains on the to-redo list. The Wichita City Council should take the opportunity on Tuesday’s agenda to set an Oct. 7 public hearing for the establishment of a tax increment financing district to help get the historic property’s overhaul underway. Old urban train stations have proved challenging to redevelop nationally. But owner Gary Oborny’s $54 million plan seems realistic – 275,000 square feet of historic renovation and new construction mixing retail, restaurants and office space. It’s the kind of development needed to further enliven the key corridor between Old Town and the Intrust Bank Arena. And the pay-as-you-go basis for the TIF-funded improvements means “the city assumes no financial risk for the project,” according to city documents. One political aside: Within 30 days of any council approval of the TIF district, the Sedgwick County Commission as well as the USD 259 school board would be asked to approve or veto it. The time frame presumably would dodge any hard-right turn the County Commission might take in the November general election, because those elected won’t be sworn in until January.

Is Brownback an education governor?

bbackgovGov. Sam Brownback is trying to cast himself as an education governor, arguing that he has overseen “record school funding.” But a Kansas City Star editorial noted that the funding increases were mostly for the state’s pension system and for building and other capital costs. “The money school districts rely on to make their payrolls, purchase classrooms supplies and meet other day-to-day expenses is $548 less on a per-student basis than it was six years ago,” the editorial said. Brownback deserves credit for helping shore up the pension fund, the editorial argued, “but being a ‘pension governor’ isn’t the same as an education governor.”

Americans losing optimism about the future

libertyflagMore than three-fourths of American adults lack confidence that their children’s generation will have a better life than they do, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. That’s a record high. What’s more, the lack of faith is shared by Americans of all income levels, races, ages and ideologies. “This fractious nation is united by one thing: lost faith in the United States,” wrote Dana Milbank of the Washington Post. They also agree on another thing: 71 percent blame the nation’s economic problems mostly on the inability of elected officials in Washington, D.C., to get things done.

Dubious, bogus and utterly phony headlines

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

Obama Has Colorado Appraised

GlaxoSmithKline Releases New Drug to Treat People Who Just Feel Sort of Weird Sometimes

Johnny Manziel Forced to Wear Cleveland Browns Jersey in Cruel Rookie Hazing Incident

Cavaliers Agree to Trade Andrew Wiggins, LeBron James for Kevin Love

Buying Everything Hairstylist Recommends Would Cost $8,000

Unlucky couple of weeks for Brownback campaign

bbackwinGov. Sam Brownback’s re-election campaign has been having a string of bad luck lately. Brownback won the GOP primary earlier this month, but all the talk was about how his unknown opponent garnered 37 percent of the vote. Then at a GOP celebration event the next day, Brownback had to deal with questions about Standard & Poor’s downgrading the state’s credit rating. Then on the same day last week that Brownback unveiled his new campaign “road map,” Rasmussen Reports released a poll showing Brownback trailing his Democratic challenger, Paul Davis, by 10 percentage points. Then it was discovered that his new campaign commercial included a shot in which a Davis campaign sign could be seen behind Brownback. It could be a long campaign unless his luck picks up.

So they said

norquist“Kansas has passed law to phase out the personal and corporate income tax as state revenue increases over time. This is why Left is livid.” – Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist (in photo), on Twitter earlier this month

“The biggest, shiniest prize for Democrats this November is in the most unlikely state – Kansas.” – Fox News political analyst Juan Williams, mentioning the gubernatorial race in a column for the Hill

“An idea: A national news organization should put a reporter in Kansas from Labor Day until Election Day. Absolutely fascinating state.” – Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza, tweeting after GOP primary

Poll suggests Pat Roberts can’t exhale yet

roberts3A Rasmussen Reports poll this week indicated that a fourth term for Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., still isn’t a sure thing, even though he dispatched tea partier Milton Wolf in the GOP primary. The firm found Roberts leading Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, the Democratic candidate, by only 44 to 40 percent – though 34 percent hadn’t heard of Taylor. Roberts was favored by male voters (49 to 38 percent) and Taylor by women (43 to 39 percent) and younger voters (41 to 32 percent), as reported by the Lawrence Journal-World. The poll also showed a sizable 49 percent unfavorable view of Roberts – likely at least in part because the survey was done right after his nasty TV ad war with Wolf. The poll didn’t include the wild-card candidacy of well-funded independent Greg Orman. But the Cook Political Report switched the Senate race in Kansas from “Solid R” to “Likely R,” and the New York Times’ politics blog the Upshot observed: “It’s hard to imagine Mr. Roberts actually losing, but something is brewing in Kansas.”

Negative ads deserve condemnation, not awards

mud.jpbBelieve it or not, some of the despicable political mailers you receive this election may end up winning awards. The American Association of Political Consultants’ annual awards include 10 categories devoted to “negative/contrast” ads, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Two mailers from 2012 that targeted then-Kansas Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, won awards, even though the mailers made outrageous claims – such as accusing Morris of spending “over a third of a billion dollars renovating his offices.” “I think that’s probably as low as you can go in politics,” Morris said of the awards. “That’s rewarding evil.”

WSU being proactive on transportation

wsucampusIt seemed like Wichita State University president John Bardo was asking for trouble in sacrificing about 800 parking spaces to build a new dorm, among other changes on what had always been a car-focused campus. But as Shocker Hall opens and the semester begins, credit WSU with trying to be proactive in dealing with the new challenges, including adjustment to a permit-only parking system. The university has added a lot at 21st and Oliver to the parking at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex at 29th Street North and Oliver already served by its free WSU shuttle bus system, which started last August and now makes 13 campus stops. An on-demand shuttle will help some students and staff after hours. And starting Monday a Wichita Transit bus route will include four stops on campus. Still, getting used to the changes will take time and patience.

Wealth gap also a problem for economy

wealthyThe growing divide between the rich and everyone else isn’t just a fairness issue; it’s also a problem for the economy. The rating agency Standard & Poor’s lowered its growth projections for the U.S. economy because of the divide. It said that the wealth gap makes the economy more prone to boom-bust cycles and has slowed the recovery from the recession. Many economists agree, arguing that a healthy middle class is important to societal stability and economic growth. There is less agreement about what should be done about the divide. Economist Thomas Piketty argues for a wealth tax in his best-selling book, “Capital in the 21st Century,” while S&P favors increasing educational opportunities.

KanCare needs to pay its bills on time

healthcaregovIt wasn’t surprising that none of the three insurance companies that manage KanCare met the state’s benchmark for timeliness in processing claims. Soon after the state privatized managing Medicaid last year, providers began complaining about late payments. The problems were so bad that some providers had to hire more staff just to argue with the insurance companies. The delayed payments also created cash-flow problems for many clinics and hospitals. Though the situation has improved, it’s still a concern. From April through June of this year, there were more than 500 grievances filed against the three companies, many involving billing and timeliness.

More tough polling news for Brownback

bbackmugPaul Davis, Democratic candidate for Kansas governor.  2014The new Rasmussen Reports poll in the governor’s race was quite a switch from mid-April, when the firm found incumbent Sam Brownback (left) leading House Minority Leader Paul Davis (right) 47 to 40 percent. Now Rasmussen says Davis is leading 51 to 41 percent – even though, as reported by the Lawrence Journal-World, 19 percent of those polled haven’t heard of him. That’s a powerful reflection of Kansans’ discontent with Brownback, as are the findings that 40 percent approve of the job he is doing and 49 percent say the budget situation has worsened in the past year. Davis leads among women, men and all age groups, with Brownback much preferred by those who haven’t finished high school or pursued schooling beyond it. The survey of 750 “likely voters” was conducted on Aug. 6-7, the two days after the governor lost 37 percent of Republicans to an unknown primary challenger.

Kansas senators hardly the biggest spenders

monopolymanKansas Republicans Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts showed up midway through a ranking of what U.S. Senate offices cost in a year. According to data from the Sunlight Foundation, Moran’s office spent $2.6 million between April 2013 and March 2014, compared with the $2.5 million spent by Roberts’ office. The biggest spenders were California Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, who each spent more than $4 million, followed by Florida Republican Marco Rubio and Texas Republicans Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. In going over the numbers, which don’t include costs of leadership offices, the Washington Post noted that the Senate spent more than $370,000 in a year in staff costs on hairstylists and barbers.

At least disclosure violation is in the past

capitoldomeIt’s disconcerting that the state of Kansas violated investment disclosure laws when it sold bonds several years ago, though it’s good that the problem appears to be in the past. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced this week that the state had failed to adequately disclose the poor financial condition of its pension plan when issuing bonds in 2009 and 2010 to pay for state projects. The SEC issued a cease-and-desist order against the state. To its credit, Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration already had changed how the state handles the disclosures. Brownback and the Legislature also reformed the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to improve its solvency.

Public should be able to see election office work

lehman,tabithaThough some voters said their polling sites had been changed without notification, and there were poll book mix-ups involving the husband and son of candidate Carolyn McGinn, Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman (in photo) is due some credit for avoiding a repeat last week of the problems of 2012. But why the sudden secrecy in her office? First Lehman and county officials denied news reporters the usual access to watch the counting of votes on Election Night. Then organizers of the marijuana petition drive complained that they weren’t allowed to watch as the signatures were counted. The election office is doing essential public business, not dealing with sensitive personnel or legal issues. Maintaining public trust requires that the public, which often means the media, be able to watch the office work whenever it wants, but especially as votes and petition signatures are counted.

Ideological divide in Kansas House unlikely to change

statehouseDespite well-financed efforts by conservative and moderate groups to defeat certain GOP state lawmakers, only three Republican incumbents in the Kansas House lost their primaries last week – one of whom was Rep. Joe Edwards, R-Haysville. Thus, unless Democrats pick up a significant number of seats in the general election, the ideological disposition of the House will likely remain the same next session, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. “The re-creation of a moderate-Democrat working majority in the House is now probably beyond reach in 2014,” said Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party.

Wall Street Journal editorial congratulates Kansas voters

pompeo2Because the incumbents all won, Kansas’ GOP primary didn’t deliver the drama that had been forecast for the congressional races by the national political media. But the Wall Street Journal editorial board hailed the victories of “spending reformers” Mike Pompeo (in photo) and Tim Huelskamp over “challenges from corporate rent-seekers. Their victories ought to give Republicans in Congress the confidence to buck crony capitalists,” the editorial board wrote. The editorial noted approvingly that both had voted against the farm bill, that Huelskamp wants to eliminate the pro-ethanol renewable fuel standard and that Pompeo wants to end all energy subsidies, also describing Todd Tiahrt as Pompeo’s “pork-barrel predecessor.” It concluded: “Congratulations to Kansas voters for rewarding principle, and we hope Republicans across the country take the message.”

GOP struggling with low favorability ratings

elephantupsidedownA new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that only 35 percent of the public has a favorable view of the GOP (49 percent for the Democratic Party). But the numbers get even worse when divided by gender, race and age. Only 33 percent of women have a favorable view of the GOP. Only 16 percent of African-Americans and 29 percent of Latinos view the GOP favorably. And among adults ages 18-29, only 31 percent view the GOP favorably. Also of note, 51 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the job that their own member of Congress is doing

Voter-impersonation fraud is nearly nonexistent

voteridThe purpose of voter ID requirements, such as the one in Kansas, to is prevent someone from showing up to vote and pretending to be someone else. But how often does that actually happen? Almost never. Justin Levitt of the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles documented every known allegation of voter-impersonation fraud nationwide since 2000. Out of more than 1 billion votes cast during that 14-year period, he found only 31 alleged cases of impersonation fraud. That’s less that 0.0000031 percent. What’s more, it’s unclear how many of the 31 cases were actual fraud; several may just be computer or data-entry mistakes. To stop this nonexistent problem, 34 states have passed voter ID laws, potentially disenfranchising thousands and thousands of voters.

So they said

brewer,carl“You can’t get blood from a turnip. They don’t have it to give us.” – Mayor Carl Brewer (in photo), on a suggestion that the city seek $20 million a year from the state to help fund the Equus Beds recharge project

“He’s much funnier. I don’t try to compete with him.” – Former Sen. Bob Dole, on MSNBC, on whether he or Sen. Pat Roberts is funnier

“Is Roberts dust in the wind or will he carry on?” – Headline on a Fox News online story before last week’s primary between Sen. Pat Roberts and Milton Wolf

“Can you believe that? The next Ted Cruz is Barack Obama’s unapologetic conservative cousin.” – Wolf, in the Washington Post, visiting with Eureka voters before losing the primary

Food truck delivering meals, hope

lordsdinertruckThe Lord’s Diner thought that it could help a lot of people by stationing a food truck in the Hilltop neighborhood. It certainly is. The truck started out last month serving about 500 dinners a night. Now it plans for 900 meals. The Lord’s Diner, which is a ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, opened its downtown site in 2002. It has since added a location in the Planeview neighborhood and has another food truck at the Evergreen Recreation Center. This past spring the ministry served its 2 millionth meal. As the Hilltop truck shows, the need is still great.

How would sales-tax and pot questions affect each other?

marijuanaWhile failing to persuade his former colleagues on the Wichita City Council to postpone the city sales tax vote until after the spring municipal election, state Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, suggested that its passage would be especially unlikely in November if the marijuana referendum also made that ballot. “I don’t believe many of those supporters are going to be supporting a sales tax,” O’Donnell said. The marijuana question seemed doomed by Friday, with the petition short of the needed registered voters’ signatures. But supporters said they would urge the council to put the question to voters anyway. The confluence of those ballot questions in Wichita, along with a competitive gubernatorial race, could make for a larger local turnout and unpredictable outcomes.