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Recent Kansas Editorials

May 7, 2019

The Manhattan Mercury, May 2

There’s a movement afoot to get rid of the Electoral College. Those of us in Kansas ought to oppose that idea.

If you’ve forgotten your civics class from high school, the Electoral College dates back to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The Founders of our country decided to create a system in which the presidential race is determined by the 538 votes in the Electoral College, rather than by a nationwide popular vote. Each state is allotted a certain number of votes, mostly proportional to its population, in the Electoral College. Each state holds its own presidential election, in essence, and then awards its electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis.

That can create situations where a person wins the presidency based on Electoral College votes but loses the popular vote. In fact, that’s what happened in 2000, when George W. Bush beat Al Gore, and in 2016, when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton.

As you might guess, it’s Democrats who are promoting the idea of doing away with the Electoral College. They argue that it’s most important to make every vote count equally.

For Kansans, let’s be clear: We benefit from the current system. We get six Electoral College votes. That number is determined by the number of members of Congress we have. Proportionally that’s more say than we would have based on a purely popular-election system.

Presidential campaigns generally skip us anyway, since the large Republican registration advantage here makes most elections fundamentally noncompetitive. If you were Hillary Clinton, for instance, why waste time or money campaigning here when you were highly likely to lose?

It’s worth saying that America also remains a collection of states with different values and cultures and laws. The Electoral College essentially creates a series of state elections, rather than one national election, and thereby tends to give more weight to the interests of smaller, more rural states, than otherwise. (Since those states tend to vote Republican, that’s why it’s the Democrats who want to get rid of it.)

But we don’t view this as a partisan issue. If the parties were flipped, we’d have the same thought: It’s best for Kansas to leave it as it is.

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The Topeka Capital-Journal, May 3

Brownback, Legislature to blame for Docking Building mess

The Docking State Office Building poses challenges for the Kansas state government. It’s largely empty and neglected. It would cost many millions to repair.

But as reporting from The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Sherman Smith and Tim Carpenter shows, the most immediate challenges posed are the poor decisions made by former Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration about the building.

In the administration’s unseemly haste to demolish Docking, deals were made to relocate state employees to sites across Topeka. Long-term leases were signed, locking the state into deals that will hamper flexible and efficient state government for decades to come.

A literal generation will pass before some of these deals will come up for renegotiation.

It could have been worse. The previous administration’s secretary of administration also proposed selling the Landon and Eisenhower buildings, although in those cases the structures would have at least been left standing.

Perhaps the most telling part of Smith’s and Carpenter’s piece is the following: “Mike Morse, a Topeka real estate broker at Kansas Commercial, defended the privatization of office space in light of the Legislature’s track record of underfunding building maintenance.”

In other words, the administration’s actions — while short-sighted and expensive — are part of a larger, profound problem with state government.

That is, legislators can be reluctant to spend money up front to save money later. The same mindset can be seen in ongoing debates about health care and the state budget. Those with eyes focused beyond the next election cycle know that the state can ultimately save money by investing wisely now. It’s the reason you repair your basement rather than waiting for it to cave in. It’s the reason you repair your roof rather than waiting for a tree to fall through it.

These long-term contracts show the costs of short-term thinking. Lawmakers put off repairing Docking. As costs to fix the building mounted, that gave the Brownback administration an excuse to make dubious deals.

Unfortunately, there is no simple way out of this. Contracts are contracts, even if they create problems. Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration has a gigantic task in examining these deals. If some of them must be broken, the administration should be prepared to shoulder the associated costs and explain why the action was taken.

And in the future, everyone should plan for the longest term possible, avoiding the creation of more avoidable traps.