Kansas City Star, Aug. 27

Why would Kansas consider extending contract with Medicaid provider that blew it?

Put this one under the category of nothing makes sense in the world any more.

The state of Kansas is looking to extend a contract with a Medicaid application processing company that by most accounts provided lousy service. Under the new arrangement, the state would pay Maximus Inc. of Reston, Virginia, more while absorbing some of the administrative duties involved.


Apparently not many of the Kansas lawmakers who sat in on a joint House-Senate oversight committee last week got it, either. "Troublesome," is what state Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, a Baxter Springs Republican, called the actions of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

"If there is a rebidding process, surely you're not going to let Maximus rebid, right?" Hiilderbrand said at the hearing.

Another senator, Laura Kelly, who happens to be the Democratic Party's nominee for governor, made the dramatically common-sensical remark at the same hearing that state government can't afford to do business with companies that don't do what they've signed up to do.

Problems with Maximus have been well-documented. The company handled applications from those seeking to enter the state's troubled Medicaid program known as KanCare. Kansans were hampered by application backlogs, mistakes and numerous complaints that KanCare wasn't serving them well.

Given the testimony from KDHE Secretary Jeff Andersen, none of this is surprising. Andersen revealed that Maximus had intentionally low-balled its original bid to secure the work from Gov. Sam Brownback's administration. That's right, according to Andersen, Maximus got its contract because it provided the lowest bid surely knowing that in doing so, it wouldn't be able to provide satisfactory service.

It only follows that Maximus failed to provide the number of staffers necessary to process applications. That led to the backlog, and that contributed to high error rates.

"In some cases, you get what you pay for," Andersen said in a revealing understatement from an official in a conservative administration. Even he admitted that "the subsequent performance has been unacceptable."

Kelly said she had a big problem with the company's low-ball bid.

"It's almost like we're rewarding them for underbidding," she said. "That makes no sense."

It truly makes no sense, and you can't help but marvel at the stranglehold that Maximus appears to have on the state for whatever reason.

In a statement Thursday, Andersen said Maximus was making $10 million in concessions to the state, although he didn't identify them. "The price we will pay going forward will ensure the Medicaid eligibility process meets the standards Kansans deserve," he wrote.

At least he got that part right. But why Maximus will continue to be part of KanCare at all remains a perplexing mystery.


The Pittsburg Morning Sun, Aug. 23

Governor Jeff Colyer visited Crawford County recently to deliver some welcome news — that the oft-delayed Highway 69 widening project would finally, —finally— be completed.

This was, of course, before he lost a narrow primary election to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

That promise is now — tenuous — at best.

The problem is that upgrading Highway 69 to four lane at least to the Cherokee County line is, and should be, a priority to Southeast Kansans — particularly to Crawford County residents.

It is a safety issue, first and foremost — the recent fatality accident south of Pittsburg was far from the first along the stretch from the city limits and the county line, and it's hardly likely to be the last.

Highway 69 is the main artery for residents who live outside of Pittsburg but work in town, and the volume of traffic it carries often overstrains the capability of the road — and that leaves aside the hundreds of college students from Kansas City who attend school here, but often go home on weekends. Pittsburg State University is the only major four-year school in the state on a two-lane highway.

It is also an economic development issue. The bottleneck imposed by the highway means many companies which might otherwise consider locating here will not because their ability to deliver goods or receive supplies is hampered by the lack of easy access to metro areas.

We do not and will not make endorsements in the governor's race.

We do, however, call on Democratic candidate Laura Kelly, Republican candidate Kobach and independent candidate Greg Orman to immediately pledge to keep Colyer's commitment to finish the highway. We ask them to let this not be yet one more election-season promise broken for political expediency.

We also say no one in Crawford County — indeed in Southeast Kansas — should vote for any candidate who will not pledge to finish this vital project.


The Lawrence Journal-World, Aug. 27

Kansas may hold a lost city

What's lurking beneath the surface in Kansas may rewrite national — perhaps even world — history.

Thankfully, for once, this isn't some statement or metaphor about politics or a conservative movement or some other piece of controversy that causes books with titles like "What's the Matter with Kansas?" to be written. These days, that seems to be about the only thing that gets Kansas into the national spotlight.

No, we're talking about actual items being dug out of the Kansas soil that may end up being some of the most significant archaeological finds in all of America. Work is underway in Arkansas City to unearth a truly lost city. Wichita State anthropologist and archaeology professor Donald Blakeslee believes he has found the lost city of Etzanoa, a Native American settlement that housed perhaps 20,000 people from the years 1450 to 1700.

Blakeslee has been working on this project since at least 2015. Don't feel bad. Although the project has gotten some attention in the Wichita media, there are hordes of Kansans who know nothing of this. But the project has gained wide attention in the archaeology community, and it got a worldwide boost of attention earlier this month when The Los Angeles Times wrote a major article about the project. The Sunday Times of London soon followed, and if you Google recent news articles about Etzanoa and Kansas, you'll find quite a few from all over the world.

"We get about 10 calls a day to the see the lost city," Pamela Crain, director of the region's convention and visitors bureau, told The Los Angeles Times.

The process is still in its early stages. Kansas State Archaeologist Robert Hoard is not yet ready to say the find is the lost city of Etzanoa without seeing more evidence, but he said the evidence thus far makes it plausible, according to the Times article.

If the site indeed is the lost city of Etzanoa, Arkansas City very well could become home to the second largest ancient settlement in America, trailing only Cahokia, a pre-Columbian Native American city dating back to 1050 on the banks of the Mississippi just east of St. Louis.

In Arkansas City, locals for decades have been finding large amounts of pottery, tools, arrowheads and other artifacts of a Native American culture. In the article, one man is said to have 100 boxes of artifacts his family has found over the years.

Blakeslee, the WSU archaeologist, began questioning whether the Arkansas City area actually was the site of Etzanoa after new research emerged at the University of California-Berkeley in 2013. Scholars there had retranslated some ancient Spanish texts about the Conquistadors' forays into Kansas.

"I thought, 'Wow, their eyewitness descriptions are so clear it's like you were there.' I wanted to see if the archaeology fit their descriptions," Blakeslee told The Times. "Every single detail matched this place."

Among some of the recent finds that have caused excitement are the discovery of three Spanish cannon balls from the 17th century that seem to match up with a tale of a 1601 battle between Spanish Conquistador Juan de Oñate and about 1,500 members of the Escanxaques tribe.

There is still work to be done to solve this mystery, but the answers to come could be fascinating and fill in significant gaps of knowledge about how this region of the world was settled.

As the Times article notes, conventional history views the Great Plains as an area sporadically populated by nomadic tribes that followed the buffalo herds. But this Arkansas City site may prove that there actually were large urban centers — 20,000 people would still be one of the largest cities in Kansas — that process bison and other goods on a commercial scale. There is evidence to suggest there were trade connections all the way to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in Mexico.

"So this was not some remote place. The people traded and lived in huge communities," Blakeslee said. "Everything we thought we knew turns out to be wrong. I think this needs a place in every schoolbook."

Indeed, it is a story worth telling. Kansans should take the lead in telling it. It is a good reminder of what we can find when we keep our minds open to new possibilities and take the time to look beneath the surface of a matter.

No need to ask what's the matter with Kansas, if we have a story like that to tell.