The Lawrence Journal-World, Aug. 20

Economy will affect election

The Kansas economy is humming better than it has in more than a decade. Kansans' perception of why that is could go a long way toward deciding the governor's race.

The economic expansion began almost immediately after the state Legislature, in May 2017, repealed the aggressive tax cuts imposed by then Gov. Sam Brownback. The question for voters is whether reversing the tax cuts triggered the current expansion or if the expansion was the result of the tax cuts finally kicking in, as Brownback always argued they would.

State Sen. Laura Kelly, the Democratic nominee for governor, is a harsh critic of the Brownback administration and voted to repeal Brownback's tax cuts. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the Republican nominee for governor, has said he would fight to restore the Brownback tax policies.

The wild card is Independent Greg Orman, a Johnson County businessman, who could serve as a spoiler on the issue of the economy.

Right now, the candidates will have a tough time arguing that the economy is hurting. Jobs and wages are up and unemployment is down. State tax receipts are on a record streak.

On Friday, the Kansas Department of Labor reported that the state's economy recorded its 14th consecutive month of job growth in July. The state's unemployment rate was 3.4 percent, down from 3.6 percent in July 2017. More importantly, average nominal earnings rose 4.3 percent, to $24.15 per hour, compared with July 2017.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, Kansas gained 23,400 nonfarm jobs overall from June to July, including 20,900 private-sector jobs. The 2.4 percent increase in private-sector employment, is higher than the national growth rate of 2.1 percent.

The state's total nonfarm employment is slightly less than 1.27 million, the highest ever recorded.

Also in July, Kansas collected $11 million more in taxes than anticipated. It was the 14th consecutive month that tax collections have been better than forecast. The Associated Press reported that the state hasn't seen a streak that long since at least February 1968. The state ended its 2018 budget year on June 30 with more than $7 billion in tax collections and exceeded expectations by $318 million, 4.7 percent more than anticipated.

The Kansas economy is on a roll right now, something that the state's gubernatorial candidates and voters ought to keep in mind as the election heats up.


The Wichita Eagle, Aug. 14

GOP primary is an eye-opener. Time to get election officials under county control

There have been bills in the Kansas Legislature before that tried to return the job of election commissioner in the state's four largest counties back to those counties and out of the hands of the secretary of state.

Those bills died for various reasons, none strong enough to gain the support of a majority of lawmakers.

But boy, Kansas sure has a good reason now.

One of the many intriguing parts of the week-old pursuit of determining a Republican nominee for governor has been the role of Johnson County election commissioner Ronnie Metsker and his office's election-night performance.

It wasn't good — painfully slow reporting of returns after technical glitches with new election software — and his job status is why lawmakers should look for a bipartisan solution in the 2019 legislative session to change Kansas election law.

As it stands, Kansas law says any county with more than 130,000 residents — currently Johnson, Sedgwick, Shawnee and Wyandotte — will have an election commissioner appointed by the secretary of state.

Commissioners in those counties don't have a say in who gets the job. Nor do they have a say, incredibly, in the election commissioner's budget that's paid out of county money — not state money.

So you see why attempts have been made to change the law, which is in place because election commissioners have one job instead of county clerks in the other 101 counties, who conduct elections along with other duties.

Problems on election night — see Sedgwick County's Tabitha Lehman in 2012 — have been just one reason to hold election commissioners more accountable. Just last year, Shawnee County election commissioner Andrew Howell exceeded his 2017 budget by $184,000, but wasn't accountable to that county's taxpayers — only to Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who did nothing.

But now comes the best reason. Metsker, up in Johnson County, was hired by Kobach in 2016. His contract ends on Aug. 31. Kobach and his office will decide whether Metsker will retain his job or leave the Johnson County election commissioner's office. Possibly while a recount or other challenges to vote totals between Kobach and Gov. Jeff Colyer are made.

Election commissioners shouldn't be beholden to any one person, especially when that person is running for governor. That Kobach could hold Metsker's future in his hands while a recount is underway is plain dumb luck — but dumb luck that can easily be avoided in the future.

County commissioners would hold election commissioners more accountable because it is their constituents who have been failed when a county's elections are disrupted by slow returns or problems at polling places.

There are many quirks from this month's GOP primary that could cause lawmakers to take second looks at Kansas laws regarding elections and how they're conducted. One of the easiest fixes comes with returning election commissioner roles in four counties, including Sedgwick, back to the county commissions.


The Salina Journal, Aug. 17

When the GOP lost Labor in Kansas

With Labor Day on the September horizon, we are reminded of a chilly divorce, a dramatic shift in the state's political landscape. Sixty years ago organized labor left the Republican Party, ending what had been a relatively long and mostly happy relationship.

The party then was as strong as it is today, but it was also the party of organized labor in Kansas. The GOP had a history of reform, of coalitions with progressive Democrats that led to establishing a Federal Trade Commission, minimum wages for men and women, the prohibition of child labor, antitrust laws, and a federal income tax. They worked for a Federal Reserve Act, the Food and Drug Act, worker compensation laws, safety and health standards for various occupations and the eight-hour workday, among others. Republicans called for vigilance to reduce inequities in the distribution of wealth. Government, wherever necessary, became an agency of human welfare.

In Kansas, Republicans also were for hot lunches in schools, statewide polio immunization, construction of the turnpike, aid to schools, the poor, the elderly.

Then things began to go sideways. On the Kansas ballot in 1958 was a right-to-work constitutional amendment that burned with controversy. The amendment would prohibit people from being denied work for belonging or not belonging to a labor union. It also outlawed the union shop in Kansas.

In his bid for re-election, Gov. George Docking, a Democrat, avoided clear commitment. The less he said about the matter (privately, he supported it), the more money Republicans would spend to get the amendment passed, and the less his Republican opponent, Clyde Reed, would be able to raise as a result.

A majority of labor union members had been Republicans until the late 1940s and early 1950s and were native Kansans most likely to be Republicans. Labor leaders had always known who buttered their bread. They expected Republicans to win, and they had stayed on the GOP band wagon.

Because Republicans had been the labor party in Kansas, big business denounced Republican Gov. Ed Arn (1951-55) as loudly as his successor, Fred Hall (1955-57). Labor had made great gains under Gov. Frank Carlson (1947-50) and Arn. But big business ran the Republican Party and big business, at the time, was not satisfied. After Hall's bitter defeat in the 1956 primary, the right-wing, right-to-workers sought to control the party. Labor had nowhere to go but to the Democrats. Thus, right-to-work as an issue gave the Democrats thousands of new dollars and voters.

In 1958, organized labor rolled up its sleeves for the expensive, back-breaking precinct work to help its cause and voted Democratic as it never had before. Docking won re-election by more than 100,000 votes. It was the first time Kansas re-elected a Democratic governor, and the first time in 24 years Kansas elected three Democratic (of six, then) congressmen.

This historic change had been cumulative, with gradual Democratic gains all over Kansas — in the House of Representatives, in the precincts, in courthouses.

Too many Republicans failed to see the trends. They were disillusioned with Fred Hall, disgruntled with liberals among them and determined to defeat labor. In throwing them all out, they had lost two elections — and organized labor — for good.

Today another Labor Day approaches in Kansas, dragging its ragged belongings and tattered history. Workers at election time are like travelers stranded at a busy intersection beset with directions and assurances, signpost fantasies of peace and prosperity. They know where they want to be, but no one yet can convince them how to get there.