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KASB president to run against Abrams for Kansas Senate

Don Shimkus, a school board member from Oxford and current president of the Kansas Association of School Boards, announced Wednesday that he will run as a Democrat for a seat in the Kansas Senate.

Shimkus is challenging incumbent Republican Steve Abrams of Arkansas City in the 32nd District in south-central Kansas. Abrams is a veterinarian and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

Shimkus is the manager of a music store in Andover.

Abrams is a former member of the Kansas State Board of Education, where he gained notoriety as a conservative who championed deleting references to macro-evolution from state science standards and changing the definition of science in a way that would have allowed the teaching of "intelligent design."

“I am genuinely concerned about the inequality of our current tax structure, the future of rural medical care, and the inadequate funding of public education,” Shimkus said in a statement released Wednesday. “I fear that, in all aspects, our rural population – which makes up a significant part of our state – is being forgotten in Topeka. Our district needs an advocate who understands how this population greatly contributes to the livelihood and well-being of our great state.”

Shimkus will likely face an uphill battle. Republicans make up 49 percent of the registered voters in the 32nd District. Democrats make up only 22 percent, while 28 percent are unaffiliated.

According to an analysis by Kansas University political science professor Patrick Miller, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback carried the district in 2014 with 53 percent of the vote. In 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney got 67 percent of the district's vote.

Shimkus said he and his wife, Keri, have lived in the district for 20 years. They have two sons, a freshman at Kansas State University and a sophomore at Oxford High School.

Reply 2 comments from Richard Heckler

Kobach defends speech to group labeled as ‘white nationalists’

Secretary of State Kris Kobach confirmed Tuesday that he recently spoke at a writers conference sponsored by The Social Contract Press. But he vehemently rejected the Southern Poverty Law Center's claim that the group and its publication are an outlet for "white nationalists."

"The SPLC puts that crap out whenever I speak, calling me a racist," Kobach said in a phone interview Tuesday. "It’s their standard way of smearing people."

The Social Contract Press is an organization that publishes a quarterly journal, The Social Contract, whose articles focus on U.S. immigration policy. It was founded by John Tanton who also founded an anti-illegal immigration group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, an organization that Kobach has represented as an attorney.

Kobach said he spoke to the publication's writers workshop Oct. 25 in Alexandria, Va., on the subject of U.S. immigration law.

Many of the articles in recent issues of the journal express strident views on immigration.

In 2010, for example, writer K.C. McAlpin compared Muslim immigrants to the fabled Trojan Horse and suggested they would destroy America if their immigration into this country isn't stopped.

"In the 1940s and 1950s, when U.S. leaders still knew how to defend Western culture and democratic institutions from totalitarian ideologies, the U.S. banned Nazis and Communists from immigrating to the U.S.," he wrote. "The U.S. must treat Islam the same and impose a total ban on Muslim immigration. If immigration quotas must be filled, there are millions of Christians and members of other oppressed faiths living in Muslim countries who would be happy to replace Muslims."

McAlpin now heads U.S. Inc., the foundation Tanton established that operates The Social Contract Press.

SPLC also points to articles such as one in the Summer 1998 edition by Samuel Francis, titled "Whose Future?" as evidence that it supports white nationalists.

The ethnic identity that is emerging among Hispanic immigrants as well as among black Americans is not the same sort of identity that leads Irish-Americans to celebrate St. Patrick's Day or Polish-Americans to dance polkas. It is not merely an enthusiasm for ethnic roots and the observance of traditional customs, but rather a militant and all-encompassing identity that excludes and conflicts with traditional American allegiances, institutions, and values and explicitly identifies whites as a racially alien enemy, an oppressor, whose institutions are to be taken over and whose race is to be expelled from territories that whites stole in the Mexican-American War.

But Kobach said the workshop included writers of many races and faiths, including Maria Espinoza, a contributing writer and director of the Remembrance Project.

"We advocate for the families of victims who have been killed by illegal aliens, people who shouldn’t have been in the country in the first place," Espinoza said in a phone interview from her home in Houston.

Espinoza is also involved in a group called America First Latinos, an organization of Hispanic and Latino Americans who oppose illegal immigration.

"When I got into this, I heard Hispanics and Latinos are not being heard in the media," she said. "The media has told the public that because you’re Latino, you're supposed to line up with illegal immigrants, and we don’t."

SPLC describes The Social Contract as a journal that "puts an academic veneer of legitimacy over what are essentially racist arguments about the inferiority of today's immigrants."

But Kobach gave a different description.

"The workshops they host are people who are leading thinkers, political thinkers, writers on the subject of illegal immigration," he said. "It's absurd for (SPLC) to complain that they are white nationalists."

Reply 61 comments from Barb Gordon Greg Cooper Barbara Johnston Shawn Boultinghouse David Carson Bob Smith Dorothy Hoyt-Reed Richard Heckler Jerome Bradley John Sickels and 11 others

Kobach files late response in federal suit

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was several days late filing a response to a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn one of his signature policies, but plaintiffs in the case say they won't make an issue out of it.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn the state's proof of citizenship law, which Kobach championed in 2011. It also seeks to block a new regulation he enacted that would result in canceling some 30,000 incomplete voter registrations that have been held in suspense because the applicants failed to provide the required citizenship proof.

Mark P. Johnson, lead attorney in the case of Cromwell, et al. vs. Kobach, said his clients would rather win on the merits of the case than on a procedural technicality.

"Although the Plaintiffs could move to strike the Answer and seek a default judgment, such tactics would not be conducive to the court's consideration of the important matters in this case," Johnson wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson. "The Plaintiffs strongly believe that their case has merit, and the Court will so find after a full presentation of the facts and the law."

The plaintiffs filed their complaint Oct. 2. Under procedural rules, Kobach was supposed to have 21 days to respond to the complaint, putting the deadline at Oct. 23. His response wasn't filed until Oct. 29.

Johnson, who practices in the Kansas City office of Dentons US, LLP, law firm in Kansas City, Mo., is also a Kansas University law professor. Also involved in the case is former Democratic Rep. Paul Davis of Lawrence who, as a legislator, voted in favor of the controversial voting law. He says that's because he favored another provision requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona could not deny registration to voters who registered using a federal form that does not ask for proof of citizenship. Since then, Kobach has instituted a "dual" election system in which voters using that form are allowed to vote in federal elections, but not in state or local elections.

A separate case challenging that policy is pending in state court in Shawnee County.

Reply 6 comments from Michael Kaufman Lynn Grant Barb Gordon Lawrence Freeman Bob Forer Dorothy Hoyt-Reed

KPI email comes from GOP consulting firm

An email statement released by the conservative think tank Kansas Policy Institute is causing something of a stir, not because of what it said, but because of who sent it out on their behalf.

The statement praising Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson for his new "vision" statement for public schools came from a public relations firm that KPI has hired, Singularis Group. And it's creating a stir because KPI, which wields significant influence in the Statehouse, receives tax-exempt status as a 501(c)3 organization because it is a supposedly non-partisan think tank, and Singularis Group — whose motto is "We don't do timid" — is anything but nonpartisan.

The group is led by Kris Van Meteren, a former executive director of the Kansas Republican Party who is known for having employed some pretty brazen tactics in the past, such as taking over the name of a centrist organization, the Mainstream Coalition Inc., after that group failed to renew its articles of incorporation, and sending out mailers under its name that Democrats called deceptive.

On its website, under the category of "success stories," the group proudly boasts of its role in flipping control of the Kansas Senate away from moderate Republicans to conservatives in the 2012 GOP primaries.

Through a series of very hard hitting, but very effective mailings, as well as targeted radio ads and newspaper campaigns, The Singularis Group schooled GOP primary voters about the records, political alliances, outrageous statements and infuriating votes made by liberal Republican senators. We knew that if the truth penetrated through to the GOP base, the outcome would be all but certain, and we were not disappointed.

On that same page, Singularis describes Kansas Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley as having been "arguably the most powerful politician in Topeka since he controlled the votes needed by liberal Republicans to maintain control over the upper house."

In a telephone interview, Hensley poked fun at that statement, saying he took it as a compliment. But he said the connection between Singularis and KPI raises serious questions.

"It blows the cover off of (KPI president) Dave Trabert’s claim that his organization is nonpartisan and nonpolitical, it seems to me," Hensley said. "Trabert likes to boast that he doesn’t engage in politics, and he’s a nonpartisan think tank. To my way of thinking, if Singularis has them as their client, then he’s just an extension of the Republican Party."

But KPI vice president James Franko said he didn't see any problem being connected with a Republican PR firm.

"We’ve contracted with Singularis for some PR help," he said in an email. "Not being that familiar with their client list, I’m sure they have some clients with whom we agree on certain issues and others with whom we don’t agree."

Reply 2 comments from Barb Gordon Steve King

Poll: Growing discontent with Sen. Jerry Moran

Note: This post has been changed from an earlier version to correct a math error.

Republicans in Kansas are expressing growing dissatisfaction with U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, according to one recent poll, but it's not yet clear whether he will face the same kind of re-election trouble that his colleague Pat Roberts faced in 2014.

Eighteen percent of people who call themselves "strong Republicans" said they are either very or somewhat dissatisfied with Moran, according to the latest "Kansas Speaks" survey by Fort Hays State University's Docking Institute of Public Affairs. That's up from 11 percent in 2013, the last time the Kansas Speaks survey asked the question the same way.

Moran, a Republican whose family now lives in Manhattan, will be seeking his second term in the Senate next year. So far, no one has announced plans to challenge him, although tea party candidate Milton Wolf, who narrowly lost to Roberts in the 2014 GOP primary, has been active on Twitter criticizing Moran.

The Kansas Speaks poll is a survey of voting-age adults in Kansas, not necessarily likely voters, or even registered voters. But the Docking Institute has been conducting it for some time, and it produces some interesting trend lines.

For example, in 2013, one year out from Roberts' re-election bid, both Moran and Roberts had overall dissatisfaction ratings of about 25 percent. And among those who identified as "strong Republicans," Moran's dissatisfaction rating was 11 percent, while Roberts' was at 12.8 percent.

In 2014, the survey asked a slightly different question: Do you approve or disapprove of the jobs various elected officials were in office. Then, Roberts' disapproval rating among strong Republicans jumped to 27 percent, while Moran's was only 13 percent

Now, a year out from Moran's re-election bid, his disapproval rating among strong Republicans is 18 percent, while Roberts' has jumped to 31 percent.

Of course, Roberts had a couple of things working against him in 2014: his age, then 78, and his Kansas residency, or alleged lack thereof. He also had Wolf nipping at his heels from early in the cycle with a fairly well financed campaign.

Moran, by contrast, is only 61, still fairly youthful by U.S. Senate standards, where the average age is 62. His family has always remained in Kansas while he's been in Washington. And even if Wolf were to get in the race, it's not clear whether his tea party backers will, or even can, put the same kind of resources into a Kansas campaign.

Roberts also had one thing working in his favor last year: the fact that Moran was chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee Victory Fund, the super PAC that works to elect Republicans to the Senate.

Reply 1 comment from Fred Whitehead Jr.

Brownback satisfaction rating at 18%; Democrats targeting Senate seats

A new poll from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University shows only 18 percent of Kansans are satisfied with Gov. Sam Brownback's performance in office, and most (61 percent) think his signature tax policies have either been a "failure" or a "tremendous failure."

The Fall 2015 "Kansas Speaks" survey also showed a large majority (61 percent) favor expanding Medicaid. Another 84 percent oppose requiring colleges and universities to allow firearms on campus, and 82 percent are skeptical that voter fraud is a significant problem in Kansas.

The survey of 638 Kansas adults was conducted Sept. 14 through Oct. 5, with a margin of error of 3.9 percent.

The survey asked respondents to indicate whether they were very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, neutral, somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with a list of elected officials. Overall, only 18 percent said they were either somewhat or very satisfied with Brownback.

That question is slightly different from the standard polling question, which asks people whether they "approve" or "disapprove" of a person's performance in office. It wasn't immediately clear how much impact that subtle difference in wording may have had on the results. One thing that was clear, though: Brownback's "satisfaction rating" among Kansans was 10 points lower than President Barack Obama's.

Like a similar poll conducted this spring, the fall poll portrays a much more moderate adult population than is reflected in the Legislature. That's likely due to the fact that the Fort Hays State poll surveys "adults," as opposed to "registered voters," or even "likely voters."

But the high level of dissatisfaction with Brownback and his policies may be important for Republican candidates running in the 2016 elections. They will likely have to ask themselves how closely they want to be identified with a governor who is personally unpopular, and who cannot run again himself because he is term limited.

Not surprisingly, the poll showed a wide partisan divide on most questions. But when it came to assessing Brownback, even among those who identified themselves as "strong Republicans," 45 percent said they were either somewhat or very dissatisfied with his performance. Only 9 percent said they were very satisfied.

Thirty-eight percent of "strong Republicans" said they believe his tax policies have failed to stimulate economic growth.

Democrats file to challenge conservative senators

More than a year out from the 2016 elections, Democrats are lining up a fair number of candidates to challenge conservative Republicans in the Kansas Senate.

The latest to file is Vicki Hiatt, a Johnson County Democrat who filed Friday to run in the 10th District against incumbent Republican Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook. Hiatt is a retired special education teacher who ran unsuccessfully for the Kansas House in 2014 against incumbent Republican Charles Macheers.

Earlier, Wichita school board member Lynn Rogers filed to challenge Republican Sen. Michael O'Donnell, a conservative who came into office in 2012 as part of the Kansas Chamber-backed slate of candidates who ousted incumbent moderates and took control of the Senate.

O'Donnell defeated then-Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf, a moderate whom the Democrats had never seriously tried to challenge. As a result, when O'Donnell won the GOP primary, he didn't have much difficulty winning the general election too.

But the district itself leans Democratic. As the Wichita Eagle has noted, it overlaps with three Democratic House districts, and voters there supported Democrat Paul Davis by double digits over Brownback in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

Democrats also have a candidate, Michael Czerniewski, teed up to run against Sen. Greg Smith in the 21st District of Johnson County. But moderate and progressive groups are said to be pinning their hopes more on Dinah Sykes, a former PTA president whose website features a picture of her in a bright red shirt, kind of a symbol of teachers unions and other pro-public education groups.

Reporters were also being told Friday to watch for another announcement in the 32nd District, where a high-profile Democrat is expected to announce against Sen. Steve Abrams of Arkansas City.

Democrats have been steadily losing Senate seats for the last 25 years. They're now at only eight seats in the 40-seat chamber, down from 13 after the 1992 elections. They haven't seen a net gain of Senate seats in any election since the 1980s.

For most of that time, though, they were able to form working alliances with moderate Republicans on issues such as K-12 and higher education spending, as well as abortion and other social issues. But that coalition was decimated after the 2012 elections when the Kansas Chamber and other groups allied with Gov. Sam Brownback took control by backing conservative Republicans to challenge sitting moderates.

Reply 19 comments from Michael Kort Ken Schmidt Tom Weiss Barb Gordon Paul Beyer Floyd Craig Fred Whitehead Jr. Luke Fawcett Don Brennaman Timothy Johnson and 8 others

Kansas AG Schmidt files another Obamacare challenge

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Thursday joined in another multi-state lawsuit challenging a portion of the Affordable Care Act, this time disputing fees the states claim are an unconstitutional tax on states.

Schmidt, a Republican, joined Louisiana and Texas in challenging fees that are assessed against insurance companies hired to manage state Medicaid or Children's Health Insurance Programs.

The states argue the fees are required to be passed on to the states, making them a "de facto tax" on state treasuries, which they say is unconstitutional.

“If the federal government wants to tax and spend, it may do so within the confines of the law,” Schmidt said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. “But it may not, we think, employ accounting tricks that force the states to do the taxing while the federal government does the spending."

Kansas currently contracts with three private insurance companies to manage its Medicaid program, known as KanCare. Schmidt said in the first year of the tax, the insurance provider fee cost Kansas $32.8 million. The lawsuit seeks a refund of that amount and an order prohibiting future collections of the fee.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Wichita Falls, Texas, is just the latest in a series of legal challenges Schmidt leveled against the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Last year, Schmidt joined with 19 other states in another Texas-led challenge, arguing that since a provision of the law known as the "individual mandate" has been interpreted as a tax, then the law is unconstitutional on procedural grounds because tax bills must originate in the U.S. House, and the Affordable Care Act was a Senate bill.

He has also joined in challenges of the law's mandate that employers over a certain size must provide health coverage to their workers. In that challenge, he argues that the employer mandate should not apply in states like Kansas that chose not to set up their own state-based health insurance exchange markets.

Schmidt also joined in a lawsuit filed by Hobby Lobby that challenged a requirement that employer-based health policies cover contraception.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement supporting Schmidt's lawsuit, calling the provider fee "just one more instance of an overreaching federal regulation designed to coerce states into funding or participating in Obamacare."

Reply 4 comments from Fred Whitehead Jr. Phillip Chappuie Kate Rogge Richard Heckler

Lawmakers question KU’s financing plans for $325 million Central District Development

Some Kansas lawmakers are raising objections to Kansas University's plans to finance its $325 million Central District Development Plan, but they stopped short of putting the entire project on hold Tuesday.

Instead, the Joint Committee on State Building Construction gave tentative approval to the plan, but told KU officials to be ready to answer more questions after the full Legislature convenes its 2016 session in January.

"I just think some of these projects that are wrapped up into this package are circumventing the normal appropriations process," said Rep. Mark Hutton, R-Wichita. "I have serious concerns about the amount of dollars being spent here with no legislative oversight, and then eventually, at the end of the rainbow, the state is on the hook for that debt."

Hutton raised those concerns after KU officials outlined their plans for financing several projects in the district.

Jim Modig, university architect for Kansas University, outlines KU's development plans to a legislative committee in Topeka. Lawmakers raised concerns about KU's plan to use "public-private partnerships" to finance roughly $325 million worth of construction and renovation projects.

Jim Modig, university architect for Kansas University, outlines KU's development plans to a legislative committee in Topeka. Lawmakers raised concerns about KU's plan to use "public-private partnerships" to finance roughly $325 million worth of construction and renovation projects. by Peter Hancock

Jim Modig, university architect at KU, said projects in the district include an integrated science building to replace the aging Mallott Hall; revamping the Burge Union; construction of a central utility plant and improvements to the existing plant; new parking facilities; new apartment buildings; a residence hall and dining facility; and other infrastructure improvements.

To finance those, KU plans to use what it calls "public-private partnerships," or "P-3" in legislative parlance. That involves setting up independent nonprofit corporations that would issue the bonds to pay for construction. KU, then, would lease the buildings back from the corporation, and those lease payments would be used to make the bond payments.

Hutton, who works in the construction industry as a general contractor, said similar financing plans have been used in the past on revenue-generating buildings such as residence halls, but never before for classroom space or basic infrastructure such as a power plant.

Theresa Gordzica, KU's chief business and financial planning officer, said that structure would shield the university and the state from any liability for the bonds.

"The bonds will be an obligation of that not-for-profit corporation using the revenue of the lease to pay that back," she said. "Those bonds will state clearly in there that it's not an obligation of the state of Kansas and that the bondholders can't come after the state of Kansas if there's any problem with the repayment of those bonds."

But Hutton and others on the committee were reluctant to accept that at face value. First, they argued that the source of the money to repay the bonds would be student tuition and fees — revenues that Hutton said he considers "state funds" that should be subject to legislative oversight through the appropriations process.

In addition, though, Hutton said that in the event of a default, he considered it highly unlikely that KU would allow buildings in financial default to remain on its campus and that, eventually, either students would be asked to pay higher tuition and fees to pay off the debt, or the state would be asked to bail out the projects.

Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, said he shared those concerns, as did Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona.

"Certainly the state of Kansas would be on the hook," Knox said. "In all practicality, seeing what I've seen in the last 10 years, we would not let catastrophe to happen. We would step in, and we would finance this."

At first, Hutton offered a motion directing KU to put its Central District Development Plan on hold until other legislative committees have a chance to review the projects and ask questions about the financing.

But Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, offered a substitute motion, essentially approving KU's plans for the time being, with the understanding that KU will be expected to answer additional questions before House and Senate budget committees after the 2016 session convenes.

Kelly's substitute motion passed on a voice vote.

Reply 2 comments from Mike George Perses Richard Heckler

Francisco draws GOP opponent

Meredith Richey of Perry has filed as a Republican to challenge incumbent Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence.

According to the Secretary of State's website, Richey filed on Thursday, Oct. 15, but did not provide any type of phone number or email address.

Francisco was first elected to the 2nd District Senate seat in 2004 when she defeated Republican Mark Buhler, who had been appointed to replace Sandy Praeger who'd been elected insurance commissioner two years earlier. She won her last re-election bid in 2012, 65-35 percent, over Republican Ronald B. Ellis.

The 2nd District includes most of Lawrence and northern Douglas County, as well as most of Jefferson County to the north.

Reply 3 comments from Richard Heckler Will White

Behind Clinton-Kobach feud lies serious proposal: automatic voter registration

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Kansas' Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach got into a shouting-match-by-press-release this week over Kansas' restrictive voting laws, and in particular the requirement Kobach championed for people to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to vote.

Clinton's campaign started it off Thursday — and didn't make any friends among the Kansas press corps along the way — by sending an email statement to news desks all over the state slamming Kobach for having supported those laws.

And just to show how serious of an issue it is (as if to suggest we didn't already know), she hyperlinked to a New York Times story reporting what every major Kansas media outlet has been reporting for months, if not years: that the proof of citizenship law has a disproportionate impact on young voters. Also in a move that could also be taken as a sign of disrespect, they didn't even give us a statement from Clinton herself. It was from a senior policy adviser, Maya Harris.

“Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s full-court press to implement harsh voting restrictions and disenfranchisement efforts continue to deny Kansans their basic freedoms by making it more difficult for them to be active participants in our democracy," Harris said.

If you know anything about Kobach, you know that's just red meat for him.

"With mounting pressure from Democratic primary challenger Bernie Sanders, the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign has resorted to attacking Kansas election laws," Kobach said.

"In Kansas we recognize that the problem of aliens registering and voting is a serious one," he said. "We have already identified more than 30 aliens who either successfully registered before our law went into effect, or attempted to register (and were stopped) after the law went into effect."

But lurking behind all the election-year rhetoric (even though it's technically not an election year yet) lies a serious policy proposal that should be debated and discussed seriously: automatic registration.

Last week, California became the second state in the nation to pass a law that automatically registers qualified residents to vote when they apply for a driver's license. Oregon enacted a similar law earlier this year. Instead of being asked to opt in to voter registration at the DMV, people in those states will be automatically registered, unless they check a box opting out.

In their statement Thursday, the Clinton campaign said she favors "universal, automatic voter registration and a new standard of no fewer than 20 days of early in-person voting in every state.”

In this regard, Kobach was right in saying Clinton was responding to pressure from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders because it was Sanders who introduced legislation in August, on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, to establish automatic registration nationwide. Similar legislation had been introduced earlier by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

In his response to the Clinton campaign, Kobach called that idea, "a federal takeover of the registration process (that) would result in millions of aliens automatically getting onto the voter rolls."

In point of fact, the California law requires the DMV to send information to the Secretary of State's office, which then must verify citizenship before adding those names to the voting rolls.

But in remarks he made on the Kansas University campus Oct. 8, Kobach raised other objections to a federal law for automatic registration.

"I'm opposed to automatic registration because there is a ton of slop on government lists," he said. "You might think the government knows everything, the government knows who you are. Gosh, they can keep track of your taxes, right? Wrong. There is so much duplication on government lists, whether it's the voter registration list, the driver's license list, welfare lists. And the idea that these are all accurate, and that we're not going to have people registered three, four, five times is just simply wrong. It presumes that our government has really done a great job of keeping track of who's here, who's not here, who's deceased, who's not deceased."

Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University who studies elections, said automatic registration is common in European democracies, and he said it's not surprising that it would pop up first on the West Coast, which is known for its more liberal political culture.

But he said those kinds of voting reforms are "slow to catch on in the rest of the country," and he doesn't think Kansas will jump on board with the idea anytime soon.

Unless, of course, there is a federal mandate to do so.

Reply 11 comments from Richard Heckler Michael Kort Barb Gordon Randy Leonard Dorothy Hoyt-Reed Randolf Fellows Bob Forer

Democrat announces in 4th congressional district

The Kansas Democratic Party announced Thursday that Dan Giroux, an attorney in Wichita, will run for Congress in the 4th District of south-central Kansas. He will challenge incumbent Republican Mike Pompeo.

The announcement came on the same day that third-quarter campaign finance reports are due to be released. A search of the Federal Election Commission website shows Giroux filed his statement of organization Oct. 1.

Republicans have held the 4th District for 20 years. The last Democrat to hold that office, Dan Glickman, was defeated by Todd Tiahrt in the Republican wave elections of 1994.

Tiahrt stepped down in 2010, and Pompeo succeeded him in the seat. Tiahrt tried to win back the seat, challenging Pompeo in a hotly contested primary. But Pompeo, who had the backing billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, won the race, 63-37 percent.

Pompeo, who is now in his third term, has made news recently as a potential dark horse candidate for Speaker of the House. In a recent interview with McClatchy newspapers, he wouldn't rule out the possibility but also did not say he was actively seeking the job.

Giroux is a partner in the Wichita law firm Dugan and Giroux. According to his biography on the firm's website, he is a graduate of Newman University in Wichita and Creighton University Law School. It also notes that he grew up in a family with 10 siblings.

From 1999 through 2003, he worked as an assistant district attorney in Sedgwick County. He then joined Prochaska, Giroux & Howell LLC, where he specialized in personal injury and medical malpractice cases.

Pompeo attended West Point, where he graduated first in his class in 1986. After serving six years in the military, he attended Harvard Law School where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. He practiced law with the firm Williams & Connolly, LLC. He later became president of Sentry International, an oilfield equipment company.


City once represented by Kobach ordered to pay $1.4 million in attorney fees, court costs

A Pennsylvania city that followed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's advice in enacting tough laws against illegal immigrants has been ordered to pay $1.4 million in attorney fees and court costs for the plaintiffs who successfully challenged those laws in federal court.

A federal judge in Scranton, Penn., ruled last week that the town of Hazleton, Penn., must pay $1,379,089.51 in attorney fees and $47,594 in court costs to the American Civil Liberties Union and several private attorneys who challenged a 2006 ordinance aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs had asked for nearly double the amount awarded, but the judge reduced the award to account for time and expenses related to additional claims the plaintiffs did not win in court.

The city had asked the court for special consideration, arguing that it was in dire financial straits and on the verge of bankruptcy. But the court declined to give any.

"The court is sympathetic to the defendant's financial condition," Judge James Munley wrote. "Congress, however, did not include language in (the law allowing plaintiffs to recover attorney fees in civil rights cases) to suggest that courts consider a municipality's financial condition and budgetary concerns when fashioning an attorney's fee award."

"Municipalities, regardless of their financial health, have no discretion to enact improper laws," he wrote.

The ordinance, which Kobach helped draft, penalized businesses that hired undocumented immigrants and landlords who leased houses and apartments to them. Kobach also represented the city as an attorney during trial of the case.

In 2008, the court struck down those laws, saying the city "overstepped its authority and entered an area of immigration preempted by federal law." An appellate court upheld that ruling, but the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back for reconsideration.

The appeals court reaffirmed its decision, and in 2014 the Supreme Court declined to hear further arguments in the matter.

Kobach was elected Secretary of State in Kansas in 2010.

That same year, however, the court also let stand a lower court ruling that upheld a similar ordinance in Fremont, Neb., that prohibited renting housing to undocumented immigrants. Kobach also helped draft that ordinance and represented that city in court.

Plaintiffs in the Fremont case, however, had challenged that ordinance for being in conflict with the federal Fair Housing Act. The Hazleton plaintiffs challenged on the basis of federal preemption in immigration law.

In an interview with the Journal-World that year, Kobach said he had won more cases than he'd lost in the immigration arena, adding: "I'll take a winning record."

Kobach's office declined to comment on last week's decision to award the plaintiffs attorney fees.

Reply 5 comments from Fred Whitehead Jr. Bob Forer Dorothy Hoyt-Reed Greg Cooper

Kobach to announce prosecutions

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is expected to announce Tuesday his first batch of prosecutions for voting crimes under new authority granted to him by the Legislature this year.

A spokesman in Kobach's office said three criminal cases have been filed. But he would not identify the defendants until the criminal complaints have been received and time-stamped by the clerks of the district courts where they are being filed, and that couldn't happen Monday because courthouses were closed for the Columbus Day holiday.

Kobach has long argued that various kinds of election fraud occur routinely in Kansas, but that they go unprosecuted by local authorities, either because of a lack of resources or lack of political will. He has said the crimes range from "double-voting" — that is, casting more than one ballot in an election by voting in multiple locations — to illegal voting by non-U.S. citizens.

To curb such crimes, Kobach pushed for passage of the Secure and Fair Elections, or "SAFE" Act in 2011. The act requires new voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship to register and photo ID at the polls to cast a ballot.

Critics of Kobach's policies argue that the alleged violations often involve unintentional mistakes, such as voters receiving ballots in the mail for elections in places in which they own property but no longer live. They say the reason they go unprosecuted is because local prosecutors have looked at the cases and decided they are not worth pursuing.

This year, lawmakers passed a law giving the secretary of state authority to prosecute voting crimes. The cases to be announced Tuesday will be the first cases filed under that new authority.

Reply 20 comments from Rebecca Woolfolk Phillip Chappuie Richard Heckler Barb Gordon Michael Kort Kendall Simmons Pat Mulloy Floyd Craig Devin Wilson Paul Beyer and 9 others

Brownback officials fire back at Sebelius over Medicaid comments

Officials in Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration fired back Thursday at former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius over comments she made about Medicaid expansion, accusing Sebelius of having created the so-called “waiting lists” for elderly and disabled services in the first place. This all started a few days ago when Melika Willoughby, a young deputy communications director in Brownback’s office, sent out an email to political supporters, asserting that expanding Medicaid, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act, aaka “Obamacare,” would be “morally reprehensible” because it would prioritize able-bodied, childless adults over the frail elderly and disabled who are already on waiting lists to receive services. That led to Sebelius’ comment to the Journal-World Wednesday. Sebelius, one of the architects of Obamacare and the person largely responsible for implementing it during its first couple of years, called that statement “flat-out wrong” and said the only reason there are waiting lists is because the Brownback administration has underfunded the program. That, then, prompted Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services spokeswoman Angela de Rocha to fire back late Thursday, calling Sebelius’ comments “wildly inaccurate.” “The Governor and the Legislature have made significant investments in increased funding to provide services to people with disabilities by investing in bringing people off waiting lists and into services, more than $65 million to date,” she said. In addition, she accused the Sebelius administration of creating the waiting lists in the first place when, in 2008 and 2009, in response to collapsing state revenues amid the global financial crisis, it implemented rule changes that reduced the number of people who received what are called “Home and Community Based Services.” This escalating war of words between the Republican and Democratic camps gives some indication of how heated this issue is likely to be in the next session, not to mention the 2016 elections. And so it merits some background and explanation.

First, what are the “waiting lists” for elderly and disabled services? Under Medicaid, low-income elderly and disabled individuals who can no longer take care of themselves are entitled to receive care in nursing homes. The problem is, that’s very expensive and, in many cases, unnecessary if the individual could only need a little help around the house. So in the 1990s, the states and the federal government started devising “waiver” programs to provide what are called “Home and Community Based Services,” or HCBS. It’s a waiver from the general rule that says the care has to be provided in a nursing home. Under the waiver, Medicaid will pay for medical care as well as certain nonmedical services such as house cleaning, home health aides, personal care, adult day health services, etc., so the individual can continue living at home. Kansas currently has six different types of HCBS waiver programs. They apply to the frail elderly; developmentally disabled; physically disabled; autism patients; traumatic brain injury patients; and those who need technology assistance. HCBS programs are cheaper for everyone because the government isn’t paying the cost of the physical plant of a nursing home. The individual lives in his or her own home. They’re also considered to be better, more humane forms of care because they leave individuals with a degree of independence and self-determination. The problem is, they’re not an entitlement the way nursing home care is. States have to budget for HCBS programs, and the federal government will kick in whatever its matching share is. (In Kansas, it’s about 55 percent of the total cost). But the number of people who get served is essentially capped by how much the state agrees to kick in. Since the inception of the program during Republican Gov. Bill Graves’ administration, the demand for HCBS programs has almost always outstripped the available funding. And, so, people are put on waiting lists.

How would expanding Medicaid affect the elderly and disabled who are on waiting lists? Sebelius’ argument is that it wouldn’t. They’re completely different programs. The frail elderly and disabled individuals who may qualify for HCBS plans are still entitled to medical care through nursing homes. And the state would still be in control over how much it spends for home and community-based care. The expansion of Medicaid to cover all individuals in households up to 138 percent of the poverty level is entirely separate. And, for the first three years, it would be 100 percent funded by the federal government. That gradually scales down to 90 percent in a few years, but Sebelius still calls it the most generous federal-state cost sharing program in U.S. history. Brownback, however, counters that as a practical matter, one does affect the other because the state has limited resources. Eventually, the state will have to pick up some share of the Medicaid expansion cost. And he says it’s unfair to add that cost onto the Medicaid system for able-bodied, working-age adults when the state is struggling to serve all of the elderly and disabled people who want HCBS plans. Sebelius’ counterargument to that is, it doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. States can and — in her view, at least — should do both.

Reply 12 comments from Richard Heckler Kendall Simmons Melanie Birge Barb Gordon Randolf Fellows Larry Ripley Joe Blackford II Larry Sturm Phillip Chappuie

Davis rejects GOP call to step aside from voting rights case

Lawrence attorney and former Democratic Rep. Paul Davis on Tuesday dismissed suggestions by Republicans that he should recuse himself from a federal lawsuit challenging a controversial state voting law.

"These guys either need a good lawyer or they’re trying to mislead you," Davis said in response to a statement from Kansas GOP Chairman Kelly Arnold.

Davis is representing two clients who are challenging a law enacted in 2011 that requires voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship to register. Since that law took effect, more than 30,000 would-be voters have had their registrations placed "in suspense" because they have not provided the required documentation.

Davis is also challenging a new administrative regulation that requires county election officers to cancel those applications after 90 days. That new regulation took effect Oct. 2.

Arnold said Tuesday that Davis should step aside from that case, citing a Kansas statute that says:

"No individual, while a legislator or within one year after the expiration of a term as a legislator, shall represent any person in a court proceeding attacking any legislative action taken or enactment made during any term such individual served as a legislator as being unconstitutional because of error in the legislative process with respect to such action or enactment unless such legislator voted no upon the enactment of the measure and declared on the record, during such term, that such legislation was unconstitutional."

Davis' last term in the House expired in January. Arnold noted that Davis and other leading Democrats voted in favor of the proof of citizenship law in 2011. And, ironically, to make his point, he dredged up an old controversy when Davis and other Democrats filed a formal complaint in 2010 against then-Speaker of the House Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, after he represented clients suing the state over provisions of the 2009 budget bill that O'Neal had opposed.

"Paul Davis is suing to block enforcement of a law he voted for," Arnold said.

Davis acknowledged that he voted for the bill. (So too, by the way, did Democratic Rep. Barbara Ballard, Republican Rep. Tom Sloan, and Democratic Sens. Marci Francisco and Tom Holland.) He said he supported another provision requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, but he said he questioned the requirement that voters show proof of citizenship to register.

Davis also said the conflict-of-interest statute does not apply in his case because it refers to lawsuits challenging laws as unconstitutional "because of error in the legislative process."

"The intent of that law is to prevent a lawyer/legislator from challenging a law and being a witness in the case too," Davis said, calling Arnold's press release a "media stunt."

"If they want to wage a political campaign against someone who’s not running for office, they're welcome to do so," he said.

Last week, a federal judge refused to issue an emergency restraining order to prevent the new 90-day time limit from being enforced. On Wednesday, Davis said, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson has scheduled a telephone conference call to set a schedule for the next steps in the case.

Reply 37 comments from Barb Gordon Greg Cooper Gregdivilbiss Dorothy Hoyt-Reed Cille_king Laura Wilson Clara Westphal Jim Slade Steve Sharp Phillip Chappuie and 5 others

Jenkins endorses Fiorina in GOP presidential race

Kansas Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins announced over the weekend that she is endorsing Carly Fiorina for the Republican presidential nomination.

"Carly Fiorina is exactly the strong, steady, no nonsense businesswoman that our nation so desperately needs," Jenkins said in a statement Sunday. "Starting as a secretary and fighting her way to the very top, it is clear this is not a woman who was handed things; she had to fight for every bit of success she has achieved."

Fiorina is a former CEO of Hewlett Packard who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in California in 2010. She had been considered a second-tier candidate and was relegated to the not-yet-ready-for-prime-time field in the first GOP debate.

But her performance there boosted her profile, getting her admitted to the top-tier field of candidates in last week's second debate on CNN. A new CNN/ORC poll shows her now running second among registered Republican voters nationwide behind Donald Trump, with Trump leading 24-15 percent. In May, that same poll showed Fiorina at 1 percent.

Jenkins, from Topeka, represents the 2nd District of Kansas, which includes Lawrence and most of the eastern third of the state outside of Kansas City.

Reply 6 comments from Brad Greenwood William Weissbeck Phillip Chappuie Brett McCabe Paul Beyer Bob Forer

Fiorina leads in early Kansas GOP online poll

An online straw poll from the Kansas Republican Party shows former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina with an early lead over the other contenders for the GOP presidential nomination.

Clay Barker, executive director of the state party, said he posted the poll on the party's website Wednesday night, shortly after a three-hour debate on CNN that featured 11 of the (approximately) 17 GOP candidates.

Republican presidential candidate, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, right, speaks as, from left, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and Scott Walker look on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, in Simi Valley, Calif.

Republican presidential candidate, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, right, speaks as, from left, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and Scott Walker look on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, in Simi Valley, Calif.

Barker admitted the poll is not scientific, but it may be a fairly close reflection of those who are likely to vote in Kansas' caucuses on March 5 — or, at the very least, a reflection of those who visit the GOP's website.

Barker said it was done, "part out of curiosity to see what the response was, part to build grassroots involvement." He said it was promoted through the party's email newsletter list and Facebook page.

As of about noon, according to Barker, the straw poll had about 1,000 responses, and the numbers looked like this:

Carly Fiorina — 22.8%

Ted Cruz — 15.5%

Ben Carson — 15.2%

Donald Trump — 12.8%

Marco Rubio — 9.6%

Jeb Bush — 4.4%

John Kasich — 4.1%

Rand Paul — 3.3%

Scott Walker — 3.1%

Mike Huckabee — 2.0%

Chris Christie — 1.9%

Rick Santorum — 1.4%

Under 1%: Mark Everson (a filed candidate, but did not make the debate cutoff, former IRS Commissioner), James Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal and George Pataki

In other Kansas-related presidential politics, Dr. Ben Carson is reportedly holding a fundraiser Thursday at the Great Overland Station in North Topeka. For people willing to pay upwards of $500 to get inside, the event will probably be one of the very rare opportunities to see a presidential candidate actually campaigning in Kansas. Barker said doors open at 5:30 p.m., and Carson is scheduled to speak at 6 p.m.

Meanwhile Ohio Gov. John Kasich became the first GOP candidate to officially file in Kansas. Because Kansas is running caucuses instead of a primary, candidates file directly with the party. For Republicans, that includes a $15,000 filing fee, which is supposed to go toward the cost of conducting and promoting the caucuses. (Democrats are only charging $1,000, by the way.)

Reply 1 comment from Greg Cooper Perses

Legislative leaders authorize study panels on school finance, sales tax exemptions

Kansas legislative leaders on Wednesday authorized two more interim committees, one to begin work crafting a new school finance formula and another to examine the state's long list of sales tax exemptions.

The most interesting aspect of the sales tax panel appears to be that none of the Republicans on the Senate tax committee want to serve on it. At least that was the explanation given by Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, of Hutchinson. So instead, it will be chaired by Sen. Ty Masterson, who chairs the Senate's appropriations committee.

Lawmakers included a proviso in this year's budget bill calling for a study of sales tax exemptions. That was offered as a compromise between those who wanted to repeal some of those exemptions as part of the budget package and those who said the Legislature has already been down that road, and there is simply no political support for doing it.

Over the years, numerous items have been exempted from sales tax. Some of them, like Girl Scout cookies and other items sold by nonprofit charitable organizations, are in line with other tax laws that allow income tax deductions for charitable contributions.

But others have been added over the years for purely political or economic development reasons. They include taxes on "services," which can include everything from haircuts to health care and legal services. They also include labor and materials used in new home construction.

The most outspoken critic of reopening that subject was Senate tax committee chairman Les Donovan, R-Wichita, who said the Legislature has studied those exemptions numerous times, and each time learns that every exemption that exists was put into the tax code as a result of strong political support, and repealing them is nearly impossible.

On the school finance front, lawmakers have given themselves two years to craft a new school finance formula to replace the old per-pupil funding formula they repealed earlier this year. For the time being, lawmakers have authorized a system of "block grants" to school districts, basically giving them the same amount of money they received under the old formula for the next two years, with a little more flexibility to shift money between various funds.

The Legislative Coordinating Council, a group made up of the top Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, endorsed a proposal from House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, to form a 13-member panel that will meet for at least three days between now and the 2016 session. Specifically, according to Merrick's proposal, that group will study:

• The outcomes-based standards known as the Rose Standards, which the Kansas Supreme Court has said will be the measuring stick to determine whether state funding for education is adequate.

• The best funding mechanism to ensure adequate money is invested "in the classroom."

• The definition of what constitutes a "suitable education."

• Outcomes to ensure that students are well-prepared for their future endeavors.

• And uniform accounting across all districts.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, had offered a different plan that would have focused more on actually writing a new formula. He said the topics outlined by Merrick are many of the same conceptual topics that lawmakers have debated for several years.

But Merrick said the panel won't be limited just to those bullet points, and he said the panel may request additional meeting days if it feels that would be necessary.

A three-judge panel in Shawnee County ruled in June that the block grant formula now in place is unconstitutional, both because it provides inadequate funding and because it doesn't provide equitable funding between school districts.

That decision has been appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court, which has divided the appeal into two parts. It will hear oral arguments on the equity issue in November, suggesting a decision could come early in the 2016 legislative session.

But it will wait until the spring of 2016 before hearing arguments on the much larger adequacy question. That suggests that a ruling on adequacy may not come until after lawmakers adjourn next year.

Reply 1 comment from Larry Tucker

Hansen withdraws as commerce secretary nominee

George Hansen, Gov. Sam Brownback's nominee for secretary of commerce, withdrew his name from consideration Tuesday, saying an extended family member has "extensive business dealings" with the agency.

A statement from Brownback's office gave no further details.

"I respect George's decision and have reluctantly accepted his request to withdraw his name," Brownback said. "I know him to be a man of integrity who would have served Kansas well."

Brownback announced his nomination Aug. 21, citing his "35 years of experience managing domestic and international businesses."

Most recently, he was president and CEO of the Enterprise Center of Johnson County, a venture development organization and early stage business incubator serving the Kansas City metropolitan area.

The Department of Commerce is the state's lead economic development agency. It has a budget of $113 million and administers the state's business, community and workforce development programs.

Hansen would have replaced Pat George, who retired as Commerce Secretary in July. His appointment was subject to Senate confirmation.


Brownback to host town hall meeting on possible Gitmo transfer

Gov. Sam Brownback announced Wednesday that he will hold a town hall meeting Thursday, Sept. 3, in Leavenworth to air concerns about a possible transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Fort Leavenworth.

That announcement was the third statement Brownback has made in recent days on the subject. On Aug. 20, the governor announced that he had spoken with Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work opposing any attempt to move the prisoners to Kansas.

And Tuesday, he signed a joint statement with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, also a Republican, pledging that they "will not be part of any illegal and ill-advised action by the Administration, especially when that action relates to importing terrorists into our states.”

Brownback followed that up with a pre-recorded audio statement delivered to both print and broadcast news outlets saying, "To even discuss bringing those prisoners to the United States is an insult to those who perished in the Sept. 11 (2001) attacks and to those who've served in America's war on terror."

The furor stems from recent reports in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere that the Obama administration, "is in the 'final stages of drafting a plan to safely and responsibly' close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay." The administration is reportedly considering the military prison at Fort Leavenworth and the Naval Brig in Charleston, S.C., as potential sites for receiving the prisoners.

The United States began sending "enemy combatants" to the detention center at Guantanamo shortly after launching the war in Afghanistan in 2002, during the George W. Bush administration, under the theory that prisoners could be held there indefinitely, without charges or being tried, because the prison is outside the United States and, therefore, beyond the reach of U.S. constitutional protections.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, nearly 800 men have been held prisoner there since 2002. Many of those have since been released to other countries. Today, an estimated 122 remain, including some who have been cleared for release but who are still being held because the U.S. cannot find another country that will take them.

Reply 6 comments from Dorothy Hoyt-Reed Renee Patrick Richard Heckler Richard Quinlan Phillip Chappuie

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