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Recent Kansas editorials

July 31, 2018

The Topeka Capital-Journal, July 28

Editorial: Flux of Super PAC cash raises questions

The Republican primary for the 2nd District U.S. House seat is crowded, with seven candidates jostling for attention over a long, hot summer. Chances are you’ll hear a lot more about Topekan Steve Watkins in these final days of the campaign, as his father just injected some $400,000 in advertising via a super PAC.

On one hand, that’s a lot of money. On the other, we’re not sure that’s the kind of news most candidates would relish being made public.

Parental support during campaigns is nice, but it’s usually reserved for photo ops and teary-eyed testimonials in campaign ads. You wouldn’t expect dad to be paying for the ad himself. One might expect that if Watkins makes it through the primary, his likely opponent, Democrat Paul Davis, will be eager to remind voters of the ad buy.

How is this possible? The nation’s courts helped create situation, enabling the creation of super PACs back in 2010. This variety of PAC can raise unlimited funds but can’t contribute directly to candidates or coordinate with them. They have become vehicles of choice for often-anonymous political spending.

Whatever the wisdom of the Watkins situation, it raises broad concerns about the state of campaigns in 2018.

First, we have the assumption that only advertising matters in a campaign. We would like to see more candidates working to make direct, empathetic connections with voters. Those bonds make a difference when lawmakers finally take their seats to represent the people. Relying on advertising creates a more synthetic, transactional relationship.

Second, and more importantly, this suggests that elections are becoming an exclusive province of the wealthy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Shawnee County is $52,088 a year (from 2012 to 2016). How many folks in this area would be able to support their children in this way?

We don’t begrudge anyone success, of course. But the policies that the national government enacts have gigantic effects on the lives of the middle class, working class and those living in poverty. As a city, state and country, we should be working to enable these folks to become involved in the system, not building ever-higher barriers of wealth and privilege.

Certainly a rational campaign finance system would help, as unlikely as such a system might seem now. Dedicated work on the part of politicians and nonprofits to engage with members of the public on ways they can make their voices heard would be appreciated, too.

So much of the disconnect experienced today between voters and their government boils down to the fact that citizens feel separate from those who represent them. To make a government that works better for everyone, everyone must feel welcome — and involved — in that government.

Perhaps that’s a cause that candidate Watkins might be interested in taking up someday.

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The Lawrence Journal-World, July 29

Editorial: Iowa a model for redistricting

As a new decade approaches, Kansas lawmakers should consider legislation that would take the politics out of redistricting.

The state of Iowa, which has had a nonpartisan redistricting committee in place since 1980, could serve as a model.

Under current rules, Kansas’ governor and Legislature will redraw congressional and legislative district lines in 2022 to balance out district populations based on the 2020 census. It is perhaps the most political endeavor legislators face as legislators push to weight districts heavily in the favor of their parties and incumbents. The redistricting process is so political in Kansas that the last time it was done, in 2012, the Kansas Legislature couldn’t agree on a plan, and the maps ended up being drawn by a panel of three federal district court judges.

“Redistricting is one of the most purely political processes there is, if you don’t have a redistricting commission or a neutral body,” University of Kansas political scientist Burdett Loomis said. “It is by definition political.”

Iowa does have a neutral body. The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency draws congressional and legislative boundaries. A five-member Redistricting Advisory Commission — made up of two members appointed by the majority party, two by the minority party and a chairman chosen by the four appointees — holds public hearings and provides guidance and feedback to the Legislative Services Agency.

The Legislative Services Agency uses prioritized criteria — population equality, respect for political subdivisions, contiguousness and compactness — to draw the boundaries. Iowa law specifically requires political and racial neutrality. The law states that data concerning the addresses of incumbents, the political affiliation of registered voters, previous election results, and demographic data, other than population head counts, are not to be considered or used in establishing districts.

Iowa’s Legislature and governor must approve or reject the plan as is. Changes are not allowed. If the plan is rejected, the Legislative Services Agency adjusts the plan and resubmits it. Since going to this process in 1980, it has never taken more than three tries for the plan to be approved. There has not been a court challenge to Iowa’s redistricting plans since the state went to the new model.

Redistricting is critically important to determining the majority party in Congress and in state Legislatures. Against that backdrop, it’s hard to imagine Kansas legislators willingly relinquishing control of the process. But if they truly wanted to serve the interests of Kansans, they would look more closely at Iowa’s redistricting model.

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The Kansas City Star, July 26

Did Senate President Susan Wagle flout ethics laws with Kris Kobach endorsement?

Like any other Kansan, state Senate President Susan Wagle has every right to endorse a candidate in the gubernatorial race. But she does not have the right to ballyhoo her endorsement of Kris Kobach from her official state email account, under her official Senate letterhead.

Though we’re not shouting, “Lock her up!” or anything, Kansas law does bar state officeholders and employees from using any public funds, time, equipment or supplies to “expressly advocate” the nomination or election of a candidate.

“We weren’t intending to violate any ethics laws,” said Harrison Hems, Wagle’s chief of staff.

Maybe not. You’d think such a prominent member of the same Kansas Republican Party that has been on the lookout for any public school teachers using their official email for campaign purposes would have known better.

But either Wagle didn’t know or didn’t care. And on Wednesday, less than two weeks ahead of the Aug. 7 primary, the Wichita Republican sent out the message, via her official account and under her letterhead, that “I am proud to endorse Kris Kobach and I ask my fellow Republicans to stand with the candidate who best reflects Kansas values.”

Wagle, who at one point considered running against Kobach, picked the voter-fraud-obsessed secretary of state over current Gov. Jeff Colyer, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and former state senator Jim Barnett.

“I find it interesting that Sen. Wagle is endorsing the secretary of state after he has referred to Topeka and the Legislature as corrupt and as part of the swamp,” Selzer said.

We find it interesting that Wagle, who has traveled quite an ideological distance since she ran on the ticket with moderate GOP gubernatorial nominee Barnett in 2006, seems to think it’s Kobach, the most extreme candidate in the race, who will win the nomination.

Way back last year, when she was considering taking him on herself, she said, “There’s a desire out there for stability in state government and leadership. We’ve had a rocky road for the last few years, we’ve been walking down a rocky road, and I think people are looking for a leader who can manage the budget, can manage the Legislature and put forth a vision for Kansas.”

Now, her vision for Kansas is that Kobach is that leader.

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