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Recent Kansas Editorials

May 16, 2017

Wichita Eagle, May 7

House Republicans, including all four from Kansas, fulfilled a key campaign promise by advancing a bill Thursday (May 4) that repeals much of the Affordable Care Act. But the measure seems unlikely to pass the Senate, at least in its present form.

And in their rush to pass the bill without even knowing its cost or impact, the Republicans were guilty of legislative malpractice — worse than when Democrats forced through the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans have promised to repeal ACA since its 2010 enactment, and the House voted more than 50 times on various repeal measures in the past half dozen years. But they struggled to agree on a bill after gaining control of Congress and the White House this year.

The most conservative House Republicans helped sink an earlier version of the American Health Care Act. But after intense negotiations - and a lot of lobbying and arm-twisting — Republicans were able to pass a revised bill by a narrow 217-213 vote.

“The AHCA is a historic first step toward putting people - not politics - back at the center of our health care system,” Rep. Ron Estes, R-Wichita, said in a prepared statement.

The Affordable Care Act does need an overhaul. It is too cumbersome and doesn’t do enough to control costs.

But the House bill may not get far. Republicans barely hold a majority in the Senate - and may need 60 votes to pass some of the bill’s provisions.

GOP senators also made clear they will take their time in reviewing the bill. That didn’t happen in the House.

After mocking former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for her (out of context) quote about needing to pass the ACA “so that you can find out what is in it,” the House rammed through a bill that few lawmakers likely read.

They even approved the bill before the Congressional Budget Office had time to determine its cost and impact - a giant red flag.

Why the rush? They know the CBO will determine that millions of people will lose their health insurance, and the cost of insurance for older (non-Medicare) Americans and those with pre-existing conditions could jump dramatically. After that report comes out - possibly next week - it will be even more difficult to pass the bill.

Early polling also shows that the public overwhelmingly opposes key provisions of the bill, including the state waivers. That opposition could build.

But for now, the bill is advancing — something that appeared unlikely only a few weeks ago. And House Republicans can tell constituents they honored their pledge - even though the process was reckless and the achievement could be short-lived.


Topeka Capital-Journal, May 13

Even though Donald Trump defied the pollsters and pundits, flummoxed the political establishment in Washington and shocked the world when he won the presidency, he still wasn’t satisfied. Hillary Clinton received almost 3 million more votes than he did, which meant he didn’t have the sweeping mandate he was so eager to boast about. But he had an explanation: “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

This wasn’t just a one-off tweet. Days after Trump was sworn in, he told congressional leaders that he only lost the popular vote because 3 million to 5 million illegal votes had been cast. He didn’t cite any studies or offer anything resembling evidence — he just knew that the number of illegal votes had to be higher than the gap between him and Clinton.

Trump’s claim was almost universally pilloried, and many Republicans were among his critics. House Speaker Paul Ryan said there was “no evidence” that widespread voter fraud tainted the election. Sen. Lindsey Graham urged the president to either “share with us the information you have about this or please stop saying it.” But Secretary of State Kris Kobach described Trump’s ludicrous assertion as a reasonable estimate: “I think the president-elect is absolutely correct when he says the number of illegal votes cast exceeds the popular vote margin between him and Hillary Clinton at this point.” Again, no evidence was provided.

On Thursday, Trump appointed Kobach vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. According to Trump’s executive order, the commission will identify “vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registration and fraudulent voting.” Considering Kobach’s record in Kansas, Americans should be extremely suspicious of his role in an effort to investigate voter fraud at the national level.

Kansas has among the most restrictive voting laws in the country, and Kobach is the only secretary of state with the power to prosecute voter fraud. In the 23 months since the Legislature granted Kobach this authority, he has convicted eight people of double-voting and a single person of voting before becoming a naturalized citizen (only 4,999,999 to go). These insignificant numbers aren’t surprising — between 1995 and 2013, a total of three noncitizens were proven to have voted in federal elections in Kansas.

Kobach’s convictions are negligible compared with the huge cost of his fixation on voter fraud. Last year, the state’s rigid voter ID mandate kept more than 17,000 Kansans off the voter rolls because they didn’t present a birth certificate, naturalization papers or a passport when they registered at Department of Motor Vehicles offices. This requirement has been repeatedly challenged in federal and district court, and Kobach can’t seem to win a case (he was ultimately ordered to allow the 17,000 Kansans to vote in local, state and federal elections).

Trump and Kobach are uniquely unqualified to secure the “integrity” of American elections. They both have obvious incentives to report vast, unchecked fraud in the country. They’ve both made hysterical, unfounded claims about “millions of people who voted illegally.” And they both care more about a fictional crisis than the disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens.


Lawrence Journal-World, May 14

The motto of the Kansas Legislature ought to be “A Day Late and a Dollar Short.”

Yes, it is too charitable. If the state were only a dollar short, lawmakers likely could solve that problem with a mere two or three weeks of debate and finger pointing. But, of course, the state is about a billion dollars short.

On Friday, the Legislature again proved that it often is many days late as well.

In case you missed it, the Kansas House — out of the blue — gave preliminary approval to a bill that would charge sales taxes on a small list of services. State law generally doesn’t charge a sales tax on services, so adding a sales tax is a relatively big deal.

Importantly, the same bill also would reduce the sales tax on groceries by a penny per every dollar spent, beginning in 2020. That part of the bill appears to be pretty popular. It passed the House on a vote of 117-3.

The measures may have some merits. Reducing the sales tax on food could certainly help many families across the state. The idea that a sales tax could be charged on a service also is a reasonable discussion to have, especially given the state’s budget shortfall.

But in a sign of the times at the Kansas Statehouse, even when lawmakers have a reasonable idea they make sure to foul it up in some regard. In this case, this issue was timing. There was no advance warning that legislators were intending to debate a major change in state tax policy. Lawmakers were scheduled to discuss a rather mundane issue related to sales tax authority in Marion County. Then the amendments began to be added to that Marion County bill.

The list of service business that may be required to charge sales taxes is small. Among them: towing firms, commercial cleaning services, pet day cares, detective and security services, mini-storage services and collection agencies.

Lawmakers ought to take some pride in the principle of good government. These industries deserved more notice than they received about these potential changes. The Legislature has been in session since January. Lawmakers have done exceedingly little this legislative session. If there are 117 members of the House that think the sales tax on groceries should be reduced, why couldn’t that topic have received serious discussion much earlier in the session? As part of that discussion, lawmakers could have reviewed — had hearings even — on a list of services that could become subject to sales taxes. Proponents and opponents of the proposals would have had time to make their cases.

Granted, the legislative process will never be perfect. Last-minute bills and ideas are going to emerge as a part of compromise and deal-making. But too often, that is not why the Kansas Legislature acts as it does. It delays discussions and then rushes through them because there is a lack of political courage. Political courage is the largest deficit Kansas faces. Lawmakers don’t want to go on the record before they have to, out of fear their positions will be used against them. Think of the horror of having to defend your position.

While the timing is not perfect, lawmakers should have a serious discussion about trading the grocery sales tax for new sales taxes on a variety of services. It likely won’t fix the state’s budget deficit, but it could bring some needed fairness to the state’s tax system.


Kansas City Star, May 9

Lessons about one of the most powerful symbols of racial hatred are unfortunately necessary after the discovery of a hangman’s noose on the Kansas State University campus last week.

The noose was immediately removed, and the university’s president, Richard Myers, called the incident “intolerable.” But he also addressed reality, noting, “There may be some who do not understand the emotional impact of a knotted cord in the shape of a hangman’s noose.” Myers suggested people ask black students and faculty for their thoughts.

While it should never fall only to African-Americans on campus to do the educating, Myers was wise to recognize that some might be tempted to excuse the incident as a lame prank of a politically incorrect jokester.

People of all races have been lynched on American soil. Mark Twain called out the “mania” of such vigilante justice in his 1901 essay, “The United States of Lyncherdom.” But hangings were especially common in Southern states after the Civil War, used to assert white supremacy through intimidation. Often, these were macabre public executions. White families would attend picnic-style, posing for pictures with a corpse left hanging in a tree. The bodies were left to rot.

Black businessmen who achieved too much success were targeted, as were those who had consensual relationships with white women. And people accused of a crime whose chance for a fair trial was usurped by the murderous actions of angry citizens.

One of the last known public lynchings in the U.S. took place in 1942 in Sikeston, Mo. Cleo Wright, an African-American, was accused of assaulting a white woman and attacking a police officer. A mob tied Wright to a car and dragged him through town. About 300 people then watched his body burn.

Billie Holiday’s recording of “Strange Fruit” recounted such lynchings:

Southern trees bear strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root. Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

This is the grisly message that was left on public display at K-State.

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