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Author Archives: Rhonda Holman
April 17, 201412:07 p.m.
Surely the Kansas Board of Regents didn’t expect a work group of university professors and other personnel to endorse its sweeping, punitive policy to make faculty’s use of social media a potential firing offense if it is “contrary to the best interests of the university.” The work group, which was asked in January to make recommendations about the controversial new policy, came back with a response that affirmed academic freedom and safeguarded free speech. Eighty distinguished professors from regents universities endorsed the group’s advisory revision and inclusive, scholarly process. Yet at a Wednesday committee meeting, some regents’ initial reaction to the work group’s version was unduly hostile – and also tone-deaf to the national uproar the board’s overreaching policy had created. “Someplace this train got off the tracks,” regent Tim Emert said of the group’s work. “If any professor gave an assignment and the student came back with something completely different, the grade would not be very good.” Are the regents so intent on ensuring that universities can discipline and dump professors for tweets and Facebook posts that they are now willing to dismiss the concerns and work of dozens of university faculty members and the criticism of the American Association of University Professors, as well as chill academic speech and inquiry? Adding language saying the board “strongly supports principles of academic freedom,” as the regents have proposed, doesn’t help if the rest of the policy says otherwise.
April 16, 201412:14 p.m.
There was a time when Kathleen Sebelius might have successfully challenged Kansas Republicans’ ownership of both U.S. Senate seats, which dates from 1939. That was early in her second term as governor in 2007-08, when her approval ratings averaged 66 percent (compared with the average 52 percent during the same period of Sen. Pat Roberts and 48 percent of then-Sen. Sam Brownback). But the new talk of a run by Sebelius against Roberts is far-fetched. “One person who spoke directly to Ms. Sebelius said that she was thinking about it, but added that it was too soon to say how seriously she was taking the idea,” the New York Times reported. Now, thanks to her just-ended service in President Obama’s Cabinet and responsibility for the Affordable Care Act as secretary of health and human services, Sebelius is as unpopular in Kansas as in the rest of the nation. A Public Policy Polling survey of Kansans in February found that Roberts would beat Sebelius 52 to 38 percent. It even found that Sebelius would lose by 7 percentage points to Roberts’ tea party challenger, Milton Wolf. To get into the race, she also would have to elbow aside Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, the declared Democrat.
April 15, 201411:53 a.m.
Some late-night comedy shows have gleefully noted Kathleen Sebelius’ exit from President Obama’s Cabinet. “After handling the bumpy rollout of the Obamacare site, Kathleen Sebelius announced today that she is resigning. Which explains why being thrown under a bus is now covered by Obamacare,” said Jimmy Fallon. “It’s no secret that the Obamacare website had some problems, but I think you could tell all those glitches and mistakes are behind Sebelius,” he said, introducing the clip of Sebelius realizing her prepared remarks were missing a page. “How do you botch your farewell speech?” Fallon concluded. And “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live” included this, delivered by Cecily Strong: “It was announced Thursday that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw the troubled launch of the Affordable Care Act, is resigning from office. Sebelius says she’s stepping down because she has so many more things she wants to barely accomplish.”
April 15, 20146:01 a.m.
Former state budget director Duane Goossen recently noted one little-discussed consequence of Gov. Sam Brownback’s 2012-13 tax cuts: “When Kansans file their federal income-tax returns, they can deduct the amount they pay in state income taxes from their federal taxable income. So if a person’s state income-tax bill goes down by $1,000, their federal taxable income goes up by $1,000 because they lose the deduction,” he wrote on his blog for the Kansas Health Institute, where he is vice president for fiscal and health policy. He also wrote: “At a time when many Kansas lawmakers have been reluctant to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid eligibility, Kansas tax policy allows state dollars to flow the other way.”
April 14, 20146:01 a.m.
There was an awkward moment in the minutes after the Kansas House vote to approve the school-funding bill, observed by the dozens of teachers in the gallery who’d just lost their due-process rights: Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, made an upbeat pitch to his colleagues that there was now a jeweler in the House (Rep. Steve Anthimides, R-Wichita) and they should check out the options for legislative bling. Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss observed: “After stripping teachers of their tenure, legislators had a brief discussion about jewelry…. Remove tenure and buy a ring. Makes all kinds of sense, doesn’t it?”
April 14, 20146:00 a.m.
Gratitude and best wishes are due Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker upon her resignation to become an adviser to the director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council in the United Arab Emirates. In her five years in the state’s top job in K-12 public education, DeBacker demonstrated a keen understanding of the complexities of education policy and policymaking as well as an enthusiasm for taking Kansas to the challenging next level on academic standards and student achievement.
April 13, 20146:01 a.m.
For Kansans who felt some guilt by association during the worst of the passage and rollout of the Affordable Care Act, there is some relief in seeing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius step down. The former Kansas governor was a smart choice for the key Cabinet post in 2009 because of her experience and her passion for health care policymaking and commitment to covering the uninsured. And Sebelius exits with ACA enrollment at 7.5 million – more than the target. But what an ordeal, including that appalling initial flop of the HealthCare.gov website. Any benefit for Kansas from her status was lost to partisanship, as Republican Gov. Sam Brownback wanted nothing to do with the ACA. Sebelius’ resume is now tarnished and her political career is surely over. Perhaps she will write a book about her experience at the center of the biggest political storm of the Obama presidency. It’s hard to believe now that Sebelius, as governor, had approval ratings in Kansas as high as 70 percent back in 2007.
April 13, 20146:00 a.m.
“What difference does it make?” – U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (in photo), R-Fowler, calling the House-passed budget blueprint crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a “ceremonial bill” (though Huelskamp voted for it)
“Brownback, see me after class!” – among the messages on signs carried by schoolteachers at the Capitol last weekend
“They took out a dozen of us. It was very personal and extremely dishonest. That’s the kind of thing that went on, and now it’s coming back to roost.” – former state Sen. Dick Kelsey, in a Politico Pro story about the 2012 purge of centrist GOP senators
“Yeah, it happens all the time.” – Secretary of State Kris Kobach, to a Florida radio host’s suggestion that “widows are voting for their dead husbands”
April 12, 20146:00 a.m.
Implementing Obamacare was never going to be easy. And Kathleen Sebelius never had the kind of control a chief executive officer would. She was always dealing with a host of other players. And that’s to say nothing of her war with the congressional Republicans, who were trying actively to sabotage the law through repeal votes, funding cuts, and intimidation of would-be allies. More important, the law seems to be working, despite all of the early problems. Of course, Sebelius can’t take all or even most of the credit for the Affordable Care Act’s improved performance, any more than she should take all or most of the blame for the law’s troubles. Any accounting of her tenure must include such achievements (and others, like improvements to Head Start and stronger regulations on child care safety). To take one obvious example, Sebelius worked extensively with Republican governors who wanted to expand Medicaid in states with hostile conservative constituencies. The memories of Obamacare’s difficult start will certainly linger. But to the millions of people around the country who now have access to affordable medical care, I’m not sure that really matters. – Jonathan Cohn, the New Republic
It’s been quite a year for the former Kansas governor. October brought the failed launch of the HealthCare.gov website, which Sebelius initially characterized as simply the result of surging consumer demand for Obamacare and a “great problem to have.” December brought more embarrassing news as Sebelius waived the law’s individual mandate to buy insurance by categorizing Obamacare itself as a hardship worthy of exemption. This was just one of many on-the-fly rewrites the administration claimed the authority to make under a law passed by Congress and signed by the president. Though she is leaving now, her legacy is secure, as her name adorns several of the most consequential federal cases resulting from the law. Her resignation doesn’t change the fact that Democrats will remain politically accountable for a law sold on a fraudulent promise from President Obama. But this latest news does mean that not even the secretary of health and human services will get to keep her insurance plan. – James Freeman, Wall Street Journal
April 10, 201412:04 p.m.
Congratulations to all those in Wichita and worldwide whose skill and hard work readied Bombardier Aerospace’s Learjet 85 for takeoff Wednesday from Mid-Continent Airport. It took 6 1/2 years for the midsize business jet to go from announcement to first flight, during a period that included a brutal recession. But the successful test further affirms that Wichita’s status as Air Capital of the World is a thing of the future, not just the past. Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement also offering congratulations: “Many thanks to the Learjet 85 team for its hard work in accomplishing this significant milestone in the program and Bombardier for its continued investment in Wichita.”
April 10, 20146:00 a.m.
As the Wichita City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to finalize the renaming of Mid-Continent Airport as the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport, it did so over the objections of the airport advisory board, which voted 10-1 Monday to oppose the change. That remarkable fact – that the citizen board assigned to advise the city on airport matters disagreed with such a historic decision yet was powerless to stop it – was made possible by the City Council’s 1999 decision to replace what had been a governing Wichita Airport Authority with an advisory board. Then-Mayor Bob Knight advocated the controversial change, saying the authority board was too focused on replacing then-airports director Bailis Bell and wasn’t doing enough to bring low-fare service to Wichita. Dave Bayouth, an advisory board member who again urged against the name change Tuesday, also sat on the autonomous authority board and criticized its dissolution, saying in 1999 that “the public does not want more government running anything.”
April 9, 201412:59 p.m.
Another Public Policy Polling survey has found Gov. Sam Brownback lagging Democratic challenger Paul Davis. In the firm’s April 1-2 poll of 886 Kansas voters (52 percent Republicans and 30 percent Democrats), 45 percent said they would vote for Davis, a Lawrence attorney who is the House minority leader, if the gubernatorial election were held today; 41 percent favored Brownback and 14 percent weren’t sure. Fifty-two percent said Kansas should accept the new federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage, and 41 percent said Brownback’s opposition to expansion would make them less likely to vote for him. In a February survey by the same North Carolina-based firm, Davis led Brownback 42 to 40 percent. The latest PPP survey was funded by the liberal group MoveOn.org, and a Brownback campaign spokesman dismissed the results.
April 9, 20146:00 a.m.
The city of Wichita seems to be moving the National Baseball Congress World Series toward a secure future via the nonprofit NBC Baseball Foundation. There is even talk of trying to get a TV deal for Championship Week, which would be great for the players, teams and city. In any case, the tournament will need an engaged, hardworking board and a lot of help from community donors, sponsors and volunteers. But the NBC World Series’ rich history is wedded to that of the city and Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The plan also should be better for the Wichita Wingnuts, which had been overseeing the NBC.