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Recent Kansas Editorials

May 14, 2019

The Manhattan Mercury, May 9

It’s time for decisions, leadership on flood control

Heavy rains and saturated soil this week led to Wildcat Creek hitting moderate flood stage on Wednesday.

That combined with the rising water levels at Tuttle Creek understandably have many people concerned about the possibility of more extensive flooding to come.

It’s been about eight months since flooding on Labor Day caused major damage to homes and businesses near Wildcat Creek. Some people are still displaced from that event. Some businesses never reopened.

We don’t think it’s reasonable to expect an all-encompassing solution in that amount of time, but if you need any more proof that it’s going to happen again, we have it: it’s happening now.

Are we just going to accept that we’re a city that has floods? We don’t believe that’s an option.

Are we going to do something about it? So far, what’s been done is primarily talking, planning. The city has bought out a few properties most likely to be flooded repeatedly. But it’s going to take more than that. Much more.

There have been interim efforts, but when you get right down to it, nothing’s been done. And so for the time being, people are nervous — and rightfully so — every time there’s a heavy rain.

We need leadership. We need decisions. We hope our local officials will provide those things.

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The Iola Register, May 13

Commission-Style Vetting Ensured Better Oversight

In 2013, Kansas legislators voted to give then-Gov. Sam Brownback sole authority to appoint judges to the Court of Appeals, pending Senate approval.

That came back to bite them this year when Gov. Laura Kelly’s nominee was found to have untenable flaws.

Under the previous law, a non-partisan nine-member commission would have vetted candidates before ultimately submitting three names from which the governor would choose.

Brownback balked at the practice, insisting he alone should have the privilege of the nomination, in addition to not disclosing the names of potential candidates, another departure from the more public nomination process.

Against their better judgement, the Republican majority acquiesced and changed the law to suit Brownback’s authoritarian nature.

No matter how good-intentioned a governor may be, the current system is flawed exactly because of its private nature and lack of inherent checks and balances in the beginning stages.

Add a stacked Senate, as Brownback had, and the nominee can be ramrodded through. Just look at the case of ultra-conservative Caleb Stegall in 2013.

What’s really scary is that Brownback wanted the state constitution changed to give him the same authority to appoint Supreme Court justices, which members of the House stopped in its tracks in 2016.

Fast forward to this March, when Gov. Kelly nominated Labette County District Judge Jeffrey Jack for a position on the Appeals Court only to find that in 2017 the judge had tweeted disparaging remarks about newly elected President Donald Trump. All sides — Republicans and Democrats — agreed the remarks made Judge Jack unfit for the position.

Judges are held to ethical standards that forbid them from compromising the public’s confidence in their ability to be impartial.

IN MAKING a mountain out of a molehill, Senate President Susan Wagle is trying to link the judge’s errant behavior as proof of a “display of incompetence” on Gov. Kelly’s part in addition to being “a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Let’s be clear: The minute Gov. Kelly discovered the judge’s tweets from two years ago, she asked to withdraw his nomination.

There was no stonewalling to see if things would pass. There was no effort to make light of his actions.

Instead, Gov. Kelly nominated Kansas City-based attorney Sarah Warner, which in a sane world would proceed as normal.

But the 2013 law doesn’t work that way.

It seems legislators didn’t allow for the possibility of a nominee’s withdrawal, forcing the matter to be decided by the Kansas Supreme Court, which on Friday ruled that Judge Jack’s nomination must proceed as if he were the governor’s choice.

So on Tuesday, Senators will come back for a special session and most likely vote unanimously against Judge Jack and then begin anew with Ms. Warner’s nomination.

It was only a matter of time before the 2013 law would be exposed for the disaster it is.

Wonder how long it will take to fix it.

_____

The Lawrence Journal-World, May 8

Editorial: Mueller should speak his mind to Congress

Of course Robert Mueller should testify before Congress. Whether the special counsel’s testimony will be particularly illuminating, though, is far from certain.

While Mueller may be special in many ways, communication does not seem to be one of those ways. In his defense, communicating in Washington, D.C., is naturally difficult for a man like Mueller. He is equipped with principle while nearly everyone else is carrying a partisan bullhorn.

But still, Mueller has to find a way to say what is on his mind, and testimony before a congressional committee makes more sense than any of the other options.

You would hope that Mueller would have been able to communicate his position clearly in his nearly 450-page document that is formally titled the Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. But he didn’t on at least one matter.

The central question that needs to be answered is what is Mueller’s legal opinion of President Trump’s actions on the matter of obstruction of justice. If you recall, the document reported the investigation “does not conclude that the president committed a crime.” But it also reported that the investigation “does not exonerate him.”

In one regard, Mueller’s report is clear enough for those who have read it. On page 2 of Volume II, Mueller states that he has made the decision to not make a traditional binary decision on whether the president should be prosecuted for a crime. He notes that an opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel already has determined a sitting president can’t face criminal prosecution.

Mueller failed as a communicator by not making that position known to the public at the beginning of his investigation. He allowed an unreasonable expectation to grow within the public. Good communicators guard against that. He would have done the country a favor by spelling out early on what his report would do and what it would not. The public then would have been better prepared to view its findings through the proper lens.

Instead, the confusion created an information vacuum in the moments following the report’s release, and Attorney General William Barr filled it. He said the information in the report does not support a charge of obstruction against the president, even if a sitting president could be charged.

It is understandable, though, that many people are tossing Barr’s statement aside like a piece of rubbish. The president is accused, among other things, of pressuring political appointees to cover for him. Now, a political appointee is saying the president did not commit obstruction. There is just no value in such a statement from Barr at this point. If such a statement is going to be made, Mueller is in a much better position to make it.

Testimony before Congress would give him the chance to do so. The country deserves an answer from Mueller on the question of: If the president were a private citizen, do you believe his actions warrant an obstruction of justice charge?

Opponents of the president, though, need to be prepared to accept the answer. Perhaps Mueller thinks Trump has committed acts that warrant a charge. But, perhaps he doesn’t. Opponents of the president don’t have a great track record of predicting the thoughts of Mueller. It is worth remembering Mueller did not find that collusion existed with the Russians. Trump and his supporters do have a meaningful finding to point to on that front.

Regardless, the country deserves more resolution than what it has gotten on this matter. A fair, well-run hearing where senators or representatives from both parties get a chance to ask the questions of their choosing could go a long way in providing the public with information it deserves.