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Recent Kansas editorials

November 13, 2018

The Manhattan Mercury, Nov. 7

Off-the-deep-end Kobach rejected by practical Kansans

It’s not too hard to figure out why Laura Kelly won the governor’s race in Kansas Tuesday night: She won because Kris Kobach just went too far.

No disrespect to our next governor, but the election was really all about Mr. Kobach. It was always his race to win or lose, and he lost it. He lost it through his extremism.

Republicans in Kansas hold a 2-to-1 registration advantage over Democrats. That didn’t change. It’s worth noting that all the other statewide offices — treasurer, insurance commissioner, attorney general, and secretary of state — went to Republicans. The Legislature is still dominated by Republicans. Three of the four members of Congress, and both U.S. senators, are from the GOP.

Plus, in the governor’s race, Greg Orman ran as an independent, which was certain to siphon a few votes away from the Democratic candidate.

Our guess is that a more moderate Republican — a Bill Graves, say, or even a Jeff Colyer — would have won the race. But Republicans in their primary barely favored Mr. Kobach, who proceeded to go around with a fake machine gun mounted on his campaign vehicle, supposedly to demonstrate his support for gun rights. He also said he would go even further in cutting taxes — doubling down on Sam Brownback’s disastrous budget experiment — and he made a national name for himself drawing up laws that essentially cracked down on immigrants.

Then there was the fact that a federal judge ordered him to take remedial law classes and dismissed a voter-ID measure that he had personally defended. He was held in contempt of court and fined.

By contrast, state Sen. Kelly worked diligently on policy matters in state government. Mr. Kobach was about ideology. Sen. Kelly was about competence.

The election result is not so much some sort of “blue wave,” or conversion of a deeply conservative state into a liberal bastion. It had little to do with President Trump. Forget all that. It’s not even all that different from past patterns — Kansas has had several Democratic governors in the past generation.

What it shows — once again — is that Kansans are reasonable, practical, clear-thinking people who don’t go in much for extremism or flash. Most of the time, they’re going to lean toward Republicans, so long as Republicans don’t go off the deep end. Gov. Brownback went off the deep end with his budget experiment, and Mr. Kobach wanted to go in even deeper, and he wanted to make a show of himself in the process.

In the end, voters turned away. They preferred competence.

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The Topeka Capital-Journal, Nov. 12

Schwab should improve voting

When it comes to improving voter participation, Kansas has work to do.

A recent Northern Illinois University study ranked the state ninth most difficult for citizens to cast ballots — a sad shortcoming powered by Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s misguided obsession over nonexistent voter fraud and the ultraconservative quest to deter voters less likely to support a far-right agenda.

It led Kansas to a Voter ID requirement that disenfranchised the elderly, poor, minorities and others without an acceptable form of ID, and a proof-of-citizenship law that blocked more than 30,000 citizens from completing voter registrations — a change ruled unconstitutional.

The heightened fear of voter suppression due to Kobach-inspired initiatives recently fueled still more skepticism in a diverse western Kansas community.

The move of the lone polling site from the usual, central location in Dodge City to outside the city limits — and beyond the reach of public transportation -was clumsy at best. Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox failed to seek out more accessible locations in a city with a roughly 60 percent Hispanic population, one in which many residents don’t have vehicles and flexible work schedules.

As a result, concerned folks flocked to Dodge City to help educate prospective voters on the change and offer rides to the new polling place (although few reportedly took advantage on Election Day).

Ford County did see voter turnout of nearly 45 percent — more than peer county Finney at about 41 percent. Still, there’s significant room for improvement there and statewide.

Unfortunately, Republican Secretary of State-elect Scott Schwab won his race after endorsing Kobach’s pursuit of laws that hinder voter access. Schwab even said encouraging voter participation isn’t the secretary of state’s responsibility, choosing to ignore the potential good the office could deliver in helping more eligible voters exercise their precious right to cast ballots.

Kobach lost the governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly in part because of his run on voting rights. Knowing as much, Schwab should reverse course and work toward change such as same-day registration, a proven way to increase voter turnout.

While awareness of voting-related hurdles no doubt compelled many Kansans to try harder to vote in Dodge City and elsewhere, it shouldn’t be a struggle. The state must make it easier for citizens to vote and be heard.

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The Kansas City Star, Nov. 12

Kansas GOP lawmakers ought to accept Governor-elect Laura Kelly’s invitation

In her first news conference as Kansas governor-elect, Laura Kelly, the longtime Democratic lawmaker moved briskly through the top items on her do-list: Restore LGBT protections for state employees, expand Medicaid to the uninsured and improve public schools.

But Kelly was also careful not to overpromise. In fact, in one brief statement, she said four different ways that repairing the damage done by deep tax cuts during Sam Brownback’s years as governor will be difficult and will not happen quickly.

Building a diverse bipartisan team, she said, “will take some time and a lot of hard work.” Backfilling the crater created under Brownback “will be a long, challenging process.” So as not to leave any doubt, she added that “the rebuilding process won’t be easy.” And, “we all know we have a very long, challenging road ahead of us.”

OK? OK. Kelly has reason to temper expectations, especially since Republican Senate President Susan Wagle has promised to oppose Kelly’s “very liberal” spending, and Republican House Speaker Ron Ryckman has said there won’t be any new taxes to pay for the “free lunch” that “Laura Kelly promised folks on the campaign trail.”

But expected tax revenues for this fiscal year are up another $291 million just since the last forecast in April, according to numbers released on Friday. Claiming that the state can’t afford to do better is getting harder, and the health care and education platform that Kelly ran on is what Kansans voted for.

Her win wasn’t a squeaker, either; she bested Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach by five percentage points even with independent Greg Orman making it a three-way race.

Still, little of what she ran on can happen without the cooperation of the Republican lawmakers who control both the Kansas House and Senate and are as a group more conservative now.

The exception is the executive order barring employment discrimination against LGBT Kansans in state offices. She plans to have that drafted and ready to implement even before she takes office in January. And can this please be the last time any Kansas governor has to issue such an order?

It’s absurd as well as wrong that any Kansan should have to go back and forth between being protected from discrimination under Democratic governors like Kelly and Kathleen Sebelius, who signed such an order more than a decade ago, but then become vulnerable again during Republican administrations, as they were under Brownback and are under Gov. Jeff Colyer.

So how likely is it that GOP lawmakers will work with Kelly where she does need an assist, on a Medicaid expansion bill that would cover about 150,000 more uninsured Kansans, benefit rural hospitals and the Kansas economy, too?

Expansion passed last year but was vetoed by Brownback before he packed up for his new job in Washington.

GOP state Rep. Dan Hawkins, who has opposed the expansion and chairs the House’s health committee, now calls its passage “a foregone conclusion.”

Stephanie Clayton, a moderate House Republican from Johnson County, argues that it’s still going to be tough to push through — “Why would it be any easier now than it has been?” — but not impossible.

To accomplish that, in Clayton’s view, Kelly will have to “let Republicans think it’s their idea and let them drive it. That’s the way I get things done; just let some dude think it’s his idea.”

It’s restoring public schools that Clayton sees as almost a foregone conclusion, thanks to “a fair amount of Republicans, myself included, who think our constituents have been pretty clear” on that issue.

In overseeing a settlement in a long-running lawsuit, the Kansas Supreme Court has ordered the state to spend more than $500 million on its public schools, and that fight isn’t over.

Some in her party, Clayton said, will still “try to do a constitutional amendment” to keep the court from telling the state how much school spending is required. “But that’s not going to work because they don’t have the votes.”

Kelly, who also used the word “bipartisanship” repeatedly in her first news conference, promised that state will no longer “get by just doing the minimum.” Especially with revenues up, there’s no reason we should have to.

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