Recent Kansas Editorials
The Topeka Capital-Journal, July 8
Kobach’s dishonest accusations of ‘corruption’
When Secretary of State Kris Kobach announced that he was running for governor, he promised to put “Kansans first” and said he would “drain the swamp” in Topeka. While that’s just the sort of vague and hollow rhetoric you’d expect from a gubernatorial candidate who’s trying to exploit the populist anger that propelled Donald Trump to the White House, Kobach also made a more serious and explicit accusation: “Topeka has a culture of corruption.”
This “problem” clearly means a lot to Kobach — of the three main “issues” listed on his campaign website, “Culture of Corruption” is perched at the very top. And his announcement speech revolved around the same three subjects in the same order: “I just want to talk about three things — three problems that illustrate how bad it is in Topeka: corruption, taxation and illegal immigration.” But on his website and in his speech, Kobach only had two complaints — the need for term limits and the fact that some lawmakers become lobbyists after their terms expire — neither of which belongs under the “corruption” heading.
Merriam-Webster defines “corruption” as “dishonest or illegal behavior especially by powerful people (such as government officials or police officers).” The Oxford English Dictionary provides a similar definition: “Dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.” It’s helpful to have these definitions in mind because the semantics really matter here. While Kobach regards the “revolving door” between government and lobbying organizations as an unsavory or outmoded practice in need of reform, he would have to prove that the practice has been abused in some way to substantiate his “corruption” argument.
Like every state, Kansas has laws that govern who can be a lobbyist, the types of lobbying that are permitted, etc. Is Kobach saying any of these laws have been violated? The Secretary of State’s office “maintains and distributes the official directory of registered lobbyists” operating in Kansas, and it’s consistently updated. Is Kobach telling us there are lobbyists on that list who have done something dishonest, illegal or fraudulent? If so, why hasn’t he identified anything specific? Kobach may not like it when former lawmakers exchange their “legislative badges for lobbyist badges,” but calling them “corrupt” for doing so is disingenuous and slanderous.
The same logic applies to Kobach’s argument for term limits. He may think it’s absurd that Sen. Anthony Hensley has been in office “since Gerald Ford was President,” but should a politician really be smeared as “corrupt” for winning a series of open and fair elections? Does Kobach think Sen. Pat Roberts is corrupt for serving in the senate for two decades? Does he think Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley is corrupt for serving since Ronald Reagan was president? How about Sens. John McCain or Orrin Hatch? In Kobach’s universe, the entire country is drowning in a swamp of corruption.
Kobach may have his own bizarre definition of corruption, but our lawmakers know what the word actually means. This is why a group of legislative leaders are asking Kobach for his evidence that a “culture of corruption” has engulfed the Statehouse. As Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, puts it: “I get nervous when someone with prosecutorial authority accuses somebody of violating the law without a specific charge.” So do we — particularly when he’s in a strong position to become the most powerful elected official in the state.
The Lawrence Journal-World, July 10
As Dr. Doug Girod takes the reins as chancellor, here are some issues we’re paying particular attention to.
Keep your eyes open for an important Jayhawk sighting in Lawrence. Dr. Douglas Girod has begun his tenure as the new chancellor of the University of Kansas.
It is a positive sign that Girod, who only began his new job this month, is already out and about proactively meeting community leaders. Girod, a medical doctor, comes to the Lawrence campus after having served as the executive vice chancellor of the KU Medical Center in Kansas City. Such proximity makes him somewhat familiar with the Lawrence community, but he undoubtedly still has more to learn.
Hopefully, he will learn that Lawrence is a place eager to find new partnerships and new opportunities to grow with KU. Lawrence has many initiatives and many plans, but it should never be forgotten that KU is the local economy’s greatest driver and offers our greatest potential for growth. At times, the community shouldn’t overthink its economic development strategy: Help KU attract more undergraduate and graduate students to the Lawrence campus.
Girod also likely will learn that Lawrence residents have no shortage of opinions about what the chancellor ought to be doing. Girod can commiserate with KU basketball coach Bill Self, who may be the one man who gets an even larger volume of such fine advice.
In that vein, though, here are some issues likely worth watching as Girod’s tenure unfolds:
l How will Girod tell KU’s story across the state? Girod is well positioned to tell one of KU’s most compelling stories: how the university saves lives through the KU Medical Center. As the affiliated KU Hospital extends its reach to other parts of the state, that story will resonate even more broadly. Girod must replicate that success with other schools. The KU School of Business saving a small town’s grocery store. The Information and Telecommunications Technology Center bringing world-class connectivity to rural Kansas. The School of Social Welfare bringing needed services that a community couldn’t otherwise afford. The list could go on, and Girod should ensure that it does. And he should tell the success stories far and wide, but particularly to Kansas legislators.
l The Kansas economy needs all the power centers that it can muster. Lawrence should be one of those centers. KU and Lawrence have a chance to pedal downhill in this regard. It was a light-bulb moment for many when Garmin, the huge GPS company, located an office inside the business incubator facility on KU’s West Campus. Garmin does not need incubation. It located in the center because it wanted to be as close as possible to the talent — both faculty and graduating students — at KU. Surely other large companies do as well. Girod should find a way to responsibly allow large and promising firms to locate on West Campus and to connect with university talent. The Lawrence and Kansas economies will reap the benefits.
l Athletics is never far from any chancellor’s mind. If KU Athletics indeed does move forward with a $300 million renovation of Memorial Stadium, the issue will have to be top of mind in many ways for Girod. It will take a Herculean fundraising effort, but considerable effort also will have to be made to ensure the project doesn’t fracture the university community. Already there have been discussions among the faculty about all that the general university has had to do without, while the athletics department is set to spend grandly on football. Good staff morale is critical, and it will take strong leadership to help the university community understand that the future is bright across the entire KU landscape.
It will be exciting to see how KU’s landscape changes in the days, months and years ahead in Girod’s tenure. Without question the list of items and ideas the community presents to Girod will grow. But there is plenty of time for that later. Now, the most important message the community can send to Girod is one we should deliver in both word and deed: Chancellor Girod, welcome to Lawrence.
The Kansas City Star, July 7
Hack of Wolf Creek nuclear facility in Kansas is a warning sign
Computer hackers are focusing on companies that run nuclear power facilities, The New York Times reported this week. Among the targets: the company that runs the Wolf Creek power plant near Burlington, Kan.
The extent of the hack, executed in May, is unclear. It doesn’t appear the hackers were able to penetrate the plant’s operating systems — the attack was launched against corporate computers.
“The plant continues to operate safely,” a company spokeswoman told The Star Friday.
The intrusion is deeply worrisome all the same.
It is now clear that the nation’s digital infrastructure is under relentless, dangerous assault. Hackers have pursued personal credit information, costing companies billions of dollars while terrifying customers. Voter registration information was improperly accessed online.
Malicious software invades home and business computers on a daily basis. So-called ransomware is surreptitiously installed on the computers of unsuspecting users, locking their files until a payment is made.
All of these incidents and others like them are survivable annoyances. But they’re a warning sign the government must work harder to prevent dangerous digital intrusions.
That’s especially true for installations such as a nuclear power plant. The Wolf Creek facility, in operation since 1985, provides electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Kansas and Missouri.
That service could be jeopardized by a cyberattack.
“Imagine the U.S. is shrouded in darkness,” security expert Bret Brasso wrote last year. “Transportation systems have failed, commerce has ground to a halt, thousands have died and unrest is breaking out as public services fail. It all started with hackers — backed by a hostile nation — shutting down the U.S. power grid.”
Yet energy and nuclear installations are a frequent target of hackers.
The Trump administration has asked for additional funds to defend against cyberattacks, but that may not be enough. The government wants to spend $236 million next year on “proactive cyber protection” — a drop in the bucket compared with other federal spending on national defense.
The full Department of Homeland Security budget for cyber-related programs is $3 billion.
In truth, the threat from cyber intrusions may be greater than that from conventional weaponry. The Times story suggests the Wolf Creek attack may be linked to Russia, and China is known to have repeatedly probed our digital defenses, looking for vulnerabilities.
Any state-sponsored hacking into critical infrastructure in the U.S. is outrageous and unacceptable.
Private industry should not be let off the hook. Wolf Creek’s operating company must do what it can to ensure hackers can’t intrude on critical operating and safety systems.
And Washington must do more to protect Wolf Creek and other nuclear power plants from dangerous intrusions. The recent incident is another warning — one that should spur intensified efforts to prevent future attacks.
The Hutchinson News, July 6
Governor’s race provides good choices for both sides
Kansas should have a wide-open race for governor next year, and a stable of solid, quality candidates has taken shape, giving voters some good choices to get excited about from both parties.
First, the Republicans: Former State Sen. Jim Barnett, a Topeka physician and unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2006; oil company owner Wink Hartman of Wichita; Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach; and Ed O’Malley, a former state representative now president of the Kansas Leadership Center.
Should Gov. Sam Brownback receive an appointment in the Trump administration, that would elevate Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and obviously position him comfortably to run for the seat. Also discussed as potential candidates are Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder and Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle.
Headlining the Democrat side of the field is former state legislator and Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty, an Ellsworth-area farmer, and former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, who would be the state’s first black governor. Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward of Wichita also has shown interest.
All of that promises good primary contests for both Republicans and Democrats come August 2018. O’Malley offers the kind of fresh leadership for the GOP that Svaty does the Democrats. But Barnett also is a solid choice, better positioned now than he was running against incumbent Kathleen Sebelius in the 2006 general election. These are the sort of candidates that deserve Kansans’ attention at a time when our state needs to be thoughtful about choosing its next governor.
Despite widespread dissatisfaction with Brownback, Kobach is a big threat to keep the state mired in the fiscal mess and toxic politics of the status quo. One state newspaper columnist already has predicted Kobach will be our next governor. The reason? A simple platform backed by rhetoric that sounds eerily familiar to the successful formula that put Donald Trump in the White House.
Kobach is campaigning on excessive taxation, rooting out unspecified corruption in Topeka - “drain the swamp” - and illegal immigration, which has been Kobach’s singular issue all along, something that plays well in national politics but is virtually irrelevant in governing Kansas, despite his many attempts to make it so.
Kobach and the special-interest groups that will support him will frame the desperately needed undoing of the Brownback tax policy as the largest tax increase in Kansas history. In reality, the Legislature rebalanced the state’s revenue and restored taxes on sole proprietorships and other businesses. This legislative session was monumental in restoring the state’s fiscal stability.
And now Kansans have an opportunity to choose thoughtful, moderate leadership in their next governor. It is imperative during this campaign that we look past simple sound bites and the emotion-based but misleading advertising sure to come from the special interests and delve deeply into the character and policy chops of all the candidates. We’ve got some good ones in the mix, and they don’t necessarily have household names.