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Recent Kansas editorials

December 4, 2018

The Kansas City Star, Nov. 30

This is democracy? Kansas voters get no say in filling vacant Legislature seats

We live in a democracy, right?

Kansas apparently needs to be reminded of that basic fact, because as things stand today, just a handful of Kansans is allowed to fill certain vacancies that crop up in the state Legislature.

Under a system used by Kansas and precisely two other states, low-ranking precinct committee members pick replacement office-holders when many state House or Senate seats go vacant.

That may not sound like a big deal to you, but consider this: Nearly one-fifth of the current crop of Kansas legislators stepped into legislative roles without first being elected by the people, The Wichita Eagle’s Jonathan Shorman found.

Fortunately, Missouri is one of 25 states that uses special elections to fill vacancies in its General Assembly. However, the big knock on the Missouri method is that those elections cost money. No question they do. But we do live in a democracy, and we believe that’s the price of doing business.

The problem with Kansas’ approach is best illustrated in state Senate District 25 in the Wichita area. There, state Sen. Lynn Rogers, a Wichita Democrat, is about to resign to become Governor-elect Laura Kelly’s lieutenant governor. The task of choosing a replacement for Rogers in the Senate will be left to a mere 17 Democratic precinct committee members. They’ll make the pick, then forward the name to the governor, who must sign off on the selection.

That’s 17 out of the 71,721 Kansans who reside in the district. If more than one candidate seeks the seat, a majority of just nine people could wind up making that pick. That comes out to one one-hundredth of a percent of the district’s residents.

In District 25, there are 56 precinct committee slots, but only 17 have been filled.

That’s simply ridiculous, and it makes a mockery of the well-trod system now in place to elect representatives and senators following months-long political campaigns.

In Kelly’s former Senate district, 49 of 80 precinct committee members on Thursday picked state Rep. Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat, for the post.

Kansas law does provide for special elections to be held at the next general election when senators resign early in their terms. But that doesn’t apply to Kelly or Rogers because they’re past the midpoint of their service.

Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, has done some research. He found that 18 percent of current Kansas lawmakers entered the Legislature by taking the appointment shortcut.

“It is fairly common to see people get appointed to a seat, and then the advantages of incumbency mean they can go a long time before they ever actually have a challenger of any kind in a primary or a general election,” he said.

Miller pointed to state Rep. Adam Lusker, a Frontenac Democrat who was appointed to the House in 2013. Lusker spent five years in the Legislature and never once won a contested primary or general election race. He lost in the Nov. 6 election to Republican Kenneth Collins.

Kansas lawmakers should take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves if this is really the right way to go.

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The Topeka Capital-Journal, Nov. 29

Protect Our Privacy

At a time when computer hacking and identity theft are all too common, it’s a bit uncomfortable to disclose personal information on forms and documents, but usually, there’s little choice. Failure to provide the information requested can mean your submission isn’t processed. So we offer the details — our driver’s license number, Social Security Number, and birthdate — trusting the institutions we’re conducting our business will indeed ensure its protection.

But sometimes they don’t. Last year, we found out that private voter data was transferred by Secretary of State Kris Kobach over an unsecured email in 2013 and then inadvertently released this fall by Florida officials working to fulfill an open records request.

As we reported then, Kobach’s quest to discover voter fraud exposed sensitive data for nearly 1,000 Kansans when an official tried to compare partial Social Security Numbers sent via an unsecured email to election staff in Florida.

The Kansas House of Representatives were outraged and moved quickly to pass a measure that would require the redaction of all portions of an individual’s Social Security Number on any document of record before it is made available for public inspection or copying. The bill passed with 117 votes in favor but was killed in the Senate leaving private data still vulnerable to release by the Kansas government.

Now, the state’s chief legal counsel is arguing what happened is permissible. Attorney General Derek Schmidt made the argument in a brief defending Kobach’s release of Kansas voter information, including the partial Social Security Numbers and birthdates of 945 registered Kansas voters. He wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court “has never held that there is a constitutional right to prevent government disclosure of private information,” and thus Kobach shouldn’t be prosecuted.

THIS IS WRONG. People don’t want their private information in the public domain.

If Kansans can’t be confident their government will protect their most sensitive information, how can we trust its capabilities in other areas of state government? Between voting records and income tax filings, the state possesses our most private information. It should never be subject to broad release, regardless of it’s a document available for public inspection or not. We don’t believe that exposing the partial Social Security Numbers to election officials in Florida was the responsible thing to do and its wrong the state’s counsel is arguing its unprotected information.

With the cybersecurity challenges faced across the nation, we need to invest resources in training and technology that ensure the protection of identifying data. This is a harder sale to make to policymakers when the state’s own attorney general is arguing that the only data that needs protected is that which is vulnerable to public review.

The Legislature doesn’t need to wait for the U.S.Supreme Court to determine if this information is protected. We’re certain Kansans will make clear to their elected officials this is an important law to enact and it should be a top priority in January.

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The Manhattan Mercury, Dec. 3

Bill Snyder changed the meaning of the word goal.

It’s been told so many times, it’s easy to tune out the story of what Bill Snyder accomplished at K-State. I have a different way of approaching that story, starting with a question.

What was his big idea?

The answer: He changed the meaning of a crucial word.

First, three quick paragraphs on the background, lest we forget. When Bill took over in 1989, I was a junior in college. Now a couple of my kids are older than that. A generation has passed, so it’s easy to lose track of where things stood.

This is not a column about how bad it was in 1988. You’ve heard those stories before. Let me tell you, though: It was so horrific that nobody bothered to care. I used to run up and down the stadium bleacher seats during games with my middle-school friends; nobody sat in those seats. Early in college, a buddy of mine drove his beater Cadillac Cimarron down a little service road to the east corner of the north end zone, parked it, and watched the fourth quarter of another blowout loss. Nobody noticed.

The fact that so many people this fall got so worked up about whether Bill would retire or not, and who his successor might be, is a reflection of what Bill created. I repeat: Nobody cared. A 5-7 season would have been a bolt out of the blue. Now nearly everybody cares, obsesses about minutia; some consider 5-7 an affront to humanity. That’s a titanic shift in attitude involving tens of thousands of people, at minimum.

But the most interesting and important accomplishment is another powerful bit of intellectual sorcery: Bill Snyder redefined the word “goal,” and he got an entire organization to buy it. I think that mental shift is the basis of everything else.

Let me have Bob Shoop and Susan Scott, authors of “Leadership Lessons from Bill Snyder,” spell out what I mean. Those authors wrote in their 1999 book:

“One of the most extraordinary aspects of Coach Snyder’s philosophy and the success that flows out of it, is his definition of a goal. For many people a goal is a specific, measurable end product. For Snyder, a goal is actually the adoption of a process. His goal is to make continuous improvement.”

There is no prize. There’s no trophy. There’s no end point at all: The reward, such as it is, is in the doing of exactly what needs to be done.

I don’t mean to say that Bill Snyder invented that concept. In a sense, it is the Protestant Ethic: The idea that we are all saved by our good works, and therefore we can’t really ever stop working. We can’t just win the ballgame, throw a blowout party, repent for our sins, and repeat. We have to keep working toward salvation: We have to prove it every minute of every day, and prove it all night.

Sound familiar? Get a little better every day. Keep sawing wood. Keep rowing the boat.

Bill codified this version of “goal” in his “16 Goals for Success,” which are in fact not goals at all but rather values and commands. The values include commitment, enthusiasm, self-discipline and consistency. The imperatives include “Be Tough” and “Never Give Up,” and “Improve Every Day.”

Those represent important ideas themselves. But the unspoken game here was to drive home the idea that a “goal” is a never-ending path of self-improvement and discipline.

This is quite a magic trick in a football program, where there’s a scoreboard, and your won-loss record determines your standing and (for coaches) your pay. There’s a “goal” at each end of the field, for Pete’s sake. It’s a bottom-line business, all about beating the other team. A winning record. Beating KU. A conference title. A bowl game. Those are “goals” that most human beings would identify as such.

And so most human beings would more easily identify with other philosophies: We gonna win. Air Parrish. Bold and daring. Those feel, well, bold. Solid. A “goal” that you can never reach? Has nothing to do with the scoreboard, or play-calling? Huh?

But Bill’s redefinition is genius. Primarily, he didn’t have to change anything, regardless of how good or bad the team was. The “goals” are always the same. It allows Bill to direct focus to the next incremental step forward, rather than something not entirely under his control. And so he talked about those “goals” for hours on end. He made the players memorize them.

That approach to coaching in football has taken hold elsewhere. Nick Saban talks about “the process” all the time. It never ends, either. Bill Belichick: Same thing.

“As much as anything, it’s a way of living and working and competing,” said Bob Stoops, the former Oklahoma head coach who was one of Snyder’s first hires at K-State. “That’s how we all live. There isn’t much of an end point.”

Bill Snyder’s list never changed. The concept was — and is — extremely demanding. If you internalize it, the demands it places on you are infinite. You can never rest. Bill, of course, personified that. You saw his car parked in the lot off Kimball 24/7. He demanded pats — not tubs — of butter at the training table, and he thought through which side of the plane his team should sit on during a long flight. He scheduled chemotherapy treatments around his office hours when he beat cancer. People looked at Bill and marveled; he was beating human nature into submission. He wasn’t normal.

Bill argued with the concept “Keep your eyes on the prize.” That was the wrong idea, he said. If you keep your eyes on the prize, you’re liable to trip taking your next step. Keep your eyes on the ground right in front of you, he said. The prize will take care of itself.

Or rather: The prize itself is successfully taking the next step without tripping. And then there will be another step, and another, and another, world without end, hallelujah.

“If we’re fortunate enough to win a national championship, I don’t believe it would be a culminating experience,” he once told Sports Illustrated. “There’s no finality in any of this for me, other than death.”

Persistence. You put one foot in front of the other. That’s what it was all about. And that’s not some form of punishment, or penance. Persistence is the goal itself.

How do you know when you’ve won? When you know you’ve never won, and you never will, and you’re completely fine with that. That’s the goal; that’s when you’ve won.

It’s mental sorcery. It’s all turned inside out. It flies in the face of human nature. But that was the trick, the big idea, the great intellectual accomplishment.

The irony is that what it ultimately created in the fan base was an enormous emotional investment in the scoreboard, the standing, the trophy. The other definition of “goal,” the idea that we all need rewards here and now, that we deserve the blowout party — that idea is so ingrained in human nature that it will never go away.

But remember, he didn’t have to change the attitude of fans. He had to change the minds of the 18-to-23-year-old men wearing the uniform, and the staff that oversaw them.

He did it. For an entire generation, inside of a major organization, he bent human nature to his will by redefining that one word. He probably never saw it that way; he just saw it as putting one foot in front of the other. Which is exactly how he did it.

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