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Recent Kansas editorials

June 5, 2018

The Topeka Capital-Journal, June 2

Governor got it wrong with line-item veto

The tangled story of Barbara Reese, an older woman who lost thousands of dollars to the Kansas Highway Patrol some 23 years ago, is enough to make a reader’s head spin.

On one hand, Topeka resident Reese has a criminal history, which has been frequently cited by the patrol in its campaign to keep from returning the money to her.

On the other hand, the cash was seized at the time she owned a Eastside Detailing & Used Cars in Topeka. She told officers she was planning to purchase vehicles with the money. And the very next year, a Wyandotte County judge ordered the money returned to Reese.

But by that point the KHP had transferred the money to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and ignored the judge’s order.

Topeka lawmakers have taken up Reese’s cause, and last legislative session both the House and Senate passed a bill that would have compensated her $11,800. (It should be noted that amount falls short of the the amount Reese said the Highway Patrol seized — $17,600 — and the amount the patrol said it took — roughly $14,900.) It seemed to majorities in both houses like overdue justice.

But not to Gov. Jeff Colyer.

In a line-item veto, the governor struck the compensation from the state’s budget. He cited Reese’s troubled past, as well as claiming she should have pursued action against “proper parties in the proper forum.”

To put it kindly, that’s nonsense. Reese pursued action in court. The highway patrol refused to comply. She took her cause to legislators, and the highway patrol has seemed dedicated to thwarting her yet again. It has doubled down on relitigating her past and directly lobbied legislators.

Look at it this way. Kansas spends at least $16 billion a year on its budget. Reese’s compensation would be .00007 percent of that total.

Why would the highway patrol care so much about such a small amount of money? Why would the governor bother to veto such an infinitesimal sum? Why is the case of one woman so difficult to resolve? Why, when Kansas has the resources to make her whole and a court has ruled in her favor, is the case continuing?

Yes, Reese has a troubled and criminal past. No one has denied that, least of all her. She is also an African-American woman with a sixth-grade education. Given that background, it’s almost certain she has faced immense structural and societal obstacles for her entire life — some of her own making, some not.

While her case is tangled and complicated, and while one’s head may spin while following the various ins and outs, it’s difficult to avoid feeling that Barbara Reese has been profoundly wronged.

Gov. Colyer got it wrong. Next session, he and the legislature should make it right.


Lawrence Journal-World, June 1

Fiscal restraint at KU welcome

The University of Kansas’ announcement that it will trim $20 million from its budget for the coming year demonstrates a renewed commitment to fiscal restraint that hasn’t always been apparent at the Lawrence campus.

Though the university did not reveal specifics on how the $20 million in cuts would be made, the university made clear the move was necessary to put the university’s budget in order. The cuts amount to nearly 6 percent of the budget and will be applied across all departments on campus.

“Staying the current course is not an option,” Interim Provost Carl Lejuez said. “If we make no changes in the coming year, we will have overspent our budget with no remaining balances to support this overspending, and operations will be short a minimum of $50 million within five years. Additionally, spreading the cut over several years is not an option. This tactic costs us more financially; perpetuates a climate of uncertainty about job security, raises and tuition costs; and keeps us in a constant state of want and need rather than advancing us toward a position of stability that we all deserve.”

The announcement of the cuts comes barely a week after Chancellor Douglas Girod fired Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger for failing to make adequate progress on athletic department initiatives. That decision, too, appears to have been about the bottom line — KU Athletics has seen its financial fortunes wane with increasing expenses, revenue declines driven by its football team’s lackluster performance and the inability to raise funds for $350 million in athletic facility improvements, including the renovation of Memorial Stadium.

After seeming content to mostly observe during his first year in the chancellor’s role, Girod appears ready to make his mark on the university. The new chancellor isn’t shy about imposing fiscal discipline at KU, eschewing debt, stopping overspending and holding leadership’s feet to the fire on keeping spending in line with revenues.

“This year’s budget reduction will be difficult, but combined with a new budget model, this is the right strategy to address our challenges and put us in a position to fully align our resources with our core mission,” Girod said. “I applaud Provost Lejuez and his team for their vision and leadership, and I am confident KU will be a stronger university for having gone through this process.”

KU did not say how many jobs would be affected by the changes, and no doubt some will. That’s unfortunate.

However, after a year in which the university has come under heavy criticism for the money it spends on the KU jet and for continuing to pay former Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little her more than $500,000 salary for a year after she stepped down, better fiscal prudence was and is necessary. Bringing expenses more in line with revenues should improve the university’s ongoing relationship with the Legislature and, most importantly, it will help to slow the increase in tuition costs.

Girod has made a couple of bold moves on KU’s behalf in recent days. Fortunately for the university, they appear to be the right ones.


The Wichita Eagle, May 30

Roseanne’s departure was a no-brainer, except for the times we live in

ABC absolutely did the right thing in canceling Roseanne Barr’s television series after her racist tweet about former Obama administration official Valerie Jarrett.

That there will be disagreement about the decision isn’t surprising given the climate of discourse in America today. A racist joke isn’t a joke at all, yet many will attempt to justify it as a poor attempt at humor.

Still, there came a moment Tuesday when anyone watching reaction to Barr’s tweet might have wondered how ABC would react. Not only because “Roseanne” received huge ratings in its return to the airwaves, but because it was perceived to represent the base of President Donald Trump’s support. Trump called Barr after the March 27 premiere and mentioned the show during an Ohio rally.

Would ABC have the strength to kill a cash cow that espouses Trump’s America?

We’re living in a culture today where words fly mostly without regard for consequence. Blame social media, where 280 characters and a “Tweet” button act as a 24-ounce energy drink of artificial courage.

But also blame Trump and the people who have enabled him.

If supporters had held him to high standards, Trump would’ve disappeared after his July 2015 diatribe about Sen. John McCain’s 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. (“I like people that weren’t captured.”)

But Republican primary voters went for Trump. They liked his attitude and policies, many of which he’s delivered on in his first 16 months. They were willing to give many of his words a pass, or even endorse them as this generation’s “Give ’em hell, Harry.”

So when a Trumpian show has immediate success, then its star goes unhinged on Twitter, ABC’s decision wasn’t as easy as doing the right thing. The network takes a chance at backlash from viewers, but may gain respect from those won’t tolerate Barr’s demeaning treatment of Jarrett.

A shocker from Barr isn’t new. There was her screaming, off-key, crotch-grabbing national anthem performance. The time she accused her parents of sexually abusing her (she later recanted). Asking to pose as Hitler for a satirical Jewish magazine (and pulling gingerbread cookies out of an oven). Making a similar ape comment on Twitter about former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

After apologizing for the Jarrett tweet Tuesday, Barr said she was leaving Twitter. She was back Wednesday, tweeting and retweeting more than 100 times. She blamed Ambien, a medication that treats insomnia, to the point that the drug’s maker tweeted that racism is not one of Ambien’s side effects.

Barr’s racist statement can be a lesson for everyone, and not just on the dangers of posting on social media. We should be better at reigning in a culture of bias and degradation that has been allowed to fester by Americans’ political polarization. ABC had the courage to stand up to racism, sending one of its stars and top money-making shows away.

Standing up to offensive speech is the only choice.

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