Entries from blogs tagged with “Kansas government”

GOP primary in 42nd District could be a bellwether for the state

TOPEKA — The 42nd House District, which includes part of eastern Douglas County, may be as good a place as any to watch for signs that a more moderate, pro-public education wing of the Kansas Republican Party will make a resurgence this year.

That’s where Rep. Connie O’Brien, of Tonganoxie, who has been a loyal, conservative ally of Gov. Sam Brownback, is facing a stiff challenge from Jim Karleskint, a former school superintendent.

Karleskint is one of about 50 or so current or former public school teachers, administrators and school board members who are running this year against conservatives who are seen as part of Brownback’s governing coalition.

O’Brien’s campaign finance report wasn’t yet posted on the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission website when the Journal-World first reported on those numbers Monday. But it became available early Tuesday, and the report shows Karleskint has raised more ($6,475 to $4,970) and spent more ($4,421 to $2,818) than O’Brien so far in the primary campaign.

Rep. Connie O'Brien, 42nd District

Rep. Connie O'Brien, 42nd District

Of course, campaign finance numbers don’t tell the whole story. In fact, many veteran politicians will tell you that the average Kansas House district is small enough that most elections are won and lost on voters’ front doorsteps.

Also important is voter turnout and which side can actually motivate its supporters to show up and vote on Election Day. In recent election cycles, conservative Republicans have been much more effective than moderates at doing that.

But finance reports do give some indication about how broad of a support network a candidate is able to build.

Karleskint’s report, for example, shows a large chunk of his support coming from fellow-educators and the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

Jim Karleskint, candidate, 42nd District

Jim Karleskint, candidate, 42nd District

O’Brien’s report, by contrast, shows she received about 60 percent of her contributions from a standard list of regular Statehouse lobby groups such as the Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Realtors Association and the Kansas Chamber.

The 42nd District is a good place to take the temperature of the Brownback coalition because he carried that district by five percentage points over Democrat Paul Davis in 2014, and Mitt Romney took 60 percent of the vote there in the 2012 presidential race..

Although it reaches into the city of Leavenworth, it’s a mostly rural district that leans conservative. Republicans account for 40 percent of registered voters there, followed by unaffiliated voters at 34 percent, and Democrats at just 24 percent.

Whoever wins the GOP primary will go on to face Democrat Kara Reed, a Tonganoxie city councilwoman.

Recent public opinion polls show Brownback’s approval ratings have plummeted on a statewide level. But a loss for a Brownback ally in the 42nd District could indicate that both he and the governing coalition he has built in the Legislature are in trouble.

Conversely, if O’Brien survives the challenge, that would be another bad omen for moderate Republicans whom Brownback all but purged out of the Kansas Senate in 2012.

There are several other races around the state where pro-public education groups are trying to unseat incumbent conservatives. Among those are two Senate districts in Johnson County: the 11th District, where John Skubal, an Overland Park city councilman, is trying to unseat Sen. Jeff Melcher; and the 21st District, where Dinah Sykes is trying to unseat Sen. Greg Smith.

But a few moderate Republicans in the Legislature are facing some stiff challenges of their own, including Sen. Carolyn McGinn, of Wichita, who is being challenged from the right by Renee Erickson, and Sen. Vicki Schmidt, of Topeka, who faces a tough challenge again this year from former Rep. Joe Patton, whom Schmidt barely defeated in a 2012 primary.


Vickrey confirms he’ll run for speaker of Kansas House in 2017

Although the general elections are still more than three months away, some Kansas lawmakers are already lining up to run for leadership positions next session.

The latest was Rep. Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, who confirmed Wednesday that he plans to run for speaker of the House in the 2017 session, hoping to succeed current Speaker Ray Merrick, of Stilwell, who is retiring from the Legislature this year.

Leadership elections are typically held in late November or December following the general elections.

Vickrey is currently the House majority leader, which is considered the second most powerful position in the House. He was first elected to the House in 1992 in a stunning upset race when he unseated then-House Speaker Marvin Barkus, the last Democrat to serve in that position.

Talking with reporters Wednesday following a State Finance Council meeting, Vickrey was at first coy on the subject and said he isn't actively campaigning for the job just yet.

"I've told my caucus, now is not the time to be running for leadership because we have members that need to be elected," he said.

But when pressed about it, he relented.

"I do plan to be running for leadership," he said.

"Running for speakership, or just leadership?" one reporter asked. "Leadership is broader than just the speakership."

"Yes," Vickrey said.

"Yes what?" another reporter asked.

"I will be running for speaker," Vickrey said. "But, now is not ... I'm not announcing anything because we have work to do."

Traditionally, Kansas House speakers serve no more than two terms (four years) in that position, then retire from the House. A few, including Democrat John Carlin (1977-78) and Republican Mike Hayden (1983-86), have gone on to become governor.

It's not known who else might run for speaker. Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, the current House speaker pro tem, would be an obvious candidate, but she chose not to run for re-election this year.

Much of it will likely depend on the outcome of the Aug. 2 primaries and to some extent on the Nov. 8 general elections. That will determine, among other things, how strong the conservative wing of the House GOP caucus will be in the 2017 session.

On the Senate side, Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, has said he will likely challenge Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, for the job of Senate president, according to a July 9 story by the Wichita Eagle.


Kobach defends role in drafting ‘most conservative platform’ in GOP history

TOPEKA — Republicans meeting at their national convention in Cleveland this week adopted what some are calling the most conservative platform in Republican Party history.

In fact, one of the people calling it that is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach who played a significant role in drafting many of its statements.

"Yes, I absolutely believe that to be the case," Kobach said in a telephone interview from the convention Monday.

Kobach was chosen by Kansas Republicans to be one of the state's 40 delegates to the convention, and one of nine who are pledged to support presumptive nominee Donald Trump for president. And last week, before the full convention began, he spoke to the party's Platform Committee urging adoption of statements on issues ranging from immigration and gun rights to abortion and same-sex marriage.

That platform endorses Trump's campaign pledge to build a wall along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border; opposes any effort to restrict ownership of any type of guns or ammunition; opposes the use of federal money to fund Planned Parenthood or similar organizations; and expressly condemns the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

"I was involved in drafting language that criticizes the Obergefell decision (legalizing same-sex marriage) and the flimsy reasoning of the Obergefell decision," Kobach said.

According to recent polling data, many of those positions put the party directly at odds with rapidly changing public opinion, particularly on the issue of marriage equality. But Kobach made no apologies about that.

"I would compare it to the life issue, the abortion issue," Kobach said. "The Republican Party, after Roe vs. Wade (in 1973) took a stand and said we think the decision is wrong, and we think that the Supreme Court made a mistake, and we think the laws on this subject are still open to debate. And the party began persuading the public ... and public opinion has shifted. Now, for the first time, since Roe v. Wade, you have the majority of Americans stating that they are pro-life."

But recent polling data on abortion is far from conclusive. A CNN/ORC International poll conducted in March showed 78 percent of those surveyed believe abortion should be legal at least some of the time. And in a separate poll by Suffolk University and USA Today in December, a sizeable majority, 58 percent, said they opposed defunding Planned Parenthood.

On the issue of marriage equality, a CBS News poll last month found 57 percent of those surveyed saying it should be legal for same-sex couples to marry, although a majority of Republicans in the survey disagreed.

Most recently, a CBS News/New York Times poll earlier this month showed 57 percent of voters overall oppose building a wall along the Mexican border, although 73 percent of Trump voters support the idea.

The GOP platform, and Kobach's involvement in drafting it, has prompted a predictable level of outrage on the editorial page of the New York Times, which condemned the platform Monday under the headline, "Kansas Zealot Helps Shape the G.O.P.’s Right-Wing Platform."

It's the kind of criticism Kobach says he's grown accustomed to, and which bothers him not at all.

"Generally, if the New York Times editorial page disagrees with what I'm doing, then I think I'm probably doing the right thing," he said.

Reply 8 comments from Richard Neuschafer Fred Whitehead Jr. Michael Kort Kendall Simmons Greg Cooper Dorothy Hoyt-Reed Phillip Chappuie

Huelskamp draws opposition from Chicago Cubs and WWE owners

TOPEKA — A political ad airing on TV stations in Topeka and other parts of Kansas raises an interesting question: Why do the owners of the Chicago Cubs and World Wrestling Entertainment care about who represents western Kansas in Congress?

You wouldn't immediately know that just from watching the ad, which criticizes U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp for getting thrown off the Agriculture Committee and endorses his Republican primary opponent, Great Bend physician Roger Marshall.

It's only when you get to the end of the ad when, if you listen closely, you hear that something called the ESA Fund is responsible for the ad's content.

The ESA Fund, formerly known as the Ending Spending Action Fund, describes itself as "an independent organization that proudly supports candidates regardless of party affiliation who favor enhancing free enterprise, reducing the size of government, and balancing our nation's budget. We are also proud to strongly oppose those who do not."

That's as much information as you'll find on the group's website, and it's an example of how difficult it can be for the average voter in the post-Citizens United election environment to really know who is behind the campaign messages they hear, and why.

In this July 22, 2015, file photo, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, speaks during a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

In this July 22, 2015, file photo, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, speaks during a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

According to the website OpenSecrets.org, the ESA Fund is a conservative super PAC made up of a handful of billionaire investors and hedge fund managers that includes the family that owns the Chicago Cubs and the family that turned World Wrestling Entertainment into a multibillion dollar international entertainment business.

Specifically, Marlene Ricketts is listed as contributing $850,000 to the PAC this election cycle. She is the wife of T.D. Ameritrade founder J. Joseph Ricketts. In 2009, their son Tom Ricketts led a bid by the family to purchase the Cubs for an estimated $875 million.

Joseph and Marlene Ricketts, who live in Omaha, are also the parents of J. Peter "Pete" Ricketts, the Republican governor of Nebraska.

Another contributor to the ESA Fund is Linda McMahon of Greenwich, Conn., who, along with her husband Vince McMahon, founded a small regional pro wrestling promotion company in 1980 and built it into the WWE, which is now a multibillion dollar entertainment behemoth. She served as CEO of the enterprise until stepping down in 2009 to run for U.S. Senate from Connecticut. She was the Republican nominee in 2010 and 2012, losing both times to Democratic candidates.

The largest donor to the ESA Fund is billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer of New York, who Forbes magazine estimates has a net worth of $2.2 billion. Singer is also a major contributor to the American Unity PAC, which supports pro-gay rights candidates.

Other contributors include hedge fund managers Kenneth C. Griffin of Chicago and William Powers of Florida.

So far this election cycle, the ESA Fund has spent about $2.6 million in various campaigns, much of it for Republican candidates and against Democratic candidates.

But nearly half of that money, $1.1 million, has been spent opposing U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire. And a small amount, $319,748, has been spent opposing Huelskamp, with $64,717 going to support Marshall, his opponent.

At this point, it's difficult to see why the 1st District race in Kansas would have any particular importance to billionaire investors in Omaha, Chicago, New York or Florida, or why, out of the hundreds of races happening this year for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governor's offices, they chose to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in western Kansas.

Perhaps we'll have to wait until after the election to find out.

Reply 6 comments from Jeff Lough Chuck Holder Nick Gerik Lea Orth Clara Westphal

Poll: Trump has big lead over Clinton in Kansas; Brownback’s approval rating worse than Nixon’s

Kansans are sharply polarized over this year's presidential election, but Republican Donald Trump still leads Democrat Hillary Clinton by a substantial margin, according to a new poll out this week.

Still, there are signs that his numbers may be soft in Kansas, although Clinton's numbers show her doing no better than Democrats have done here over the last four presidential cycles.

The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf of KSN News in Wichita, shows Trump leading Clinton 47-36 percent, with 8 percent supporting Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and 9 percent still undecided.

Since the 2000 election, Republican presidential candidates have averaged 59 percent of the vote in Kansas while Democrats have averaged 38.3 percent.

The SurveyUSA of 675 registered voters was conducted July 8-11 and had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

The results were in sharp contrast to a John Zogby poll released last month that showed Clinton ahead, 43-36 percent.

"It (SurveyUSA) has more face validity than the Zogby poll, but whether that's a function of methodology or real world political change in the last month, we can't really know," Kansas University political science professor Patrick Miller said. "But Trump is up in a state that's usually safe for Republicans at the presidential level — no surprise. I think Trump is on course to win Kansas, even if he may win it by a lower margin than the typical Republican."

Among Trump supporters in the new poll, though, more than half (55 percent) said they are backing him because they oppose Clinton, and a similar number (54 percent) say they have some reservation about supporting him. Only 42 percent of Trump supporters said they are doing so because they are for Trump.

Clinton's supporters, on the other hand, were a little more firm in their convictions: 60 percent of her supporters say theirs is a vote for Clinton, while only 39 percent say it's a vote against Trump.

Overall, among "likely" voters in the survey, neither major candidate is very popular in Kansas: 41 percent said they view Trump favorably; and only 32 percent said they have a favorable view of Clinton.

But the split between parties showed a striking polarization among Kansas voters: 77 percent of Republican voters said they have an "extremely unfavorable" view of Clinton, and 77 percent of Democratic voters said they have an "extremely unfavorable" view of Trump.

Brownback and local Republicans

How bad are Gov. Sam Brownback's polling numbers? Here's one way to put it in perspective. Richard Nixon resigned from office with a higher approval rating (24%) than Gov. Brownback has in Kansas today (22%).

Granted, the science of public opinion polling has changed a lot in 42 years. And even if we assume both polls are accurate, the spread between Nixon and Brownback is well within both polls' margins of error.

Still, that could have a big impact on upcoming state legislative races. Because even though Brownback's name is not on the ballot, many observers say the legislative races are very much a referendum on his policies and on the incumbent Republican lawmakers who have supported them.

According to the poll, 72 percent of "likely" voters have an unfavorable view of Brownback, including 50 percent who said it's "extremely unfavorable." Even among Republican voters, 57 percent said they have an unfavorable view of him.

"Brownback is not on the ballot in name," Miller said, "but just like a presidential midterm is often about how voters perceive the president, this 2016 legislative midterm could very well be about how Kansas voters perceive the governor independent of anything going on at the national level."

That could be a particular problem in the Kansas City area, where a large number of conservatives who have been in Brownback's camp are facing primary challenges from more moderate Republicans. According to SurveyUSA, that's also the one area of the state where Clinton is leading Trump, by 5 percentage points.

"This is a potential danger to Republicans in state legislative races if Democrats can effectively make specific races about him," Miller said. "I think we're seeing Republicans aware of this danger. Few are embracing him in their campaign messages, and we see a lot of incumbent Republicans cherry picking particular votes to make it look like there is some distance between themselves and Brownback."

Reply 41 comments from Barb Gordon Rick Masters Scott Burkhart Nick Naidenov Tony Peterson Doug Larson Maddy Griffin Gregory Charles Larry Hazard Steve Jacob and 16 others

Capital city begs to differ with Commissioner Matthew Herbert’s Topeka bashing; Herbert apologizes

TOPEKA – Suffice it to say there were people in Topeka who were fairly unamused Wednesday after reading the comments that one Lawrence city commissioner made the night before regarding the Topeka arts scene.

Expressing his displeasure with City Manager Tom Markus' budget recommendations, including cuts to the Lawrence Arts Center and the lack of funding for the proposed East Ninth Street project, Commissioner Matthew Herbert made some comparisons between the Lawrence and Topeka arts communities that were not intended to flatter Topeka.

The Journal-World's Nikki Wentling quoted Herbert as saying: “Congratulations, we just became Topeka, Kansas. I live in Lawrence because it's not Topeka, Kansas. I don't want my legacy to be that I helped to make Lawrence Topeka.”

None by The Journal-World

“Grrr,” was the Facebook comment from one of my neighbors down the street here, a neighbor whose wife works at the Topeka-Shawnee County Public Library.

People here consider that library, and the Sabatini Gallery inside, one of the crown jewels of the capital city and a testament to this city's support for arts and culture. It was financed with a $23 million bond issue that voters in Topeka overwhelmingly approved 20 years ago next month.

But Hi Stockwell, a Topeka-based studio artist, formerly of Lawrence, who owns a gallery in the new and thriving NOTO arts district in North Topeka, had more to say on the subject.

“Comments such as this are insults to both cities,” he said. “It's a bullying process that says little about the issues and a great deal about the person who makes them.”

The NOTO arts district, for those who haven't seen it, is held out here as another example of the vibrancy of the Topeka arts community. It's a place where local artists and investors, largely on their own initiative and without city subsidies, took over vacant buildings in a decaying part of the city that was close to becoming a post-industrial ghost town, and turned it into an arts mecca, full of galleries and trendy restaurants that now draw visitors and shoppers by the thousands.

NOTO, however, is just one example of what some people here would call a cultural revival taking place in Topeka.

Over at Topeka City Hall – a building that includes the refurbished, Art Deco-style Topeka Performing Arts Center – officials were laughing off Herbert's comments.

City spokeswoman Aly Van Dyke called attention to the newly redesigned Kansas Avenue, the city's main downtown strip, a project that is just now wrapping up after two years and more than $6 million of public investment in the streetscape alone.

The area now features broad sidewalks and “pocket parks” that invite musicians and public activities, not to mention statues and other public art celebrating the history and culture of Topeka and the state of Kansas.

The public art, though, was not funded by the city. It all came from private donations, Van Dyke said. In the planning stages of the project, the city set a goal of getting $1.8 million in private funds. It ended up getting $3.8 million.

And that's one of the key differences between the Lawrence and Topeka arts communities. It's true that Topeka does not have the kind of publicly funded arts center that Lawrence has, and it does not invest large amounts of public money in public art the way many in Lawrence would like to see their city do.

Instead, Topeka has had to rely more heavily on drawing significant investment from private sources within the community.

“I consider myself from Lawrence and strongly support the arts, visual and performing, there,” Stockwell said. “Having lived in Topeka the last 15 years, I've found differences, however the struggles remain the same. Those struggles primarily consist of convincing the community of the value of the arts, not only to increase the value of life, but also to the local economy.”


Herbert posted an apology for his comment on Facebook Wednesday evening, in which he said that he was referring to “the legislature which convenes in Topeka,” not “the private citizens and artists of Topeka.”

“In expressing my desire to see Lawrence stick to their culturally vibrant roots I didn’t need to degrade anyone else’s city,” Herbert wrote. “That was a very poor choice and for that I am truly sorry.”

Reply 20 comments from Tony Peterson David Holroyd Clara Westphal John Hampton Matthew Herbert Bob Forer Cindy Bell Richard Renner Brett McCabe

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targets Yoder as part of national ad campaign

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began airing TV ads nationwide Monday targeting vulnerable Republicans who have endorsed GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, and among the media markets being targeted is the Kansas City-centered 3rd Congressional District of Kansas, where U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder is running for re-election.

Neither of the two ads mentions any member of Congress by name, but DCCC officials say they are being strategically placed in markets where GOP incumbents have allied themselves with Trump.

"House Republicans, like Kevin Yoder, have allowed a man who freely attacks people and intentionally divides our nation to be their standard-bearer without lifting a finger to stop him,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement last week.

Democrats say they have internal polling that shows Yoder is vulnerable this year. But the ad campaign is also based on a widely held belief — albeit one that Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com disputes — that Trump is most unpopular among upper-income, college educated suburban voters, who make up the bulk of the Johnson County electorate.

Both ads play into that belief. One ad features a series of casually dressed voters, including a middle-age man standing by his suburban-looking home, who asks, "If he's our standard bearer, what the heck happened to our standards?"

The other ad asks viewers how they would feel to learn that their child was a school bully or even the school bully's sidekick. The footage alternates between cleanly dressed white male students harassing another student in school and Trump gesticulating wildly during speeches.

"Johnson County has a lot of just the kind of voter with whom Trump is polling worse than typical Republican nominees usually do: higher income, higher education, suburban, leaning conservative, and female," said Kansas University political science professor Patrick Miller. "So Democrats probably see some rationale in hitting Yoder now, then repolling the race soon to reassess it for future investment."

There are three Democrats vying to challenge Yoder in the general election, but the DCCC is backing Jay Sidie, a former commodities trader for Archer Daniel Midland who now runs an investment firm in Mission Woods.

The other candidates in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary are Reggie Marselus of Lenexa and Nathaniel W. McLaughlin of Kansas City.

DCCC officials said the ads that started Monday will run through the GOP national convention next week.


Kansas Farm Bureau endorses challenger against Huelskamp in Big First district

The political arm of Kansas Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm organization, is endorsing Great Bend physician Roger Marshall over incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp in the "Big First" congressional district in western Kansas.

The announcement Friday deals a major blow to Huelskamp, a three-term incumbent. KFB is a major presence in rural communities throughout Kansas, and its political action committee, VOTE KFB, wields considerable influence among rural Kansas voters.

In recent years, Huelskamp, a Tea Party favorite, has often been at odds with GOP leaders in the U.S. House, so much so that he was removed from the House Agriculture Committee in 2012. That riled KFB members because it marked the first time in modern memory that no Kansas representative served on that committee. During the 2014 elections, VOTE KFB made no endorsement in the 1st District.

“The county Farm Bureau evaluation committees made thoughtful recommendations in each district," KFB's political action committee said in a statement. "A clear message of strong support was delivered to the VOTE FBF board, and these endorsements are a result of that effort. We are proud of our grass roots process, and look forward to working with all of these individuals in the next Congress.”

The primary campaign in the 1st District heated up early when Marshall got into the race in April. In press releases and social media posts, Huelskamp has attacked Marshall, an obstetrician-gynecologist, for being tied to a medical practice that supports abortion.

Marshall, however, describes himself as "staunchly pro-life" and says he "oppose any efforts to ever use taxpayer funding for abortions."

VOTE KFB endorsed two other incumbent members of congress: Reps. Lynn Jenkins in the 2nd District, which includes Lawrence; and Mike Pompeo in the Wichita-centered 4th District. Earlier this year the group announced its endorsement of 3rd District Rep. Kevin Yoder and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran.

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Top aide leaves House Democrats office

House Democratic Leader Tom Burroughs replaced his top aide over the weekend, just two weeks before advance voting begins in the 2016 primary elections.

Burroughs, D-Kansas City, confirmed Tuesday that Abbie Hodgson, who has been his chief of staff since he was elected minority leader after the 2014 elections, has left that position. He said Cory Sheedy, another aide in the office, will serve as interim chief of staff through this year's elections.

Hodgson, of Lawrence, has been active in Democratic politics for several years. She held several positions in the administrations of Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. In 2014 she ran unsuccessfully for the House seat being vacated by gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis, but lost the Democratic primary to Boog Highberger.

In a telephone interview, Hodgson confirmed that she no longer works in Burroughs' office but declined to discuss details about what led to her departure.

Typically, the chief of staff in any legislative leadership offices plays both an administrative role and a political role, especially during election years when leaders are expected to recruit and train candidates and raise money on their behalf through the caucus' campaign fund, Kansans for a Democratic House.

Democrats believe they stand a good chance of making gains this year, given Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's low approval ratings and the fact that Donald Trump, who also has high negative ratings, will be at the top of the GOP ticket in November. Democrats currently hold only 28 seats in the 125-member House.

But there have been rumblings within Democratic ranks that Burroughs' office has not been doing enough to support the party's candidates, particularly in areas outside northeast Kansas and the Kansas City-Lawrence-Topeka area. There were similar complaints following the 2014 elections after former Rep. Paul Davis lost the governor's race and Democrats lost five seats in the House.

Burroughs denied that there were any such concerns this year, saying that Hodgson was "just moving on" in her career.

"We are taking a new direction in our candidate races," he said. "We’ve got a ground game that we’ll be implementing before long that I believe will be a benefit in the election."

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said that's a perennial concern in the party, especially as its numbers have dwindled, because in a heavily Republican state Democrats have to choose between focusing on the few districts where they have a clear shot of winning or trying to grow the party in areas where Republicans might be vulnerable.

He also noted that more Democratic groups are out raising money this year, including one focused on retaining Supreme Court justices who are being targeted by Republicans because of their rulings on school finance and death penalty cases.

"There's a lot of money being raised, but it's being divided among more pots," he said.

Reply 3 comments from Randolf Fellows Peter Macfarlane Bob Smith

Kansas Democrats stir speculation about retired U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom

An email sent out Thursday from the Kansas Democratic Party is sparking more speculation about the political future of retired U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom.

The announcement was about an upcoming gala in Overland Park at which Grissom will receive a service award from the party, where former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis will also be special guests.

"Barry Grissom is retiring from his post as Kansas U.S. Attorney, noting that he has higher political aspirations in the future (though not this cycle)," the email stated.

Grissom, 62, was the Obama administration's top federal prosecutor in Kansas from 2010 until April, when he retired and took a private-sector job with the Polsinelli law firm in Kansas City.

Former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom announces charges in a money laundering case involving a Lawrence business owner in this file photo from March 19, 2015. Grissom announced April 11, 2016 that he planned to step down as U.S. attorney for Kansas.

Former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom announces charges in a money laundering case involving a Lawrence business owner in this file photo from March 19, 2015. Grissom announced April 11, 2016 that he planned to step down as U.S. attorney for Kansas.

Polsinelli is an 800-plus attorney firm with 19 offices around the country, including Kansas City, Mo., and Overland Park. It also has a major presence at the Kansas Statehouse with lobbyists representing health insurance companies, the Kansas University Hospital Authority, the Kansas Speedway Corp. and a variety of other interests.

The fact that he's announcing his political ambitions, but not for the current cycle, likely indicates that he's planning to spend two years building an organization and lining up contributors, which is about how long it takes now to mount a solid run for a congressional or statewide office.

Republicans say they've been keeping an eye on him as well, noting that his six years as a federal prosecutor make him a credible figure. And the fact that he's relatively new to state politics — not connected to the Kathleen Sebelius-John Carlin old guard — would help put a fresh face on a party that desperately needs to reverse its fortunes.

Democrats in Kansas haven't won a single statewide or congressional race since 2008, the last year Dennis Moore was elected to the 3rd District in Congress.

One high-ranking Republican said the immediate speculation has been on the 2018 governor's race, which will be an open race, or possibly the 3rd District congressional seat, where national Democrats think incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder may be vulnerable.

But Grissom's credentials from the U.S. attorney's office also make him an obvious contender for attorney general, and there continues to be much speculation that incumbent Republican Derek Schmidt, along with Secretary of State Kris Kobach, have their eyes on the governor's office.

The most likely scenario right now, Republicans think, is that Grissom is waiting to see how all of the 2018 races develop over the next several months before deciding which one offers the best opportunity for Democrats.

The event is Saturday, July 16, at the Overland Park Convention Center. Ticket prices range from $50 for Young Democrats who may be seated in the back, to $5,000 for those who want to sit at the front table.

Also being honored at the "First Annual Awards Gala" will be Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, and House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, of Kansas City.

Reply 2 comments from Richard Heckler Steve Jacob

KNEA endorses all Lawrence-area lawmakers in upcoming primaries

The state's largest teachers union issued its list of primary election endorsements Tuesday, backing 108 House candidates and 40 Senate candidates.

Included in the list are all six Douglas County legislators: Democratic Reps. John Wilson, Boog Highberger and Barbara Ballard; Republican Rep. Tom Sloan; and Democratic Sens. Marci Francisco and Tom Holland.

KNEA said its screening process includes interviews with a team of educators who live in each candidate's district, "to determine which candidates show the greatest support for Kansas public schools."

Incumbent lawmakers are also judged according to their voting record on education issues, KNEA said. The list includes 97 Democrats and 51 Republicans.

KNEA also endorsed Democratic Sen. Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, whose district includes rural western Douglas County.

But in the 42nd House District, which includes Eudora and parts of eastern Douglas County, KNEA endorsed Jim Karleskint over incumbent Rep. Connie O'Brien in the GOP primary, and it backed Democrat Kara Reed, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.

O'Brien currently serves on the House Education Budget Committee. All three of the candidates are from Tonganoxie.

Primary elections will be Aug. 2. Voters can begin casting advance ballots starting July 18.


Kansas Chamber issues all-GOP endorsements

The Kansas Chamber's Political Action Committee released its list of endorsements, all Republicans, for the upcoming Aug. 2 primary in 26 Senate races and 58 House races.

The overwhelming majority of primary races involve contests between Republicans. But included in the list are districts in which there will be no primary, and the only candidates on the ballot are a single Democrat and a single Republican.

Among those are the three Senate districts that cover parts of Douglas County. The Chamber PAC endorsed Republican Meredith Richey of Perry over incumbent Democrat Marci Francisco of Lawrence in the 2nd District; Republican Echo Van Meteren of Linwood over incumbent Democrat Tom Holland in the 3rd District; and Republican Zack Haney of Topeka over incumbent Democrat Anthony Hensley, also of Topeka, in the 19th District, which includes part of rural western Douglas County.

It also endorsed a number of conservative Republicans who are trying to unseat incumbent moderates, including Joe Patton, who is trying to unseat incumbent Sen. Vicki Schmidt in the 20th Senate District in west Topeka.

"The Chamber PAC is committed to supporting hardworking candidates who will fight to make Kansas the best state in the nation in which to live and do business," said Chamber PAC Chairman Amanda Adkins.

But Sen. Holland took a different view.

"I find it rather ironic that the chamber once again is endorsing candidates this cycle who are directly responsible for supporting Gov. (Sam) Brownback’s devastating tax policies that have led the state to the brink of financial ruin," Holland said.

The Chamber PAC made only one endorsement in a Douglas County House district, the 42nd District that covers much of eastern part of the county, including Eudora. There, the chamber endorsed incumbent Rep. Connie O'Brien of Tonganoxie over her GOP rival, Jim Karleskint, also of Tonganoxie.

It made no endorsement in the GOP primary in the 45th District in Lawrence where incumbent Rep. Tom Sloan is being challenged by Jeremy Ryan Pierce.

And it made no endorsements in any Democratic primaries, including the one in the 44th District of Lawrence between incumbent Rep. Barbara Ballard and challenger Steven X. Davis.

Reply 2 comments from Chuck Holder Michael Kort

A spectator’s guide to the special legislative session

TOPEKA — Kansas lawmakers return to the Statehouse at 8 a.m. Thursday for the start of a special legislative session, the 23rd such session in state history and the second one in 11 years focusing on school funding and the Kansas Constitution.

At stake is one simple question: Will public schools be allowed to open and operate as usual this fall, or will the Kansas Supreme Court effectively close public schools unless or until the Legislature comes up with a constitutional way of funding them?

Passions are running high as the court’s June 30 deadline draws closer. But the issues that got the Legislature to this point, and the policy options confronting them are sometimes so complex, it often seems as though lawmakers — not to mention the journalists covering them — are speaking in an entirely different dialect.

But when the techno-jargon is peeled away, what remains is a situation that ought to be of deep concern for every Kansas taxpayer, parent, educator or patron of a school district.

Here, then, is your spectator’s guide to what’s going on in the special session.

None by Nick Krug

First, the issue

Contrary to what many might assume, this is not about whether schools are getting enough money. That will come later. The immediate issue here is property tax fairness: Whether one homeowner or business should pay substantially higher, or lower, property taxes than someone else simply by virtue of their ZIP codes.

Last month, the Kansas Supreme Court said the current funding formula creates disparities that are so wide that they make the entire funding formula unconstitutional.

This has to do with local option budgets, or LOBs, the additional money school districts can raise on their own in order to supplement the base funding they receive from the state. In Lawrence, the LOB equals roughly 33 percent of base state aid, the maximum amount allowed by law.

People often point to extreme examples to illustrate this point. In the Galena school district in southeast Kansas, one of the poorest districts in the state, 1 mill of property tax raises about $17,000. But in Olathe, one of the wealthier districts, that same mill of tax raises about $1.8 million.

Therefore, in order to have the money needed to pay for one additional teacher — let’s say $60,000 for salary plus benefits — folks in Galena have to pay 3.5 mills, or $40.25 in tax on a $100,000 house (and there aren’t many $100,000 houses in Galena), while a similar person in Olathe would pay only 0.03 mills, or 34.5 cents. To even out those kinds of disparities, the state uses a pot of money officially called “supplemental general state aid,” but which most people call “equalization aid.”

For the upcoming school year, the Legislature has budgeted roughly $450 million in equalization aid. It gets divvied up based on a formula that almost nobody fully understands and which has changed a couple of times in the two years as lawmakers have tried to respond to various court decisions.

What the court said on May 27 was that the formula being used for this upcoming year still leaves disparities that are too wide. Not only does it result in tax disparities, it said, but those tax disparities result in educational disparities for students.

The court has given the Legislature until June 30, the last day of the current fiscal year, to fix the problem.

Options for the Legislature

One option that seems to have traction, at least among some lawmakers, and one that the court has suggested, is to reinstate and fully fund the old formula that had previously been held constitutional, but which lawmakers repealed in 2015.

In essence, that would mean reallocating all the money in that $450 million pot of equalization aid, plus about $38 million more, so that some districts would get more and some would get less.

But one political problem with that: Johnson County is home to many of the schools that would get less, because they primarily benefited from the formula change made a couple of years ago. The three largest districts there — Olathe, Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission — collectively would lose nearly $5 million.

Johnson County is home to roughly 20 percent of the state’s population and therefore has roughly 20 percent of all the legislators. That makes it hard to pass anything out of the Legislature without support from Johnson County.

In addition, all of those lawmakers are up for re-election this year. And they don't want to go home after the special session to explain to their constituents why their schools just lost $5 million.

Another option, which many in Johnson County are pushing, would be to include a “hold harmless” provision to make sure no district ends up losing money in the reallocation.

According to the Kansas State Department of Education, that would cost roughly another $11 million, bringing the total price tag close to $50 million.

But there’s another problem. When lawmakers changed the formula, they included a kind of hold-harmless provision, and the Supreme Court said that made the inequities even worse. So there’s no guarantee the court would look favorably on it again.

‘Nuclear’ option

In addition to the two groups just described, there is another group of lawmakers, including a few from Johnson County, who think the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds by striking down the formula and by threatening to close schools if the Legislature doesn’t do what the court wants.

Some of them are dead-set against doing anything and have openly suggested that the Legislature call the court’s bluff.

Others aren’t too sure that’s a good idea. They would rather pass a constitutional amendment limiting the court’s power to order certain remedies in school finance cases, and they may make passage of such an amendment a condition for their voting yes on any formula change.

Constitutional amendments require passage by two-thirds of the members of both chambers, which is a steep hill to climb in the sharply divided Legislature. After that, it would have to be approved by a simple majority of voters in a statewide election, most likely the upcoming Nov. 8 general election.

None by Nick Krug

Options for the court

If lawmakers choose to do nothing, or if what they do in the next week fails, in the court's opinion, to cure the tax inequities, the court has at least a couple of options at its disposal.

The one that most people fear is that it could issue an order blocking the expenditure of any funds under an unconstitutional formula, effectively shutting down the Kansas public school system on July 1.

In its May 27 opinion, the court said, “without a constitutionally equitable school finance system, the schools in Kansas will be unable to operate.”

But it also suggested another option. In the concluding paragraph, the court said it was continuing to stay the “broad remedial orders” of the three-judge trial court panel.

That would involve striking out all of the changes to the formula lawmakers have made in the last two years, effectively putting the old formula back in place, and then ordering the state treasurer and other officials to disburse those funds accordingly, a move that many lawmakers might take as an even more egregious usurping of legislative authority.

Reply 2 comments from Randolf Fellows Devin Wilson

No ‘Dump Trump’ movement for Kansas GOP

The chairman of the Kansas Republican Party said Monday that he is not taking part in recent efforts to change party rules in a way that could deny Donald Trump the presidential nomination.

"At this point I’m not on board with this," Kelly Arnold, the GOP chairman, said. "We held a caucus, invited Republicans to come out and vote, and I think it would be disingenuous to unbind our delegates that represent the results of our Kansas caucus."

In addition to chairing the state party organization, Arnold serves on the Rules and Resolutions Committee of the Republican National Committee, where efforts are reportedly underway to push through a change in the rules that essentially would allow delegates who are bound to support a candidate to "unbind" themselves if they believe doing so is a matter of personal conscience.

The latest efforts began late last week after Trump made a number of controversial statements, including his call for a ban on Muslim immigration, his comments about a judge of Mexican descent presiding over a civil fraud lawsuit against him, and his wavering positions on gun rights.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally Saturday, June 18, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally Saturday, June 18, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican voters in Kansas decided how their delegates will be allocated when they voted in the March 5 caucuses. Kansas will send 40 delegates to the convention: 24 pledged to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; nine for Trump; six for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; and one for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Under state party rules, those delegates remain bound to their candidates unless the candidate releases them, which none has so far.

Arnold said he has not spoken with any other Rules Committee members, although several have reached out and tried to contact him.

"For us, as a committee, to throw away the will of the Republicans in America – all of the caucuses and all of the primaries would become a moot point," Arnold said. "Just to say, 'Well, those are no longer valid anymore,' I’m not convinced that’s the right direction to go. Things could change, but I prefer to stick with the will of the people."

The GOP National Convention begins July 18 in Cleveland. But the RNC's Rules and Resolutions Committee will meet the week before that, starting July 14, to finalize its proposed rules for the convention. A final vote on those rules is expected to be one of the first items of business when the full convention begins the following Monday.

That Rules and Resolutions Committee is made up of 122 people: two each, one man and one woman, from all 50 states, the five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. Besides Arnold, the other Kansas member of the committee is Beverly Caley, a state party official from the First Congressional District. Caley did not respond Monday to an email request for comment.

"I would not see this as a likely option to happen, at least within the Rules Committee," Arnold said. "A lot of outside people are talking about this."

Reply 10 comments from Barb Gordon Steve Jacob Michael Kort Armen Kurdian Brett McCabe Phillip Chappuie Greg Cooper

Gun debate heats up locally, nationally

The debate over gun control is heating up in at least one congressional race in Kansas at the same time that Democrats in the U.S. Senate are trying to pressure Republicans into allowing a debate on the issue in the wake of Sunday's massacre in Orlando, Fla.

Democrat Jay Sidie, of Mission Woods, one of three Democrats seeking to unseat Third District Congressman Kevin Yoder, this week called on Yoder to back legislation that would prevent people on the FBI's terrorist watch list from buying guns.

“It’s beyond comprehension that Congressman Yoder believes that suspects on the terrorist watch list — who are already banned from flying — should be able to buy weapons and explosives,” Sidie said. “Congress should put aside the petty partisanship and work together to close this loophole, which is an important step in any comprehensive strategy to destroy ISIS and keep Americans safe.”

At the same time, Democrats in the U.S. Senate launched a filibuster Wednesday, blocking a vote on a bill to fund scientific research until GOP Senate leaders allow a debate on gun legislation.

Yoder's office issued the following statement in response to Sidie's remarks:

"Known terrorists shouldn't be allowed to buy weapons of any kind in the United States. Period. In the case of (Orlando massacre suspect) Omar Mateen, he was neither on the terrorist watch list nor the no-fly list. We need robust and renewed efforts to identify and stop radical Islamic terrorism before it occurs both abroad and in the homeland. It's time our President takes ISIS seriously and turn our attention to the root cause of this attack."

Reply 14 comments from Bob Smith Armen Kurdian Brock Masters Fred Whitehead Jr. Justin Hoffman Pete Kennamore Charles Jones John Middleton

New lawmaker to be seated in special session

One state lawmaker will get a proverbial baptism by fire next week when that person takes office on the first day of what is expected to be a highly contentious special session.

Democrat Jim Gartner, of Topeka, is widely expected to be chosen in the coming days to replace Rep. Annie Tietze, who resigned her seat last week.

Tietze had already announced she would not seek another term, and Gartner had filed to run in that race. Gartner worked as a consultant for AT&T until his retirement two years ago. He is currently president of the Auburn-Washburn school district board of education.

But on June 6, Tietze submitted her resignation to Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach's office then transmitted the resignation to the chief clerk of the House, but word of it didn't circulate outside that office until over the weekend.

That means Democratic precinct committee officials from the 53rd District in central Topeka will have to meet to elect a replacement, which they are expected to do before the special session.

If Gartner is chosen, he would not only serve during the special session but would also be able to run as the "incumbent" in the general election against Republican Richard Kress.

Tietze's resignation came two days before Gov. Sam Brownback called for a special session starting June 23 to address a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school funding equity.

On May 27, the court struck down the most recent change lawmakers made to the way state aid for local option budgets, and it has threatened to block the spending of any money for public schools if lawmakers do not fix the problem by June 30, the last day of the current fiscal year.

Republican leaders in the Legislature have harshly criticized that ruling and the threat to close schools. The House and Senate judiciary committees will meet later this week, in advance of the special session, and it is likely that they will consider additional measures aimed at limiting the court's ability to order such remedies in school funding lawsuits.


Poll shows Clinton leading in Kansas; broad dissatisfaction with Legislature

Kansans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with their state government and with their choice of presidential candidates, according to a new poll released Friday.

But when given a choice between the two parties’ presumptive nominees, a plurality (43-36 percent) said they prefer Democrat Hillary Clinton to Republican Donald Trump, while 21 percent are currently undecided.

If those trends hold through November, it would mark a historic shift in Kansas politics, where no Democratic presidential candidate has won Kansas since 1964, when Lyndon Johnson carried it over Barry Goldwater, 54-45 percent.

The poll by John Zogby Strategies was commissioned by the Kansas Health Foundation and was released Friday in conjunction with a symposium being conducted in Wichita. The random survey of 433 registered voters was conducted June 4-6 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percent.

Speaking in a telephone interview from Wichita, pollster John Zogby said the results were surprising for such a solidly Republican state as Kansas.

“The Republicans have some work to do to earn the red state status this time,” he said. “You’ve got the presumptive nominee, Trump, polling only 36 percent. That’s some making up to do.”

But Kansas University political science professor Patrick Miller said the numbers weren’t completely surprising, especially on the Democratic side where Clinton’s 43 percent is about on par with how Democratic presidential candidates tend to do in Kansas.

“That’s a little bit better than (President Barack) Obama did,” he said. “So if you assume also that Trump is toxic, Clinton hasn’t closed the deal with Millennials yet, she probably has some room to grow. I think Clinton will do better than the average Democratic candidate. I don’t think she’ll win Kansas, but I think she’ll probably get a few percent better than Obama.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters as she arrives to speak during a presidential primary election night rally, Tuesday, June 7, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters as she arrives to speak during a presidential primary election night rally, Tuesday, June 7, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The undecided

One of the keys to the race in Kansas will be which candidate can win over the 21 percent of voters who are still undecided, and that includes a large number from both Democrats and Republicans, but especially independents.

Zogby said his poll showed 12 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans are still undecided about the race. But among independent and unaffiliated voters who make up 30 percent of all registered voters in Kansas, 31 percent remain undecided.

And among 18- to 34-year-olds, the so-called “Millennial” generation voters who went overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 and 2012, Clinton leads 44-29 percent in Kansas, with 27 percent still undecided.

“I’m going to extrapolate here and suggest that she hasn’t closed the deal,” Zogby said. “That’s probably the 12 percent undecided Democrats right there.”

Miller said it could also be a reflection that both Clinton and Trump have not yet won over a big part of their own parties, which voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Ted Cruz in the March 5 Kansas caucuses.

“Trump, you look at this and it’s like, this is vastly underperforming,” he said. “Maybe that’s not closing the deal with the evangelical base. Maybe that’s the low support from independents who might normally vote Republican. So I think that’s kind of one way of interpreting it. Clinton does a little bit better than Obama, given the context, but Trump in Kansas really has a whole lot of solidifying of his base to do.”

The survey sample did include a larger proportion of college-educated voters (50 percent) than the adult population as a whole (31 percent), and that is a key demographic group with which Trump routinely polls poorly.

But Miller said the sample is actually a close reflection of the population that actually turns out to vote in Kansas.

Other findings in the election survey seem to match what has been found in other national polls: Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said they are dissatisfied with the choice of nominees; and nearly a fourth of those polled (24 percent) said the main reason they are voting is because they strongly oppose the other candidate.

That was more true among Republicans (22 percent) than Democrats (12 percent), while 27 percent of independents and other-party voters said their choice was based on opposition to the other candidate.

Zogby said that is consistent with what polls in other states and nationwide surveys have shown.

“What makes this all really so fascinating is that you have two of the best known figures in the country, and two of the least-liked figures in public life, who are now presumptive nominees for their party,” he said.

The Kansas House of Representatives meets during the final day of this legislative session Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at the Statehouse in Topeka.

The Kansas House of Representatives meets during the final day of this legislative session Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at the Statehouse in Topeka. by Mike Yoder

State political issues

The poll also showed 71 percent of those surveyed have a generally unfavorable opinion about the performance of Kansas government and nearly two-thirds (65 percent) don’t believe it’s doing a good job spending or saving taxpayers’ money.

Another 60 percent don’t believe the state is spending enough to ensure a quality education for Kansas children, and just over half, 56 percent, say it’s not doing enough to provide a safety net for poor and low-income residents.

Those findings come just two weeks before Kansas lawmakers are scheduled to return for a special session to respond to a state Supreme Court ruling on school finance equity. Earlier polls by the Docking Institute at Fort Hays State University have also found broad dissatisfaction with the Kansas Legislature and the level of funding it provides to public schools.

Zogby said he wasn’t familiar enough with local races to offer an opinion about what that means for upcoming legislative races, “but it does suggest to me that there’s a nasty mood and that it’s not great, all things being equal, to be an incumbent.”

Miller, on the other hand, said the 2016 races so far display all the elements needed for a “wave” election, the kind that produces a wholesale shift in partisan or philosophical control of the Legislature. But he said it’s still too early to tell if that will happen.

“Do you have the right context for that,” he said. “Absolutely. (Gov. Sam) Brownback is unpopular, Trump is unpopular. Granted, Clinton is unpopular too, but Trump’s unpopularity changes that dynamic a little bit.”

“You have (Gov. Sam) Brownback unpopular, Trump unpopular and very negative assessments of Kansas government, so that creates the right atmosphere,” he said. “You have a fair number of seemingly good quality candidates. So I think really what that comes down to is going to be race-by-race: can these challengers stay on message, with the right message to appeal to voters, which is basically being anti-Brownback.”

Read more of the poll results here.

Reply 38 comments from Cathy Bitikofer Greg Cooper Shane Cheung Bob Smith Steven Gaudreau Richard Heckler David Holroyd John Sickels Mike Riner Steve Jacob and 13 others

Court has another option besides closing schools

As Kansans wait to learn whether Gov. Sam Brownback will call a special session and whether the Legislature will respond to a Supreme Court order to fix the school funding system before July 1, most of the discussion has centered on the possibility that the court could order the shutdown of public schools.

But there is another option at the court’s disposal, one specifically mentioned in the opinion and one that some lawmakers are also worrying about.

That would be to lift the stay on the District Court’s remedy order, issued in June 2015, and order the state treasurer and the Kansas State Board of Education to distribute funds according to the old formula that lawmakers repealed and changed earlier that year.

“We find this remedy regarding (local option budget equalization) aid appropriate, both because it is constitutionally necessary and because it is the least disruptive and most compatible with (current school funding law) going forward,” the three-judge panel wrote at the time.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case had asked the Supreme Court to do just that, and the majority opinion alluded to that possibility but chose instead, for the time being, to give the Legislature another chance to craft its own remedy before the June 30 deadline.

But Justice Lee Johnson, in a separate opinion, said that if it were up to him, he would have lifted the stay a long time ago.

“If this court had not issued a stay on the district court's remedial orders on June 30, 2015, the public educational system in Kansas would have avoided yet another year of unconstitutional inequity,” he wrote.

That was among the topics of discussion Wednesday when Senate Republicans caucused to discuss the court’s ruling, and it appeared to be just as unpopular with them as the option of closing down the schools.

Senate Vice President Jeff King, an attorney from Independence, explained how that was one of the options the court left open. And he called attention to the fact that while the Supreme Court had dismissed certain defendants from the case that the three-judge panel had added, it specifically kept State Treasurer Ron Estes as a defendant.

“So the court has retained the ability to personally hold Ron Estes in contempt of court in the future if they were to issue an order that money be appropriated and, say, Treasurer Estes chose not to,” King explained.

Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, was incredulous.

“For clarification, we repealed the old formula,” he said. “How can the court revive a statute that no longer exists? I don’t understand where this authority comes from.”

Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, said such an action would amount to “appropriating money,” something many lawmakers believe is exclusively a legislative function.

“Yes, that would be an effective appropriation of state funds,” an attorney from the Revisor of Statutes office said.

The Kansas State Department of Education has said returning to the old equalization formula and fully funding it would cost about $38 million more than what is currently in the budget.

But some senators noted that the cost of such an order could go even higher. That’s because school districts set their budgets in August. Seeing that the court is making more money available, those that haven’t already levied the maximum local option budget allowed could increase those LOBs, thus forcing the state to pay even more equalization aid.

Justice Johnson acknowledged that his remedy would be controversial but argued that it would be justified.

“I acknowledge the State's complaint that such an order would violate the separation of powers by encroaching upon the legislative branch's constitutional authority to appropriate money,” he said. “But the legislature has repeatedly failed or refused to exercise its Article 2 constitutional authority to fulfill its Article 6 constitutional responsibility with respect to the educational interests of this state,” Johnson wrote.”

“In my view,” he said, “maintaining the integrity of our state constitution and providing equitable educational opportunities for our children are too important for this court to be constrained by any concern that the legislature will be offended that we told it how to do its job. After all, this court has its own job to do, as well.”

Reply 10 comments from Richard Heckler Michael Kort Maddy Griffin Dorothy Hoyt-Reed Clara Westphal Steve King Jennifer Alexander Larry Sturm

If the Legislature does it, does that mean it’s not illegal?

Sitting in the Senate Republican caucus meeting Wednesday as elected lawmakers openly talked about defying the Kansas Supreme Court if it closes schools next month, it was hard for people of a certain age not to think back about Richard Nixon and Watergate.

At the height of that scandal, a federal judge ordered the White House to hand over hundreds of hours of tapes of conversations in the Oval Office that had been secretly recorded. The White House refused and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Nixon White House had never been particularly forthcoming with information, and the people there had little apparent respect for the authority of any other branch of government to tell them what they could or could not do, up to and including the secret bombing of Cambodia.

So there was naturally great concern about how Nixon would respond to a Supreme Court order to hand over the tapes — tapes that everyone knew would lead to the search for the proverbial "smoking gun" that would bring Nixon down.

As the political tension reached its zenith, the question being asked in American living rooms throughout the country was, "If the president of the United States doesn't have to obey a court order, why should anyone else?" It challenged the very fundamental American notion that no person is above the law, not even the president.

Former President Richard Nixon, right, listens to questions by David Frost during Wednesday night, May 5, 1977 telecast interview. Interview took place in rented house in South Laguna, Calif, near the former President's home in San Clemente. (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine)

Former President Richard Nixon, right, listens to questions by David Frost during Wednesday night, May 5, 1977 telecast interview. Interview took place in rented house in South Laguna, Calif, near the former President's home in San Clemente. (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine)

Ultimately, the only power any court has is the power that the public agrees it has. Its power is based on the shared public acceptance that its rulings, however much one might disagree with them, must be obeyed. Day in and day out, that sentiment generally goes unquestioned in Kansas and across the country.

It was a constitutional crisis in the truest sense of the term. In the end, though, Nixon did turn over the tapes, which did produce the "smoking gun." Whatever support he had left in Congress by that time suddenly evaporated, and before the week was out Nixon had resigned.

Later, during a series of interviews with British TV host David Frost, Nixon gave this bone-chilling assessment about his view of presidential power: "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal."

"By definition?" Frost asked. "Exactly, exactly," Nixon replied.

Frost was asking about the president's power to order covert intelligence operations, both at home and abroad, in the interests of national security. And Nixon's response reflected the kind of expansive view about presidential power that historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. had described in the title of his 1973 book, "The Imperial Presidency."

The Kansas Senate prepares for the final day of the 2016 legislative session on Wednesday June 1, 2016 at the Kansas statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (Chris Neal/Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

The Kansas Senate prepares for the final day of the 2016 legislative session on Wednesday June 1, 2016 at the Kansas statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (Chris Neal/Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

Fast-forward to the present and Wednesday’s Senate GOP caucus meeting.

"Eventually, we're going to have to stand up to this court and let them know that we are the Legislature, they are not the Legislature. Capitulating with them is, I think, a poor strategy and would continue to be unsuccessful," said Sen. Jeff Melcher, of Leawood.

"We are the appropriators. We are the policymakers. End of discussion," said Sen. Julia Lynn, of Olathe.

"We're going to listen to a court that can't even follow the law?" asked Sen. Greg Smith, of Overland Park. "They have one job, and one job only, and that is to reason and listen to the evidence and make an opinion. And that's all it is, an opinion. They can't tell us what to do. They can opine, and that's the end of their authority."

In the Nixon era, the fear was that his expansive sense of presidential power could erode the power of the other branches, along with public confidence in them. The president, after all, is a citizen like everyone else. If Nixon could defy the court, why couldn't anybody?

Likewise, if taken to their logical extreme, the comments of those legislators Wednesday might lead one to ask: If the Legislature doesn't have to obey a court order, why should a divorced parent who has been ordered to pay child support? Why should any debtor who has been ordered to repay his creditor?

It seemed that the only thing missing from Wednesday's debate was for someone to stand up and say, "When the Legislature does it, that means it is not illegal."

Burdett Loomis, a Kansas University political science professor and an active Democrat, said it's not unreasonable to think that Kansas is witnessing the emergence of an "Imperial Legislature."

"It does strike me that the Legislature thinks that whatever it does should not be questioned," he said. "And it’s even broader than that. They think they represent the state, so if they want to not enforce federal laws, or reach down to the local level and tell localities what to do, all wisdom resides in the state and the state Legislature."

Loomis, who worked briefly in Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' administration, said the trend became noticeable after Brownback and his conservative allies swept the 2010 elections in Kansas, wresting control of the Kansas House from the coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans who had formed an effective governing majority. And it was sealed two years later when conservatives purged the Kansas Senate of most moderate Republicans in the 2012 GOP primaries.

In some ways, Loomis said, what Kansas is seeing now goes beyond what America saw in the Nixon White House.

"I think in the end, it was the legislative branch that came to Nixon and said, you’ve got to go. It was Nixon defying the court in every way," he said. "Here you’ve got both the governor and the Legislature. The governor could have stepped up and demanded the Legislature confront the issues before it. But he was unwilling and they were unwilling."

Brownback so far has not said whether he will call a special session later this month to deal with the school finance issue. And even if he did, it remains unclear whether the Legislature can muster the votes to pass a bill that would satisfy the court.

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Holland files for re-election; Democrat files against Pompeo

TOPEKA — Democratic Sen. Tom Holland, of Baldwin City, filed for re-election Thursday, saying he will continue to fight Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's tax policies.

His filing means that all six incumbent lawmakers from Douglas County are seeking re-election this year. All but two of them, Democratic Reps. John Wilson and Boog Highberger, have already drawn at least one opponent.

Holland is finishing his second term in the Senate's 3rd District, which covers the southern edge of Lawrence, eastern Douglas County and part of Leavenworth County. He's currently the ranking Democrat on the Assessment and Taxation Committee, Commerce Committee and a Ways and Means subcommittee on general government and gaming.

He faces a potentially strong Republican opponent, Echo Van Meteren, in the general election. She is an advertising consultant and wife of GOP strategist Chris Van Meteren, a principal in the Singularis Group consulting firm that works closely with the Kansas Republican Party.

But the district leans Democratic. Paul Davis carried it with 56 percent of the gubernatorial vote in 2014, and President Barack Obama pulled in 46 percent in 2012, which was higher than his statewide average. Holland won his race that year with 53 percent of the vote over former Rep. Anthony Brown.

Holland's neighboring colleague in the Senate, Democrat Marci Francisco, of Lawrence, also has a Republican challenger this year, Meredith Richey, of Perry.

On the House side, Democratic Rep. Barbara Ballard faces both a primary challenger, Steven X. Davis, and a Republican challenger, Michael Lindsey.

Republican Rep. Tom Sloan will face the same primary challenger he defeated two years ago, Jeremy Ryan Pierce. Sloan won that race, 76-24 percent.

The deadline for candidates to file for the 2016 elections is noon on June 1.

Wichita attorney files for Congress

Wichita attorney Dan Giroux filed Thursday to run against Congressman Mike Pompeo in the 4th Congressional District.

He is the second Democrat to enter that race, but clearly the favorite among the Democratic establishment over Robert Leon Tillman, who has run twice before.

Giroux has been raising money since early this year and reported in April that he'd raised $127,000, relatively little compared with the $1.1 million that Pompeo reported at that time.

The 4th District hasn't been held by a Democrat since former Rep. Dan Glickman lost his re-election bid in 1994. But Giroux said he thinks the district is ripe for a turnover this year, citing the relatively poor economic conditions in Wichita and the rest of the south-central Kansas district.

Among other things, Giroux said he opposes the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which he said would put workers in the Wichita area in direct competition with lower-wage workers in east Asia.

Pompeo, a staunch conservative, is seeking his fourth term in the U.S. House. He briefly toyed with the idea of challenging U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, who is up for re-election this year, but he abandoned that idea in April and filed for another term in the House.

Pompeo won his last election with two-thirds of the vote over Democrat Perry L. Schuckman. That came after a bitter GOP primary against former Congressman Todd Tiahrt. Pompeo won that contest, 63-37 percent.

This story has been updated from an earlier version to clarify Giroux's position on the Trans Pacific Partnership.