The Topeka Capital-Journal, Sept. 1

To the Kansas congressional delegation: Why are you silent regarding Trump?

Kansans covet honesty, integrity and compassion. Understandably, they want the folks who represent them to embody the same core values.

Knowing as much, we have a question for Kansas' congressional delegation: How can you continue to stay silent in the face of President Trump's boorish behavior?

Every president has had shortcomings and controversies. But others didn't carry on with the volume of incivility and thoughtlessness we've seen from Trump.

Trump's authoritarian approach and disdain for democratic processes cannot be denied. He's a bully, and as a result, this nation's once unparalleled leadership in advancing democratic principles and global interests has been tarnished.

The president of the United States should be honorable, show empathy and respect the rule of law. Trump has trampled on those ideals.

Consider the ongoing Russia probe and spate of indictments of officials tied to Trump — a mess that casts serious doubt over the trustworthiness of all in his circle.

Presidents should be candid and forthcoming. Every American who wants to be a knowledgeable participant in their democracy needs accurate, factual information.

But Trump has scant interest in the truth. His tired cries of "fake news" are self-serving attempts to discredit journalists and others charged with holding government accountable to the people it serves.

We also need our president to be a champion of humanity and human rights. But Trump, who used anti-immigrant sentiment to fuel his campaign, thought it OK to tear immigrant children from their parents as a way to pressure lawmakers into building a border wall.

His rhetoric has been decidedly divisive, and dangerous. He's been crude and insulting (and that's putting it mildly) to women, minorities and the disabled.

His recent show of disrespect toward the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who stood up to Trump, was yet another low point.

So, we implore our congressional contingent to publicly rebuke the president's shameful acts. U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, and U.S. House Reps. Kevin Yoder, Lynn Jenkins, Ron Estes and Roger Marshall must do something other than look the other way because Trump's a fellow Republican.

By speaking out against the president's constant betrayal of bedrock values of honesty, integrity and compassion — all of which we hold dear in Kansas — our representatives would prove they grasp the importance of those values in their home state.


The Lawrence Journal-World, Sept. 2

DCF must be reformed

Problems with the state's child welfare agency underscore the urgent need for reform.

The Department for Children and Families released a report last week showing that the agency failed to meet 16 of 30 standards during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018.

The Associated Press reported that the report showed children had 8.9 homes for every 1,000 days they were in foster care, double the standard of 4.12 homes. It showed that in one-third of cases the agency did not complete family strengths and needs assessments within 30 days. The standard is for 95 percent of assessments to be done in 30 days.

Children were adopted in less than two years just 17.6 percent of time. The standard is nearly 27 percent.

The agency also missed standards related to placing children in permanent homes within a year and minimizing re-entry into foster care, and kept children in the same school 15.7 percent of the time when the standard is at least 25 percent of the time.

The report was presented to a state child welfare task force set up to gather information on the performance of the Department of Children and Families and issue a list of recommended changes for the 2019 Legislature to consider. The task force held meetings last week to take input and is expected to meet three more times this fall.

Among the feedback the task force received was to review the privatized model DCF uses to place foster children.

Under privatization, DCF contracts with outside nonprofit organizations to manage the placement of children, many of whom are victims of abuse and neglect, into foster homes or adoptive families. There are currently more than 7,600 children in the state's foster care system waiting to be reunited with their families or placed with adoptive parents.

While privatization warrants review, the reality is the state wasn't necessarily managing placement any better when it decided to move to privatization in 1996.

DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel, who took over the agency in December, is among those who believe the agency needs increased funding and staffing.

"I think what you see now is the result of a very stressed system that wasn't built to handle the number of children we currently have in out-of-home care," Meier-Hummel said. "We've had to build up to take care of that capacity. And we haven't been doing the prevention services that we need to be doing. So I think if we make wiser investments in the front to help preserve families, then the private system can do what it needs to do."

DCF is getting new equipment that it says will help place children in foster homes more efficiently, and the agency has taken other steps to improve the initial placement of children. But the department also needs salary increases to retain staff and new funding to add staff.

Meier-Hummel is right; funding for DCF has languished for years. The child welfare task force should be aggressive in recommending steps to correct that funding gap. The 7,600 children in the state's care deserve no less.


The Kansas City Star, Aug. 30

Kris Kobach spoke to JoCo election official on primary night. Coincidence or conflict?

On Thursday, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach reappointed Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker to a full four-year term.

The announcement was expected. Metsker is a former chairman of the Johnson County Republican Party, and Kobach is a Republican.

But Kobach's decision is yet another illustration of the fact that Kansas election laws are a tangled mess. Voters deserve to have the utmost confidence in how votes are cast and counted, yet the Kansas system shows clear potential for conflicts of interest.

In early August, Kobach won the Republican nomination for governor in one of the closest elections in memory. There was a long delay in reporting the results, which Metsker supervised.

The Star editorial board has learned that as the votes were being counted, Metsker spoke directly with Kobach. Pursuant to an open records request, The Star obtained Metsker's text messages after the polls closed.

"I have spoken with Kris twice and he seemed satisfied we were (doing) the best we could," Metsker wrote in a text time-stamped at 3:50 a.m. The recipient appears to be Bryan Caskey, an employee in Kobach's office.

It isn't known what Metsker and Kobach discussed during the phone calls. Neither office responded to emailed requests for comment or explanation.

But the conversations are huge red flags. Kobach was a candidate in an extremely close GOP primary that saw Gov. Jeff Colyer lose by the narrowest of margins. The result almost certainly hinged on the Johnson County returns, which were significantly delayed. Any contact between a candidate and the election commissioner in that circumstance is inappropriate.

Additionally — and crucially — Metsker's job rested in Kobach's hands that night. Both men knew the deadline for a new appointment was just a few weeks away. The appearance of a conflict for both men is clear.

The texts provide no evidence that Metsker talked with any other candidate. He spoke with a representative of Colyer, the texts show, but apparently not the governor directly.

Kobach will likely claim he made the calls as the secretary of state. While Kansans should be uncomfortable with a candidate being in charge of his or her own election, this isn't a unique arrangement. It happens in other states.

But two calls on election night, as the vote count is delayed, are a cause for concern. At that point, Metsker's conversations should not include any of the candidates.

And Kansans should be outraged that Kobach plays any role in Metsker's employment. The potential connection between his job, Election Day problems, and a close contest can only add to voters' cynicism about the election process.

That cynicism will be reinforced with Metsker's reappointment Thursday.

There is no legitimate reason the secretary of state should pick the election commissioner in the state's four biggest counties. It turns election supervision into a partisan patronage job. And it inevitably leads to suspicion that one candidate, if he or she is the secretary of state, has unique access when the votes are counted.

Kansas lawmakers should make election reform a top priority next session. Letting local governments control their own elections is a good place to start.