Author Archives: Phillip Brownlee

Public meeting was constructive, excellent first step

forumCity officials and all who participated in a “community intervention conversation” last Thursday should be congratulated. They dealt openly and honestly with a difficult subject, and did so in a constructive and proactive manner. The meeting was held in response to recent events in Ferguson, Mo., where unarmed black teen Michael Brown was shot by a white police officer. Much of the conversation focused on ways to improve policing and bolster community and police relations. One of the most concrete and positive outcomes was Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer’s commitment to try to find the money “to man-up every officer with a camera.” More discussions and reforms are needed, but the Thursday meeting was a excellent first step.

Review state standard on child abuse

When a Kansas policy is out of step with all other states, it merits further review – particularly when it involves child abuse. As an Eagle news article reported last Sunday, Kansas is the only state in the country that requires clear and convincing evidence of child abuse or neglect before someone can be put on a state registry that bans him or her from living, working or regularly volunteering in a state-regulated child-care facility – including foster homes. Other states have a lower burden of proof. Kansas raised its standard in 2004 to be more consistent with state law. But 10 years of being it place, it is a good time to review the law to see if the higher standard is still appropriate or if it is putting children at risk and should be lowered.

Anti-abortion groups criticize ‘After Tiller’ documentary

tillermovieAnti-abortion groups are upset about a documentary airing Monday at 9 p.m. on KPTS, Channel 8, and on other public broadcasting stations. “After Tiller” profiles the four doctors in the United States still openly performing late-term abortions after the the 2009 assassination of Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller. It also examines the reasons women seek late abortions. National Right to Life described the film as “an unabashed love story, so to speak, about the successors to a man who specialized in late, late abortions.” Judie Brown, president of American Life League, complained about tax dollars being used to broadcast a film that is “nothing short of pure propaganda intended to demonize the entire pro-life movement and drum up support for late-term abortion.”

Why was Kobach on delinquent tax list?

kobach2One of the things a candidate for public office never wants to see is his name on a list of delinquent taxpayers. But Secretary of State Kris Kobach had the embarrassment of having to explain why he was on the Douglas County list of delinquent property taxes that was published in the Lawrence Journal-World. Kobach lives in Wyandotte County but owns property in Douglas County. Kobach told the Journal-World that he challenged the valuation on the property but either didn’t receive or didn’t notice the revised valuation notice. Kobach paid the $614.32 tax bill on Aug. 13, the same day the delinquent tax list was published in the newspaper.

Immigration shouldn’t be top issue of secretary of state race

kobachcandidKansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is locked in a tight race with Democrat Jean Schodorf. Both candidates have 46 percent support in the latest SurveyUSA poll, sponsored by KSN, Channel 3. But where Kobach is succeeding is in making immigration a top issue of the campaign, even though it has little to nothing to do with the office. Of those surveyed, 37 percent said that immigration was the most important issue, followed by 21 percent who said voter registration. Among those concerned about immigration, Kobach leads Schodorf by 32 points.

So the independent polls are inaccurate?

thumbsupdownGov. Sam Brownback’s campaign tried to dismiss a new SurveyUSA poll showing Brownback trailing Democrat Paul Davis by 8 points. “SurveyUSA has a history of inaccurate polling and this is more of the same,” the campaign said in a statement. Actually, SurveyUSA has been one of the more accurate polls in recent state elections. And what about the latest Rasmussen Reports poll, which is Republican leaning and showed Davis up by 10 points? Or the latest survey by Public Policy Polling, which had Davis up by 2 points? Meanwhile, the Brownback campaign released its own “internal poll” Tuesday showing Brownback leading by 1 point. Obviously, much could change between now and the November election, and Brownback and his allies will continue to try to paint Davis as a lackey of President Obama. But the SurveyUSA poll, which was sponsored by KSN, Channel 3, shows the hole Brownback is in right now: He trails Davis in every age, gender and racial category.

Kobach is ‘go-to’ guy on immigration lawsuits

kobach2Secretary of State Kris Kobach was profiled by Reuters news service as “the most prominent figure among a small group of lawyers working to punch legal holes in (President) Obama’s immigration policies.” The article noted that Kobach is challenging “Obama’s 2012 decision to grant temporary deportation relief and work permits to young people brought to the United States illegally as children by their parents” – though many legal experts don’t expect him to get far. If Obama announces new major immigration policy changes, as expected, Kobach likely will be part of a legal challenge. Meanwhile, Kobach was in Denver Monday arguing before an appeals court that voters who register using a federal form should have to provide proof-of-citizenship documents. His Democratic opponent in the November election, former state Sen. Jean Schodorf, is questioning how much time Kobach spends on immigration issues rather than on his taxpayer-funded job. On Wednesday she plans to release her personal income tax returns dating from 2011 and has called on Kobach to do the same.

Crack down on sexual assaults at colleges

Good for Wichita State University for hosting a free seminar Wednesday on preventing and responding to sexual assaults at schools and college campuses. ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program reported that colleges – large and small, public and private – can be slow to act on assault allegations, if they act at all. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recently added the University of Kansas to a list of 71 colleges under investigation for their handling of campus sexual assault. The WSU seminar is from 9 a.m. to noon at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex, Room 132, at 5015 E. 29th St. North.

What’s new? Political ad cherry-picks claims

cherry-pickingA new political advertisement by the Republican Governors Association portrays Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis as being devoted to “tax-and-spend” ideas of President Obama. Though information in the ad is partly true, it “falls short because conclusions are based on cherry-picked snapshots that don’t fully explain his (Davis’) record,” the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. “At the same time, the commercial fails to point out actions by Davis that correlate to those of (Gov. Sam) Brownback.” For example, the ad criticizes Davis for voting for several policies and programs that Brownback also supports.

New Kellogg/I-235 interchange is finally happening

kellogg,I-235Many Wichitans won’t believe it until they see it, but a new interchange at I-235 and Kellogg is on the horizon. The Kansas Department of Transportation announced last week that the interchange will be part of $1.2 billion in road and bridge improvement projects across the state over the next two years. Also on the list are $95 million in expansions to East Kellogg from Cypress to Wiedemann. Though the I-235 interchange isn’t quite as much of a death trap since the city added another lane to the bridges on Kellogg over the Big Ditch, the 1950s-era interchange is unsafe and outdated. KDOT plans to begin work in November 2015 and complete construction in 2017. That is provided the Legislature doesn’t raid the funding to cover state budget shortfalls.

Need to start paying attention to Orman

orman,gregGreg Orman faces long odds as an independent candidate for U.S. Senate in Kansas. But a recent poll and noteworthy endorsement make the Olathe businessman someone to watch. A survey released last week by Public Policy Polling showed Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., leading the race with 32 percent support, followed by Democrat Chad Taylor at 25 percent, Orman at 23 percent and Libertarian Randall Batson at 3 percent. But if the race were just between Orman and Roberts, Orman would be leading 43 to 33 percent, according to the survey. (Roberts leads Taylor 43 to 39 percent in a head-to-head matchup.) Orman also was endorsed last week by Jim Sherow, the Democratic candidate in the 1st Congressional District. Sherow said that Orman “presents the best chance at providing Kansas new energy in the U.S. Senate.” A big challenge Orman faces – in addition to the fact that it’s a four-way race, not a two-way one – is that he has only 36 percent name recognition, according to the survey. But among those who have an opinion about him, he is seen favorably by Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Moran hopeful GOP can end gridlock in Senate

morannew

Update: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Moran’s position on term limits.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said he is serving as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee because he wants to end the gridlock in the U.S. Senate, not because he loves politics, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. “If the Republicans get the majority and we can’t function, then I don’t know what the next step is,” Moran said at a candid town hall meeting in Baldwin City this week. Departing from the GOP rhetoric that unrealistically vows to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Moran spoke of possible changes to the law that President Obama might support – such as increasing the work threshold for when employers must provide health insurance from 30 hours a week to 40 hours. He also said he supports term limits but could make a case pro and con. “Many in Kansas see our glory days in the Senate as those of Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum, and both were in the Senate a long time,” he said.

Recovery from Ebola is cause for celebration

brantly,writebolMany Wichitans took a personal interest in Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, the American medical missionaries who were infected by the Ebola virus, as Writebol’s son Jeremy is a pastor in Wichita. So it was a relief and cause for celebration when both missionaries were released from Emory University Hospital this week, virus free. In a moving press conference at the hospital Thursday, Brantly thanked God, those who had cared for him in Liberia and at Emory, and all those who had prayed for him and Writebol. He also urged people to continue to pray for Liberia and for the people of West Africa and to “encourage those in positions of leadership and influence to do everything possible to bring this Ebola outbreak to an end.” Though Brantly and Writebol recovered, many others won’t.

Schmidt defends outside legal expenses

schmidtKansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt defended the more than $8 million that his office has spent on outside legal counsel. “We’ve managed the available resources very effectively,” Schmidt told the Topeka Capital-Journal. Schmidt’s Democratic opponent, A.J. Kotich, has criticized the spending and said that, if elected, he would have staff attorneys handle more of such work. He also said he would not defend state laws and actions that he determined to be unconstitutional. Schmidt said he would continue to defer to the legislative and executive branches. “I operate as the state’s lawyer,” he said. The outside legal expenses include $1.4 million so far on the school-finance lawsuit and $1.1 million defending anti-abortion laws.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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