Author Archives: Rhonda Holman

Brownback has changed emphasis on K-12 spending

brownback54In a TV ad for his re-election campaign, Gov. Sam Brownback says, “We’re putting more money in public education.” That’s true. Total school funding in Kansas is more for fiscal 2015 than it was in fiscal 2011, when the governor took office. Brownback and others rightly point with pride to increased funding for teacher pensions and capital costs, and to some extra money and local property-tax relief ordered by the courts. But in Brownback’s first gubernatorial campaign and earlier in his term, he complained that too few dollars were making it into Kansas classrooms, even using a questionably low percentage to try to prove his point (in photo). His count-it-all view now seems at odds with his classroom emphasis back then. And as Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards recently wrote, “when measured against changes in the cost of living, funding for educational programs that can actually be spent on teachers, administrators and student support programs has declined by $500 million since 2009.” That’s why hearing Brownback’s claims of “more money” for schools makes many of those who work in schools want to raise their hands in objection.

Bardo has transformed a campus before

bardoMany are surprised by how much and how quickly Wichita State University president John Bardo wants to change the institution, including by building an innovation campus. But an article in the fall issue of the Magazine of Western Carolina University, which Bardo served as chancellor from 1995 to 2011, describes how the millennium brought “the biggest building boom” in the history of the college in Cullowhee, N.C. “The list of major construction initiatives completed at WCU between 2000 and 2012, including new building, renovation and infrastructure projects, totals more than $327 million in improvements, along with the addition of more than 1.1 million square feet of new space.” Enrollment surged from nearly 6,700 in 2000 to more than 9,000 in 2007. One funding mechanism may not be replicable in Kansas, though: a $3.1 billion statewide bond package for higher education that North Carolina voters approved in 2000 and that “cleared the way for nearly $100 million in bond-funded construction projects on the WCU campus, including construction of the fine and performing arts center that has since been named in Bardo’s honor.”

DCF’s ‘good move’ not so good for downtown

finneybldgMany are still shaking their heads over the Kansas Department for Children and Families’ decision, expected for a year and finally confirmed last week, to exit the Finney State Office Building and move to 2601 S. Oliver in 2015. That will mean 550 fewer workers in a downtown that needs more. DCF will no longer be centrally located and accessible via multiple bus routes. The state will be paying $13 a square foot at the facility the U.S. Postal Service is vacating, instead of the $6 the city offered the Brownback administration to try to keep state agencies and their more than 700 employees in the Finney building. Yes, the place badly needs work, but the city had offered to do a $6 million renovation as well. Yet a DCF spokeswoman characterized this as an “all-around good move.”

So they said

robertsmug“With all due respect to Mr. Reid, I don’t think that James Madison’s wig fits on his head.” – Sen. Pat Roberts (in photo), R-Kan., in Paola, criticizing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s planned Sept. 8 vote on a constitutional amendment to limit the money that can be donated to campaigns

“War on Women much?” – National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring, to the Weekly Standard, referring to how Chad Taylor, the Democrat challenging Roberts, drew national attention in 2011 when he announced his Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office, after a budget cut, would no longer prosecute misdemeanors including some domestic violence cases

“And you thought dumping ice water on your head was cold.” – Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., on GOP House members, including Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, who participated in an ALS fundraising challenge but voted to cut $1.5 billion from the 2011 budget of the National Institutes of Health, a portion of which went to ALS research

“I felt the helicopter hit something; later, someone said it was a rock. I thought the pilot would right it, but then I saw the ground come up…. Stuff fell on me; I didn’t know if they were people or things.” – New York Times foreign correspondent Alissa Rubin (formerly of The Eagle), describing the crash of a helicopter evacuating Yazidis in Kurdistan that left her with broken bones and a fractured skull

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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

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.

Open judicial selection process welcome, endangered

justiceladyThis week’s vetting of 13 applicants for the Kansas Supreme Court stood out for its welcome transparency, including a public audience and even live-tweeting of the interviews by some observers. And the three finalists recommended to Gov. Sam Brownback by the Supreme Court Nominating Commission all seem well-qualified – Kansas Court of Appeals Judges Karen Arnold-Burger and Caleb Stegall and 5th Judicial District Chief Judge Merlin Wheeler. But it could be the last such exercise of open government in Kansas if a re-elected Brownback and conservative Legislature again pursue a constitutional amendment to junk the nonpartisan commission in favor of letting the governor do his own picking, subject to a Senate vote. That would be a bad move. Before Brownback chose Stegall, an administration attorney, for the appeals court last summer, exercising his new unilateral selection power for that court, the governor released no names of applicants or finalists and the vetting was done behind closed doors. What Brownback sold to legislators as a remedy for the supposedly secretive, undemocratic nominating commission system turned out to be more secretive as well as partisan.

Avoid more tragedies by securing loads

fatalaccidentHow tragic that 61-year-old Larry W. Dobbs, a former Winfield police chief, lost his life Monday while trying to do the good deed of picking up Sheetrock that had flown off the back of another person’s pickup truck on K-96, where Dobbs was struck by a semi truck. As the community keeps Dobbs’ family in its thoughts and prayers, the incident underscores how crucial it is for drivers to secure whatever they are hauling in their trucks or trailers so that roadways are clear of debris.

Would-be tax cutters watching Kansas’ experiment

tax-calculatorReacting to New York Times and other national commentary declaring Kansas’ income tax cuts a failure, a Republican in New York’s State Assembly fretted to Reason.com’s Ira Stoll that the left “will use this Kansas example against every governor who tries to reduce taxes if there is no push-back now.” Stoll said “the Kansas experiment is still in progress,” with more tax cuts scheduled, concluding: “The measure of the success or failure of these tax cuts shouldn’t just be the effect they have on the bottom line of the Kansas state budget. The measure should be the effect they have on the budgets of the individuals, families and businesses that are residents of Kansas.” Responding to a commentary in the Telegraph headlined, “Why Britain should follow the yellow brick road to Kansas and cut taxes,” an online British post concluded: “When a choice has to be made, we should go with the straight and narrow path of paying our way in the world, not the yellow brick road of debt-funded tax cuts.”

So they said

brownbackhandout“I don’t know anybody who hires a new coach or CEO and says, ‘Go ahead and keep managing the slow decline. Just don’t make it hurt too much.’ They hire someone to get it going the right way, and that’s what we’re doing.” – Gov. Sam Brownback (in photo), talking fiscal strategy in the Los Angeles Times

“I wish I could take that back, because I don’t consider this an experiment. So many people on the left really want this to fail.” – Brownback again, in a Washington Post article about what he had called Kansas’ “real live experiment”

“This effort to starve state government is now pressuring school governments, and the social service agencies are having a much tougher time. It just seems that he has this objective without understanding the consequences or caring about the consequences.” – Reno County Commissioner Brad Dillon, a former Brownback supporter now backing Paul Davis, also in the Post article

“What do guns have to do with the (insurance) department?” – Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, in the Topeka Capital-Journal, about the “100 percent pro-gun” language turning up in ads of GOP candidates vying to replace her

Kansas governor’s race now considered toss-up

bbackoathAfter looking at the latest polling and campaign finance disclosures in Kansas’ gubernatorial contest, Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics shifted it from “leans Republican to toss-up” this week. It concluded: “Kansas is so Republican that we won’t be surprised if this one teeter-totters back in (Gov. Sam) Brownback’s direction – but the governor has a lot of fence-mending to do, and quickly.”

Pompeo and Tiahrt both pandering on impeachment

ObamaIn their testy Sunday debate on KNSS Radio 1330-AM, both Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and former Rep. Todd Tiahrt said they would vote to impeach President Obama (in photo). “If such a bill were introduced, I would,” Pompeo said, jumping into a criticism of the “absolute overreach” of the administration. Tiahrt said Obama “had broken the law” and he also proudly declared: “I’ve already voted to impeach Bill Clinton on all four counts.” Saying they’d vote to impeach Obama is like a future juror declaring someone guilty even before charges are filed, testimony is heard and jury deliberations are held. Shouldn’t they be above such right-wing pandering?

So they said

brownbackofficialmug“It’s law. It’s going to happen.” – Gov. Sam Brownback (in photo), saying he opposes the proposal of his Democratic challenger, House Minority Leader Paul Davis, to postpone additional scheduled state income tax cuts

“Western Kansas sees it as not real Kansas.” – Kansas Republican Party executive director Clay Barker, to the Hill newspaper, about Johnson County, home to U.S. Senate candidate Milton Wolf

“Rolling into Dodge City. I wonder if there are any recliners for rent.” – Wolf, tweeting a dig at Sen. Pat Roberts’ February statement that he has “full access to the recliner” at the home of some Dodge City donors

“They’re a bunch of humorless has-beens who don’t like being outed as Democrats.” – Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, in the Salina Journal, doubling down on his recent tweet that Democrat Paul Davis’ gubernatorial campaign “really raided the nursing home” to find the Republicans endorsing him

Court lacking diversity

justiceladyThe glaring lack of ethnic and gender diversity on the Sedgwick County District Court bench came up during Tuesday’s forum for judicial candidates sponsored by the Wichita Women Attorneys Association and League of Women Voters Wichita-Metro. Judge Gregory Waller, a Democrat who has two Republican challengers in the Aug. 5 primary, noted that when he was appointed by Gov. Joan Finney in 1993, he became the third African-American on the Sedgwick County bench (along with the late Robert Watson and Jennifer Jones, now administrative judge in Wichita Municipal Court). Now, Waller said, he is the only African-American judge in the district and one of only three in the state (Shawnee and Wyandotte counties have one each). One of Waller’s challengers, Linda Kirby, mentioned that there are no elected women among the 28 judges on the Sedgwick County bench, though Judge Faith Maughan was appointed to the bench last year by Gov. Sam Brownback. One other woman will be on the Aug. 5 primary ballot: Diane Sherwood, who is vying with Mike Hoelscher to succeed retiring Judge Mark Vining.

Health compact another grievance against Brownback

morrissteve2Saying “it is OK to support a high-quality Democrat for governor,” former Kansas Senate President Steve Morris (in photo) explained to the Garden City Telegram that the concerns that led him to join the more than 100 Republicans endorsing Democrat Paul Davis over Gov. Sam Brownback went beyond the “huge deficits” that are likely because of the 2012 income tax cuts and the ongoing raid on transportation funds. He also pointed to the 2014 passage of the health care compact law, a multistate mutiny against the Affordable Care Act that could lead to Kansas taking over senior citizens’ health care. “To try and take over Medicare? No other state’s ever done that. It would be a total train wreck,” Morris said. As the Kansas Republican Party was quick to point out, some of the Republicans for Davis “were thrown out by Kansas voters.” Morris was among those moderates ousted in the Brownback-led purge of 2012.