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Recent Kansas Editorials

January 15, 2019

The Kansas City Star, Jan. 14

Congratulations, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly. Are you ready to work with Republicans?

For now, it’s clear the new Democratic governor will be more focused on specific problems than on a sweeping long-term game plan for the state. During The Star Editorial Board’s recent meeting with her, we asked Kelly to explain her vision for Kansas.

“I would like Kansas be a place that future generations feel comfortable staying here,” she said.

That seems fairly modest, as visions go. It sounds like the new governor will be more pragmatic and transactional than inspirational.

But OK: Kansans will need to judge the new governor on her specific policy accomplishments, not on soaring rhetoric.

To make that approach work, she will have to deliver real solutions. And to do that, she must work with Republicans in the Legislature.

As her term begins, it isn’t precisely clear where that will be possible. Republicans will focus on tax cuts and the budget, while Kelly wants to use a relatively healthy revenue stream to increase spending for schools, expand Medicaid and protect foster children.

We asked House Speaker Ron Ryckman if there were problems or issues on the GOP’s agenda where the new governor could provide assistance. “I think it would be premature to say where we would come to,” he said, “when we don’t know exactly where she is.”

So the early signs aren’t exactly promising.

Yet Kelly, once a state senator, talked repeatedly during the campaign about her ability to negotiate in good faith with Republicans, who have controlled the Legislature for years. That’s reason for optimism.

It would be wise for both sides to start with consensus issues, such as foster care reform. Republicans and Democrats agree on the need for improvement in how the state treats its most vulnerable children.

Then, lawmakers could tackle election reform, or changes in the criminal justice system, or sports gambling. Cooperation on rural development programs and transportation issues could be next.

Once trust on all sides is established, tough questions on taxes and schools may be easier to address.

Republicans should resist the urge to test Kelly early in the session by passing aggressive legislation she is sure to veto. An extended battle between the two branches will accomplish nothing, except reinforcing Kansans’ cynical views about politics and government.

Voters have given Kansas divided government. But they rejected divisiveness by electing a governor known for quiet competence and negotiating skills, not fact-free bombast.

She will need all of those skills in the days ahead.

Future generations will want to live in Kansas if they’re convinced the government is competent and focused on real problems. Our new governor must reach across the aisle to make sure that happens.

______

The Manhattan Mercury, Jan. 11

Give Trump airtime, but listen with critical ear

There was some debate recently about the television networks’ decision to air President Trump’s speech about the border wall.

Reminds me of decisions I had to make about a city commissioner in Florida. It comes up more often than you might think.

President Trump, as you probably remember, wanted to speak to the nation. He asked the TV networks for airtime. This is a time-honored tradition; presidents usually make use of that privilege for solemn occasions such as the start of a war.

President Trump’s request wasn’t that; it wasn’t really even close. He just wanted to make the same political points he’s been making for months, asking Congress for money for a pet project.

Still, he’s the President of the United States, and he has shut down agencies of the federal government in a spat with Congress over that money.

So, in my view, it was a no-brainer: Give him the airtime.

His opponents point out that he often lies, and so some of them argued that the networks at least needed to have simultaneous fact-checking.

I can’t possibly argue against fact-checking, but I also don’t think it had to be done simultaneously. That’s very difficult to pull off; I do think it’s a good news service to follow up with some hard reporting on the truth of Mr. Trump’s claims.

This actually comes up from time to time in our business. The first I can remember dealing with it was when I covered the City Commission in Clearwater, Florida, for a newspaper down there. This one populist commissioner routinely said bombastic stuff in public meetings — things that I knew to be false — and so I had to decide what to put in the story. I don’t remember his claims, but they were things like: It takes a dozen guys in the public works department to fix a single pothole. I’m not kidding: A dozen!

Do you leave out what he said, since you know it to be not true? Does reporting it give some credence to the idea that public employees were lazy, or that the agency was overstaffed? Or should you report it, since the person giving voice to it is an elected official in a public meeting? And if you report it, are you obligated to give the head of the public works department a chance to answer? Or should you just flat-out state that his statement is false, since you as the reporter know it to be false?

I sound as if I made these decisions on my own, which is not at all true. It was up to me to write the initial report, but I discussed all this with my editors ahead of time. What we decided was this: Report what he said, since he’s elected and he’s in a public meeting. Then, if possible, dig up the truth and report it in the same story. If that’s not possible because of a time crunch, then follow up in the next day’s paper.

This sort of thing comes up around here from time to time, too. I have to say that we’ve been fortunate in the Manhattan area to be generally free of blowhards, ding-dongs and liars in public office. Sure, many of them occasionally mislead in the service of their own political interest. I don’t like that much, and neither should you. We do our best to hold them to account. But people who just make stuff up and then spout it as if it’s the truth? Pretty rare in public office. (Happens all the time on Facebook, but that’s a different issue.)

In general, though, that’s our stand: We report what they say, because they’re in a position of power and what they say matters. If what they are saying is factually wrong, we do our best to point that out in the way we cover the event, or as soon as we can afterward.

So I think the TV networks handled it the right way. President Trump has created all sorts of new oddball dynamics in politics, and in journalism. But in this case, it’s a very basic principle: He’s the President of the United States. Give him the microphone.

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