Entries from blogs tagged with “politics”
Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer on Wednesday declared himself the "front-runner" in the race for the GOP nomination, saying he is leading in the polls and that he has raised more money than any other candidate in the race.
His claim about leading in the polls might be arguable by some. One poll, conducted in February by the Kansas City-based firm Remington Research Group, showed Colyer with a 2-point lead over Secretary of State Kris Kobach, 23-21 percent, but that was within the poll's 2.3-percentage point margin of error.
The poll was also taken when Wichita businessman Willis "Wink" Hartman and former Wichita lawmaker Mark Hutton were still in the race. Hutton has since dropped out and thrown his support behind Colyer, while Hartman has signed on as Kobach's lieutenant governor running mate.
On the fundraising front, however, Colyer clearly has been the leading fundraiser, at least as of the end of December, when he reported raising just over $632,000 for his campaign. The next finance reports won't be released until July 30, just ahead of the Aug. 7 primary.
Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, who is also running, reported raising $713,462 last year, but that included a $250,000 loan from himself. Kobach reported raising $354,732.
Now, however, one of the other GOP candidates in the race, former state Sen. Jim Barnett, is making a long-shot bid to try to choke off some of Colyer's revenue stream by calling attention to, and questioning, a couple of high-profile fundraisers that the Colyer campaign has scheduled next week.
According to emails sent out by the Colyer campaign, the fundraisers will feature Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. And one of them, scheduled for Monday, June 4, will be held at the Wichita home of Kansas Board of Regents Chairman Dave Murfin.
Last weekend, Barnett issued open letters to Reid and Murfin, urging them to withdraw their support for Colyer because he signed Senate Bill 284, which contained the so-called Adoption Protection Act, a law that Barnett describes as "one of the most discriminatory pieces of legislation in recent memory.”
That new law, among other things, says private, faith-based child placement agencies cannot be denied access to state programs or contracts solely because they discriminate against certain families based on their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Barnett has been struggling to find some breathing space in the race. He polled at 8 percent in the Remington Research poll, and reported raising $84,645 from outside sources at the end of 2017.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Barnett also questioned the propriety of a Board of Regents member hosting a political fundraiser for a candidate who may, if elected, decide whether or not to reappoint him to that board.
"I certainly hope that's not normal," Barnett said.
The Board of Regents is a nine-member body, all appointed by the governor, who supervise all of higher education in the state. The members serve without compensation.
A review of campaign finance data, however, shows that it has been normal in recent years for members to be financial contributors to, or to have strong ties to, the governor's political party. Murfin, an oil company executive from Wichita, was a substantial supporter of former Gov. Sam Brownback, who appointed him to the Board of Regents in 2015. Records show that between 2013 and 2015, Murfin, his company and his wife, Janet Murfin, contributed $6,000 to Brownback's campaigns, and that Murfin and his wife hosted two fundraisers for him.
But Murfin isn't the only member of the board who also contributed to Brownback's campaigns. Regents Shane Bangerter, Dennis Mullin and Daniel J. Thomas also were Brownback substantial contributors. Regent Helen Van Etten, meanwhile, also serves as national committeewoman for the Kansas Republican Party.
Regent Bill Feuerborn, a former Democratic lawmaker from Garnett who was appointed to the board in 2014, also contributed $2,000 to Democrat Paul Davis' gubernatorial campaign that year.
In a series of emails, Colyer's campaign spokeswoman Kara Fullmer responded to Barnett's statements.
"Governor Colyer was pleased to support Catholic Charities and other faith based organizations as they worked to protect their ability to do adoptions in Kansas," she said in one email. "While some may disagree, Governor Colyer believes we need more adoption options for expecting mothers considering adoption, not fewer.”
Fullmer also said there was nothing inappropriate about Murfin or any other Board of Regents member being involved in political campaigns.
"Dave is a respected businessman and supporter of charitable educational and political causes. We’re honored to have his support," she said in a separate email.
Murfin did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
A past president of the state NAACP has filed to run for Kansas insurance commissioner.
Nathaniel McLaughlin, of Kansas City, Kan., headed the statewide civil rights group from 2011 until 2015. He is a retired executive of Sodexo Healthcare Services, an international management company that contracts with hospitals to provide non-medical business and support staff. He also served as a commissioner on the Kansas City, Kan., Housing Board from 2005 to 2011.
"I want to ensure that all Kansans have access to affordable healthcare and aren’t forced to choose between paying this month’s rent and making sure a loved one will receive the medication they desperately need,” McLaughlin said in a statement released by the Kansas Democratic Party.
McLaughlin is the only Democrat so far to file for insurance commissioner. State Sen. Vicki Schmidt, of Topeka, has filed on the Republican side, and current Deputy Insurance Commissioner Clark Schultz said in an interview that he intends to file as a Republican next week. They are seeking to succeed Republican Ken Selzer, who is stepping down this year after one term to run for governor.
Only one Democrat has ever held the office of insurance commissioner since it was established in 1927. That was Kathleen Sebelius, who held the office for two terms from 1995-2003.
In another race, Republican State Treasurer Jake LaTurner filed Friday to run for a full term in that office.
LaTurner is currently the youngest statewide officeholder in Kansas at 30 years old. He is a former state senator from Pittsburg and was appointed to the office by former Gov. Sam Brownback in April 2017 after the previous treasurer, Ron Estes, won a special election for the 4th District congressional seat.
No other Republican has filed in that race. State Sen. Marci Francisco, of Lawrence, has filed on the Democratic side.
Republican gubernatorial candidate and current Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer announced Monday that he has chosen Goodland businesswoman Jenifer Sanderson as his lieutenant governor running mate.
Sanderson is the owner of a Sonic Drive-In franchise in Goodland and is a past chair of the board of trustees for Leadership Kansas, a leadership training program operated by the Kansas Chamber.
“Jen Sanderson represents the best of Kansas and we are grateful she is willing to make the commitment to the hard work of fixing state government and transforming it in a way that creates that future we all want for our great people and state,” Selzer said in a news release announcing his choice.
Sanderson is the first woman on the Republican side to join a major ticket for governor or lieutenant governor. Incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer is running with his lieutenant governor, Tracey Mann. Kris Kobach, the current secretary of state, is running with former candidate Willis "Wink" Hartman.
Former Sen. Jim Barnett has not yet named his running mate. He said in an interview Monday that he plans to announce his running mate May 31.
Candidates have to make those announcements before the deadline to file for office expires at noon Friday, June 1.
On the Democratic side, former state agriculture secretary and former Rep. Josh Svaty recently named Katrina Lewison, a former Army officer and Iraq war veteran, as his running mate.
The other major Democrats in the race include former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, who is announcing his running mate on Tuesday; and Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, who announced on social media that she would name her running mate Thursday.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward’s exit from the 2018 race for governor in Kansas came as a surprise to some observers, but not much of a surprise to those who were paying close attention to fundraising numbers.
Ward, a Wichita Democrat, had raised less than $100,000 at year’s end in 2017 — far less than Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, even though Kelly didn’t officially get into the race until late December, just days before the first campaign finance statements of the election season were due.
Kelly is now widely seen as the front-runner in the race, although she still faces challenges from former Agriculture Secretary and former Rep. Josh Svaty, of Ellsworth, and former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.
But Ward's departure from the race, and his decision to seek re-election to his House seat, could actually end up helping Democrats in the long run, especially if one of the other Democrats in the race becomes governor.
That’s because one of the main duties of any caucus leader in the Legislature is to work toward growing the caucus — recruiting candidates, raising money statewide and helping campaign to get more party members elected to office.
In a phone interview Thursday, Ward said that was part of his calculations in deciding to get out of the governor’s race. But with only three weeks left before the June 1 filing deadline, that doesn’t leave a lot of time, and so far, Democrats haven't lined up all that many candidates to run for House seats.
As of Thursday, according to information on the Kansas Secretary of State's website, only 65 Democrats had officially filed to run for House seats — including 35 of the 40 incumbent Democrats who are running for re-election — and some districts have more than one Democratic candidate. Ward said he expects all 40 incumbent Democrats to file for re-election before the deadline.
All told, Democrats have officially filed in only 59 of the 125 districts in the House, including the 35 incumbents. That's far fewer than the 93 districts where Democrats fielded candidates in 2016, when they picked up 12 seats.
That means Democrats will have to field a lot more candidates if they hope to make significant gains this year, a year seen at the national level as a potential “wave” election year for Democrats, meaning the results could alter the balance of power in Washington.
In selecting the Republicans to target, Democrats will likely look at those in districts where Hillary Clinton carried the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. An analysis by University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller identified seven of those.
At the top of the list is the 45th District in Lawrence and western Douglas County. That’s where Rep. Tom Sloan, a moderate Republican, is stepping down after 24 years in office. It’s also a district that Clinton carried with 59 percent of the vote.
Three Democrats have filed in that race: Steven X. Davis, of Lawrence; Lori Hutfles, also of Lawrence; and Aidan Loveland Koster, of Lecompton. No Republicans have yet filed in that district.
Other Democratic-leaning GOP districts may be harder for Democrats to pick up because they are currently held by moderate Republicans who tend to vote with Democrats on most, but not all, major issues. Those include 19th District Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, and 25th District Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway. Clayton is being challenged by Democrat Stephen Wyatt; Rooker so far does not have a challenger.
It's more likely that Democrats will focus their time and energy into districts where there would be more of a contrast between candidates.
One of those is the 30th District in southern Johnson County, where Democrat Matthew Calcara is lined up to challenge Rep. Randy Powell, a strong conservative in a district that Clinton carried narrowly, 48-45 percent.
Powell voted in favor of a controversial tax-cut bill that ultimately failed to pass the House on the final day of the session. He also voted in favor of a controversial bill dealing with faith-based child placement agencies. Both of those were issues that Democrats strongly opposed.
Ward said there are more than a dozen Democrats who have made verbal commitments to run but who have not yet filed, and he is continuing to try to recruit more candidates ahead of the June 1 filing deadline.
Two specific kinds of corporate tax breaks, the size of which officials can't even estimate yet, are at the center of bargaining between the Kansas House and Senate that threatens to push the Legislature right up to its deadline Friday night.
Those tax breaks are part of an effort by lawmakers to return to the taxpayers any unanticipated "windfall" the state could see as a side effect of the federal tax cuts that President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress pushed through. But they involve areas of tax law that most ordinary people have never heard of.
One is known by a rather unfortunate-sounding acronym when it's pronounced out loud: GILTI — Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income. Another involves what's called "deferred foreign income."
In essence, both involve the "repatriation" back into the United States of profits and assets held overseas by multinational corporations and their shareholders, something the new federal tax law tries to encourage because under the old law there was a huge tax incentive to keep corporate assets abroad to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
The concern among some lawmakers is that the state of Kansas has received little or no tax revenue from that source in the past because corporations weren't repatriating those assets. But now, under the new law, they might. And if they do, some of it might be repatriated to Kansas. So the feeling, at least on the Senate side, has been that the state shouldn't tax that income at all, to prevent the state from reaping a windfall.
That, however, was not the Senate's original position. Some might remember the melodrama that occurred the night of April 7, the final day of the regular session, when Republicans in the Senate engaged in a lengthy filibuster in apparent hopes of pre-empting a vote on the school finance bill. These items were part of the tax bill that they debated for hours on end, except that the bill they debated at the time called for applying state taxes to 20 percent of that income, not a total exemption.
In conference committee negotiations, however, the Senate recently changed its position to exempting that income entirely from state taxes. And Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, who leads the Senate negotiating team, even called that part of a "strong Senate position" Wednesday. (The original bill that included a tax on 20 percent passed, 24-16.)
House negotiators haven't been as willing to go along, in part because nobody has any idea how much potential revenue the state would be leaving on the table. Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, who leads the House negotiating team, made a counter-offer Wednesday to exempt the GILTI income for one year, tax year 2018, and see how things go from there.
The House also offered to exempt repatriated foreign income, but asked for a provision that said those filers could not repatriate their foreign expenses, because that could be used to reduce other taxes they might owe to Kansas.
Mind you, these are just two parts of a massive tax bill that lawmakers are considering in the final days of the session. There are no fewer than a baker's dozen other moving parts, some of which are related to the federal tax changes, but many of which are not.
One that is not related to the federal law would be a 25 percent increase in the standard deduction that taxpayers can take if they don't itemize their deductions, something the House has so far refused to consider because of its estimated $55-$65 million annual price tag.
There is even a provision being discussed to exempt the purchase of gold bullion from state sales taxes.
Recent negotiating meetings have been particularly tense as the clock ticks down to 11:59 Friday night, at which point the session will come to a close. Tuesday night, Sen. Tyson offered what she called a "global package" of 15 items the Senate wanted to put into a single bill — essentially a kind of "take-it-or-leave-it" proposition. The House came back Wednesday morning to reject that offer and made a counter-offer that did not include many of the things the Senate was insisting on.
"This is quite discouraging that the House is willing to risk losing the federal tax cuts for our taxpayers because the time is so short," Tyson said in a remark that some found ironic, since she was among the Republicans filibustering on April 7, threatening to end the session without passage of either a tax bill or school finance bill. It was also seen as ironic since it was the decision of the Senate, not the House, to set the date for "sine die" adjournment of the session on May 4.
Tyson is also seeking the Republican nomination for the 2nd District congressional seat in the upcoming August primaries.
Johnson, however, was not swayed and replied in his characteristic understated tone: "I recognize strong Senate positions, and I don’t mean to discount that. But there may also be strong House positions. And that’s the challenge that we have to figure out how to come together on."
The two Democrats on the conference committee, Sen. Tom Holland, of Baldwin City, and Rep. Tom Sawyer, of Wichita, have been relatively quiet during the talks because Democrats don't want to consider tax cuts before they know whether the Kansas Supreme Court will accept the Legislature's latest school finance package.
In addition, they have said, the state has only seen vague and, some argue, unreliable estimates about how much of a so-called "windfall" the state stands to receive as a result of federal tax law changes.
"So I think we’re being very foolhardy trying to move forward and make policy based upon those anticipated changes from the Trump tax cuts. We really haven’t seen them in effect yet," Holland said in an interview.
The conference committee was scheduled to continue meeting Wednesday night in hopes of reaching a deal that can pass both chambers.
The Kansas House on Thursday declined to go along with a Senate-passed tax bill that would cut state income taxes for most people, with Republican leaders saying there is still too little information available about what it would do to state revenues and the budget.
The Senate Substitute for House Bill 2228 is intended to prevent the state from reaping an unintended windfall that could result from recent changes in the federal tax code.
One of the major changes it makes to the state code would be to allow people to itemize deductions on their state returns, even if they are not able to itemize on their federal returns.
But the Senate added a number of additional provisions authorizing various kinds of tax credits and increasing the amount people can deduct on their state returns for things such as medical expenses and mortgage interest payments.
Perhaps most significant, though, would be a 25 percent increase in the state's standard deduction, which would amount to an across-the-board tax cut for people who do not itemize.
"We agree that we have an interest in returning the windfall from the federal tax changes, and there is one element that does that, on itemized deductions," Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, who chairs the House Taxation Committee, said on the House floor Thursday.
Although no official estimates have yet been made about how much revenue the state would forego by changing the rules on itemized deductions, Johnson said the other portions of the bill would cost the state at least $140 million a year in revenue.
The conference committee met briefly late Thursday afternoon, and it quickly became apparent how far apart the two chambers are.
Johnson started the meeting by saying the House was not even prepared to make an initial offer until there is an estimate of how much the change in itemized deductions would cost the state, something he conceded would require a detailed analysis of all of this year's individual tax returns. He also said that at present, the House is not prepared to accept an increase in the state standard deduction.
But Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, who chairs the Senate tax committee, said the Senate has a "strong position" in favor of the majority of the bill's contents, and she was not prepared to make a counteroffer.
Lawmakers have scheduled only nine days for the wrap-up session, with the final "sine die" adjournment set for next Friday, May 4.
Kansas lawmakers were told Wednesday that fixing an $80 million problem in the recently-passed school finance bill may be easier than many first assumed.
During a joint meeting of the House and Senate budget committees, staff from the Legislative Research Department said lawmakers do not need to add another $80 million in K-12 education funding to fix the problem because the money has already been appropriated.
The problem, they said, lies in the formula that distributes money to the state's 286 school districts. Without fixing a flaw in that formula, the staff said, the Kansas State Department of Education would simply end the next fiscal year with $80 million of unspent money in its account.
Later in the day, Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, who serves on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, introduced a bill to change that part of the formula. And Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Shawnee, who serves on the House K-12 Education Budget Committee, posted on social media that she would do the same on the House side.
The bill is intended to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court's order to provide constitutionally adequate funding for public schools. But it passed both chambers of the Legislature on the final night of the regular session on Saturday, April 7, with only the bare minimum number of yes votes — 63 in the House and 21 in the Senate.
The $80 million problem wasn't discovered until sometime over that weekend, after lawmakers had adjourned and gone home for a three-week break, and it threatened to re-open the entire school finance debate during the wrap-up session.
So great was the uncertainty, in fact, that Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt petitioned the Supreme Court for an extension of the state's April 30 deadline to submit briefs detailing what the Legislature had done to comply with the court's earlier order.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the court granted that request, giving parties in the lawsuit an additional week, until Monday, May 7, to file their briefs.
The court has said it will issue its ruling no later than June 30, saying whether or not lawmakers have passed a constitutional funding formula. It has also said it will not allow the state to operate schools under an unconstitutional formula beyond that date.
Battle over what to do with state’s $534 million “windfall” set to begin; other budget talks also ramping up
House and Senate budget committees will be back at the Statehouse on Wednesday, one day ahead of the start of a nine-day wrap-up session, to begin work on crafting a final, "omnibus" budget bill that will determine how the state spends the additional $534 million it now expects to receive between now and the end of the next fiscal year.
Their work will begin around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday when both committees will receive a detailed joint briefing about where, exactly, that money is coming from.
The new, rosier revenue forecast was contained in a report released Friday, which offered only scant information about the underlying assumptions of the Kansas economy that formed the basis of the forecast.
What the committees hope to receive Wednesday is what's often referred to in the Statehouse as "the long memo," with more detailed information about what economists expect to see over the next year in terms of job growth, unemployment, personal income, and conditions in the agriculture and energy industries.
After that briefing, the two committees will meet separately to begin work on the final budget bill. And in those meetings, there will be strong competition among various interests over how to spend that money.
On the Senate side, there is already a significant push underway to give much of the money back to taxpayers.
On the final day of the regular session April 7, the Senate passed a bill, Substitute for House Bill 2228, that would provide significant tax cuts to most Kansans, although supporters of the bill don't like to call it a tax cut.
"This is not a tax cut. It was stopping a tax increase," Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, who chairs the Senate tax committee, said in an interview Tuesday. "Because that money was never intended to come to the Kansas state government. It was intended to go to the Kansas taxpayer."
Tyson was referring to the anticipated windfall that the state expects to receive as a result of recently-enacted changes in federal tax law, although the size of that windfall is a matter of considerable debate. Still, the bill is designed to prevent the state from reaping any windfall by essentially "de-coupling" portions of the state tax code from the federal code, so that people could itemize deductions on their state form, even if they take the standard deduction on their federal form.
But Tyson also conceded that part of the bill, raising the state's standard deduction by 25 percent, does amount to a general "tax cut" across the board.
So far, though, there is no official estimate of how much revenue the state would forego if the bill were passed into law. The Kansas Department of Revenue, which normally would make such estimates, has so far declined to do so for the Senate tax bill, according to legislative staff.
"I've heard anywhere from $137 million to $300 million," Tyson said of the per-year cost of the bill.
The bill passed the Senate, 27-14, in the final hours of the regular session, and the House is expected to take up the issue sometime during the wrap-up session. But the House also has other tax bills it may consider that would actually increase revenue to the state, such as one that would enable the state to collect more retail sales taxes from internet sales.
Meanwhile, there is strong opposition among House Democrats about offering any kind of tax cut in a year when the state is under pressure from the Kansas Supreme Court to increase funding for public education, and when other state programs — particularly social services and higher education — are seeking to restore funding cuts they've taken in recent years.
"There's no reasonable person who thinks that when we just finished doing income tax reform that hasn't even been in effect for a year yet, that the next thing we should do is start making tax cuts without having a good feel for what this federal law is going to do to Kansas," House Democratic Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita, said in a separate interview.
Ward was referring to the tax bill lawmakers passed in 2017, overriding then-Gov. Sam Brownback's veto, that reversed course on many of the income tax cuts he had championed in 2012. Ward said he believes one reason why revenues are now coming in above projections is that officials had underestimated how many people were taking advantage of those tax cuts, particularly the complete tax exemption for income derived from certain kinds of business activities.
So far this year, both chambers have already passed, and Gov. Jeff Colyer has signed into law, a bill that phases in over five years roughly $534 million a year in additional spending on K-12 education, although lawmakers will have to revisit that bill during the wrap-up session to correct a drafting error that cuts that amount by roughly $80 million.
In addition, Colyer and the Department for Children and Families plan to ask lawmakers to add $24.3 million to that agency's budget over three years for IT enhancements and increased child protection services.
And the Kansas Board of Regents is still hoping to restore roughly $24 million that former Gov. Sam Brownback cut from the higher education budget in 2016 as part of a package of allotment cuts he ordered that year to balance the fiscal year 2017 budget.
The competition between tax cuts, education, child welfare services and restoring cuts to other services will play out over the next several days against the backdrop of a myriad of political considerations.
Ward, for example, is also vying for the Democratic nomination for governor in the upcoming August primaries, while Tyson is vying for the Republican nomination for the 2nd District congressional seat.
In fact, there are a number of legislators in both chambers this year who will be staking out positions on budget and tax policies while also trying to position themselves for higher political office.
Among them are Rep. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, and Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, who are also candidates in the 2nd District congressional race; and Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, who is competing with Ward in the Democratic primary for governor.
In addition, Sen. Marci Francisco, R-Lawrence, is running for secretary of state, as are Republican Reps. Keith Esau and Scott Schwab, both of Olathe. And Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, is running for insurance commissioner.
The full Legislature returns to the Statehouse Thursday, April 26, for the start of a nine-day wrap-up session. Lawmakers have already set Friday, May 4, as the date for the final "sine die" adjournment of the session, meaning no more legislative business can be conducted this year unless they are called back for a special session.
You might have the impression that all lawmakers have been doing is debating school finance, taxes and a few hot-button social issues like guns in schools.
Make no mistake, those are huge issues for the state of Kansas and they deserve all the attention they've gotten. But it's worth pointing out, especially now as lawmakers are trying to wind down the regular session, that they actually have worked on, and passed, bills on a lot of other topics worthy of note.
So here's a look at a few of those bills, some of which have flown under the radar, so to speak, while most of the media's attention — and I include myself in that — has been focused on other matters.
• Kids and pets locked in cars: The next time you see a child or a pet locked inside of a parked vehicle on a hot summer day and you are afraid for their safety, you won't need permission to break into that vehicle to rescue them.
Gov. Jeff Colyer announced Thursday that he had signed House Bill 2516 into law. It provides immunity from civil liability for any damage a person does to such vehicle if they break in to rescue a child, a pet or any "vulnerable person," which includes people who are physically unable to unlock the vehicle and get themselves out.
People relying on that law do, however, need to notify law enforcement, and they need to stay with the person or pet in close proximity to the vehicle until law enforcement or first responders arrive.
• Civil asset forfeiture and seizure: The Journal-World did provide quite a bit of coverage about debates this session over reforming the state's civil asset forfeiture and seizure laws. House Bill 2459 made it through both chambers and was sent to Colyer's desk in March. Colyer signed it into law April 2.
• Cellphones for domestic abuse victims: Three days after signing the asset forfeiture and seizure law, the governor's office announced the signing of another bill to help ensure that victims of domestic abuse can maintain their cellphone service while they are seeking a protection from abuse order. That's supposed to be helpful for people in families that have multiple cellphones on a single billing account.
In those cases, when someone files for a protection order, House Bill 2524 allows Kansas courts to order the wireless service company to transfer the billing responsibility for one or more of those numbers to the victim, even if the victim is not the account holder.
“HB 2524 removes the ability for abusers to isolate their victims from loved ones and use access to cellular service as leverage against them," Colyer said in a statement announcing his signing of the bill. "This is great news for those trying to escape a dangerous or abusive situation.”
Of course there are also plenty of bills each session that hardly anyone really cares about except those directly affected, and this year is no exception. One is House Bill 2628, authorizing the city of Pratt to dissolve its airport authority, which Colyer signed Thursday.
And it seems almost every year, there is a bill to name an official state something-or-other. Usually, these start in some elementary school where a teacher uses the legislative process to teach students about how government works. The students send a letter to their legislator asking to name something the official state "whatever," and the legislator naturally complies, and the bill goes through the process and ultimately becomes law.
This year, it was House Bill 2650, which actually designates four official state things: the state rock (Greenhorn limestone); the state mineral (galena); the state gemstone (jelinite amber); and the state fish (channel catfish). Colyer signed that bill April 4.
A consultant's report recommending Kansas add upward of $2 billion a year in K-12 education funding would be a huge benefit for the Lawrence school district. But the Eudora and Baldwin City school districts would not gain much, and under some scenarios they would even lose some funding.
That's the bottom line from an analysis by the Journal-World, using a formula spelled out in the consultants' report and comparing that with funding those districts get under the current formula.
Based on the consultants' recommendations and comparing that with current levels of funding, the Lawrence district would stand to gain between $6 million and $18 million a year in new funding.
The Eudora district, on the other hand, would gain at most only about $1.6 million, and it could stand to lose some funding, depending on which options in the report that lawmakers might choose.
But the Baldwin City school district would lose funding under any of the scenarios offered in the report.
The proposed new formula is vastly different from the one that has been used in Kansas for many years, but there are some similarities. It's essentially based on these factors:
• Base funding, which is slightly different for every school district, based mostly on how the district is configured in terms of grade schools, middle schools and high schools. The idea is that it costs more per-pupil to operate a high school than an elementary school.
• A regional cost index, which looks at the general cost of labor in a particular area and how much it costs to hire a teacher in a particular district.
• An "economies of scale" index, which recognizes that it costs more per-pupil to operate districts that are either very small or very large.
• A "student need" index that factors in the percentage of students who are low-income, English language learners or who need special education services.
• And a factor for "closing the gap," which is to say, how much it costs to bring under-performing students up to grade level or better while improving the state's overall high school graduation rate.
The consultants laid out two scenarios for achieving the kind of outcomes that the Kansas Supreme Court has suggested. "Scenario A" calls for bringing 90 percent of all students up to grade level on statewide reading and math exams. "Scenario B," the more expensive option, calls for bringing 60 percent of all students up to the level where they are on track to be ready for college by the time they graduate high school.
They also offered options for raising the state's graduation rate to either 90 or 95 percent.
According to Taylor, the end product after all of that would be comparable to a figure that school districts and the U.S. Census Bureau refer to as a "current operations" or "current spending" budget. That's essentially the total of employee salaries and benefits, including retirement benefits, purchased services and supplies.
Using that formula, under the least expensive option — Scenario A, with a 90 percent graduation rate — The Lawrence school district would see a funding boost of about $6.15 million a year, or about 5.2 percent over its current operating budget.
The Eudora district, however, would see a funding cut of about $297,000, or 2 percent. And the Baldwin City district would be cut by about $1.6 million, or 12 percent.
The biggest difference between Lawrence and the other two districts is the "economies of scale" index. Both Eudora and Baldwin City have headcount enrollments of around 1,500 students, which is kind of the "sweet spot" for district efficiency. So they get no extra points on that scale.
Under the most expensive option — Scenario B, with a 95 percent graduation rate — the Lawrence district would gain $18 million, or 15 percent, while the Eudora district would gain $1.6 million, or 10 percent.
But the Baldwin City district would end up losing a little over $500,000, or 4 percent.
In fact, Baldwin City comes out a money loser under every scenario presented by the consultants.
This option does not include such things as costs for transportation services, food service or bond and interest payments.
The report, which landed on lawmakers' desks Friday, is now the subject of much hand-wringing at the Statehouse because, as everyone knows, the state of Kansas doesn't have $2 billion that it can turn over to public schools, at least not without gutting almost every other state service or passing a massive tax increase.
That's not an exaggeration. The entire state general fund budget for the current fiscal year totals $6.6 billion. But under the most expensive scenario under the new cost study, the consultants recommend the state spend $6.7 billion on K-12 education alone.
Not all of that new spending would have to come out of the general fund. In fact, consultants Lori Taylor and Jason Willis were silent on the subject of where the money should come from.
Still, legislative leaders, particularly on the Republican side, haven't figured out what to do next.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said Tuesday that lawmakers next week would receive a "peer review" report of the Taylor-Willis study — a review of their work conducted by yet more outside experts who will check to make sure the methods and data were sound.
"We're in a vicious cycle of outsiders controlling state spending for education," she said in an interview.
Beyond that, however, Wagle said, lawmakers haven't yet figured if there is another option besides accepting the cost study's recommendations
Greg Orman, an independent candidate for governor in 2018, has named Republican Sen. John Doll, of Garden City, as his lieutenant governor running mate.
The announcement came in a news release issued around 12:15 a.m. Wednesday.
Doll, 60, was part of the moderate Republican wave in the 2016 election. A former member of the House, he unseated conservative Sen. Larry Powell in the GOP primary that year, 57 percent to 43 percent, then went on to win the general election handily.
Doll posted a comment on Twitter later in the day saying he had formally changed his voter registration to be listed as an unaffiliated voter.
“I’m running with Greg Orman because I believe he is the best possible Governor that Kansas could have,” Doll stated in the release. “He places the people first, he’s not about party politics and the only master he will serve is the people of the state of Kansas.”
Until Wednesday, Doll had chaired two Ways and Means subcommittees, one on education and another on the lottery and gaming. He is also vice chair of the Senate Education and Transportation committees.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, however, said that under Senate rules, Doll is now no longer qualified to serve on any committees. She said those assignments are made by the leaders of political party caucuses, and a party has to hold at least two seats in the Senate in order to make assignments.
An aide in Wagle’s office said Doll plans to continue caucusing with Senate Republicans for the remainder of the 2018 session.
His departure from the GOP ranks causes a slight shift in the party makeup of the Senate, which will now have 30 Republicans, nine Democrats and one independent.
As Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer prepares to take over as governor at 3 p.m. Wednesday, there is one question that seems to dominate almost every conversation in the hallways of the Statehouse: Who will be the next lieutenant governor?
Under Kansas law, Colyer will have authority to appoint the new lieutenant governor, and it doesn't even require Senate confirmation. But neither the law nor the Kansas Constitution provide any deadline for how quickly that appointment needs to be made.
So far, only two things are known for certain about Colyer's decision. He won't make any announcement this week, according to his communications office. And nobody knows for certain who is on the list of potential candidates.
That, however, hasn't stopped people from speculating about the choice.
One name that comes up in multiple conversations, though, is Kansas State Board of Education member Jim McNiece of Wichita.
McNiece is viewed as a moderate Republican who has worked as both a teacher and school administrator in both Catholic and public school systems in the Wichita area.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, McNiece confirmed that he and Colyer have spoken about the possibility. "But that was months ago."
"My guess is they’ve moved on," McNiece said. "We don’t chat very often."
One complicating factor for Colyer is that he is stepping into the governor's office in the middle of an election year in which he is also vying, amid heavy competition, for the Republican nomination to a full term of his own as governor. That could scare away potential candidates if they think the job might not last beyond January 2019.
Traditionally, candidates for governor don't announce their lieutenant governor running mate until the summer before the August primary, so it is possible he could wait until then. But that would leave a big hole in the line of succession until that time.
Another issue is that the lieutenant governor doesn't really have any formal job duties other than those the governor assigns. The job only pays about $54,000 a year and is generally thought to be a part-time job, which makes it difficult to convince someone to give up their current job.
Some governors, however, have had their lieutenant governors pull double duty as cabinet secretaries, jobs that pay considerably better than the lieutenant governor. Former Republican Gov. Bill Graves, for example, had two lieutenant governors during his eight years in office: Sheila Frahm, who also served as Secretary of Administration; and Gary Sherrer, who also served as Commerce Secretary.
Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' first lieutenant governor, John Moore, also served as Commerce Secretary for about the first two years of Sebelius' first term. He stepped down from that post in September 2004 to become the state's first "full time" lieutenant governor.
The last time there was a vacancy in the lieutenant governor's office was in 2011, when Sebelius resigned during her second term to become Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration. That elevated then-Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson to the office of governor.
Parkinson chose Troy Findley, a former Democratic lawmaker from Lawrence, to be his lieutenant governor. Findley had been serving as chief of staff for Sebelius.
It is not known whether anyone among Gov. Sam Brownback's senior staff is on the short list. At least one, however, has said flatly that he is not interested, former House Speaker and former State Treasurer Tim Shallenburger, who has served as Brownback's legislative liaison throughout the administration. Shallenburger was the GOP nominee for governor in 2002 when he ran unsuccessfully against Sebelius.
That leaves a wide-open field of politicians, cabinet secretaries, senior staff and even business leaders from whom Colyer could make his pick. As of now, though, there is no clear indication from anyone about whom Colyer might pick.
Secretary of state’s office removes public forms from its website amid concerns about privacy violations
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's office has removed information from its website about the business and financial holdings of public officials in response to concerns that the information could be used as a tool for identity theft.
The information in question is contained in forms called "Statements of Substantial Interest," or SSIs, a form that many officials, including elected ones, must file annually and disclose what other ownership interests they have in outside businesses and organizations, including nonprofit organizations.
But the forms also contain other personal information, including the last four digits the filer's Social Security number.
State law requires thousands of people connected with state government to file those forms annually. Besides elected officials and candidates for office, the forms are also required from anyone whose job is subject to Senate confirmation, general counsels of state agencies, consultants who work on contract with the state, and virtually all employees of state colleges and universities.
Brian Caskey, who heads the elections division in the secretary of state's office, said in an interview that he removed all links to that information on the agency's website immediately after receiving a complaint Thursday from Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, who said he looked up his own name on the website and discovered that the form online displayed the last four digits of his Social Security number.
That action means the public currently does not have online access to information on those forms.
Carmichael told the Journal-World that he sent a letter to Kobach on Friday, demanding that his information be removed from the website. He also filed a Kansas Open Records Act request seeking the "names, addresses, occupation, and date of access of each person or entity" who has viewed his information, a move he said would help him in mitigating any damage that may have been caused by the disclosure of sensitive personal information.
Disclosing the last four digits of someone's Social Security number is considered inherently dangerous because people with knowledge of how those numbers are generated can sometimes guess what the other numbers are, especially if they know when and where the person was born. That, then, could give hackers access to all kinds of personal information such as credit histories and medical information.
Caskey said he is working with the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission to find a solution that will allow public access to the information on those forms without disclosing sensitive personal data.
Caskey said the forms are typically submitted in one of two ways, either by paper filings that people fill out by hand or through electronic filing, which has become more popular in recent years. He said the paper forms are optically scanned into image files, making it hard technologically to redact any information. But he said redaction would be easier with forms submitted electronically.
In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, Kobach said the information contained in the forms is prescribed by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, and state law requires the secretary of state's office to receive those forms and make all of the information contained in them available to the public.
But he said he does not believe a person's partial Social Security number is necessary, and he is asking the ethics commission to consider amending the form, an issue the commission plans to take up at its next meeting on Jan. 31.
Kobach said the practice of making the forms available online through the secretary of state's website began in 2005 under then-Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh.
As the Kansas Legislature heads into the third week of the 2018 session, with little progress being made on school finance until a consultant's report comes out in mid-March, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are starting to turn their attention to issues of transparency in the Statehouse.
Transparency has long been an issue at the Legislature, whether it involves anonymous bills introduced by committees, with no sponsor's name attached to them, or the "gut-and-go" process in which the contents of one bill are stripped out and replaced with the contents of another bill, or even the degree to which lobbyists have to disclose how much they, or their clients, are spending to influence legislation.
All of those issues have been reported over the years, but they, along with many others, were nicely pulled together and placed into context in a Kansas City Star series published in November that has drawn much attention from the public, not to mention individual lawmakers themselves.
For example, Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, announced Thursday that his committee, and likely several others, were putting an end to anonymous bills.
"The person introducing a bill will have to state their name, and if they're part of an organization, state their organization, and all of that information will be put in the committee minutes so it will be searchable," he told committee members, as well as the gathered audience for the meeting.
For many years, individual legislators, as well as members of the public, have been allowed to go into a committee and request the introduction of a bill, and as a matter of courtesy, most committees would agree to introduce it as a "committee" bill, with no named sponsor attached to it.
At times, they would even agree to introduce bills that hadn't even been drafted yet, so-called "conceptual" bills that would be written up later. But Hawkins said he was also ending that practice, at least in his committee, and that anyone wanting a bill introduced would first have to work with the Revisor of Statutes office to draft it in bill form before it can be introduced.
It's been a practice that, on the one hand, gives any individual or interest group considerable access into the legislative process, as long as they're willing to continue working to shepherd their bill toward passage. But it also makes it hard for people, including lawmakers, to shield themselves from scrutiny for introducing controversial or unpopular legislation.
House Democratic Leader Jim Ward of Wichita, a candidate for governor, said in a news conference Friday that he liked the idea, sort of.
"I think that's a great idea," Ward said, before adding: "Wait a minute, I thought it was such a great idea, I proposed it as a (House) rule change last year that would require every committee to make note of who requests a committee bill and the content of that committee bill."
During that news conference with Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka, Ward said that legislative Democrats are planning a news conference Tuesday to announce an entire package of transparency issues, although he wouldn't go into further detail.
But Hensley may have given a hint about at least one part of the package when he announced that he has filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act to disclose information about all of the contacts his administration had with lobbyists for CoreCivic — the private prison company selected, but not yet hired, as the preferred bidder on a $362 million contract to rebuild the Lansing Correctional Facility — before those people registered as lobbyists for the company Nov. 13.
One of those lobbyists is David Kensinger, who formerly served as Gov. Sam Brownback's chief of staff before starting his own lobbying firm, Kensinger & Associates
"I have great concerns about what kind of influence he (Kensinger) had in bringing this project to the state," Hensley said.
The State Finance Council, made up of the governor and legislative leaders from both chambers, was expected to take a final vote on that project Thursday. But the meeting was abruptly called off when it appeared the project may not have had enough votes to pass due to ongoing questions and concerns from members of the council. That meeting may be rescheduled for as early as Monday, according to the governor's office.
Meanwhile, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, announced Friday that she wants to introduce legislation requiring anyone who works on contract to influence action by an executive branch official to register as a lobbyist. Currently, lobbyists only have to register if they try to influence legislative action.
"Through discussions in the off-session with legislators from across the country, I learned that many states include the executive branch in their ethics laws and I firmly believe that Kansas should require the same,” Wagle said in a news release. “We need legislation that explicitly states that any person attempting to promote or influence an executive official must report those activities. This will allow for increased transparency in Kansas.”
Kendall Marr, a spokesman in the governor's office, said in an email that Brownback is generally supportive of Wagle's idea, although he wants to see the actual bill before making a final decision.
Regarding Hensley's open records request about lobbying activities on behalf of CoreCivic, Marr said only that the governor's office is currently processing the request.
In a story that was posted online Thursday and carried in Friday's print edition summarizing campaign finance reports in this year's governor's race, we inadvertently omitted Republican candidate Jim Barnett.
According to his report, Barnett's campaign took in a total of $564,645 in 2017. Of that, however, $505,000, or 89 percent of the total, came from loans the candidate made to his own campaign, meaning he raised only $59,645 from outside sources.
Barnett is a Topeka physician who formerly served as a state senator from Emporia.
He was also the Republican Party's nominee for governor in 2006 when he ran unsuccessfully against then-incumbent Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. He received just over 40 percent of the vote.
In that race, Barnett reported having raised $281,7825 in his January 2006 report, and then another $238,253 in the months leading up to the August primary. He had only two major rivals in that primary, though: former Kansas House Speaker Robin Jennison; and social-conservative activist Ken Canfield.
In the general election cycle in 2006, Barnett reported raising $670,700.
Barnett has been out of politics now for a number of years, and this time around, he faces a wider and more competitive field of contenders.
There are those who say, however, that it matters less where a candidate gets his money than how he spends it.
Rep. Steve Alford’s abrupt resignation from leadership positions on two key committees has forced a shake-up in the Kansas Statehouse that could have an impact on legislative efforts to reform the state’s child welfare program.
Alford, R-Ulysses, stepped down from his chairmanship of the House Committee on Children and Seniors and from his vice chairmanship of the Child Welfare System Task Force, a panel of lawmakers and outside experts formed last year to make recommendations on reforming the state’s foster care system and other child welfare services.
He stepped down from those positions amid furor over remarks he made over the weekend suggesting marijuana should remain illegal because African Americans lack the character and genetic makeup needed to handle its effects.
In response, House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, appointed Rep. Erin Davis, another Olathe Republican, to fill both slots. Davis is an attorney who also served on the 2016 Special Committee on Foster Care Adequacy. Alford’s comments were quoted in a Garden City Telegram story on Monday, the first day of the legislative session, and they immediately prompted a strong rebuke from Ryckman, who said Alford’s comments do not in any way reflect the views of Kansans or the policies that will come out of the 2018 session.
The Telegram story also came out on the same day that the Child Welfare Task Force issued its preliminary report based on its first six months of work. Among other things, the report said the Department for Children and Families is plagued by “High turnover levels of social workers due to stress, excessive caseloads, and low pay.”
The panel will continue working throughout 2018 and is not expected to issue its final report and recommendations until January 2019, after a new administration is sworn into office. Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel on Monday called for adding $16.5 million in new funding for DCF to address that and many other issues in the child welfare system. Ryckman on Monday said he hadn’t decided what, if any, disciplinary actions he would take in response to the comments, and it wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday whether Alford’s resignations from the committee leadership posts were voluntary or forced.
In addition to his role on the task force and the Children and Seniors, Alford serves on the Judiciary Committee; Transportation Committee; Energy Utilities and Telecommunications; and the Joint Committee on State Building Construction.
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer has scheduled a news conference Monday to announce proposed budget enhancements for the Department for Children and Families.
That's unusual for two reasons: First, because it is rare for anyone other than the governor's office to announce budget proposals before the governor himself does so, and Gov. Sam Brownback isn't expected to announce details of his budget plan until Wednesday.
It's also unusual for Colyer who, even though he is running for governor, has had to keep a low profile on policy issues while waiting for Brownback to be confirmed for a diplomatic post in the Trump administration.
But a newly released "Kansas Speaks" poll from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University may shed some light on why it's important now for Colyer to come out from under Brownback's shadow.
The survey asked 434 Kansas adults whether they had ever heard of various Kansas politicians. Only 38 percent of them said "yes" when asked about the lieutenant governor. That compares to 86 percent who recognized the name of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the politician with the highest name recognition, due in part, no doubt, to the fact that he appears regularly in national conservative news media.
The survey also showed only 29 percent of respondents were at least “somewhat confident” with Jeff Colyer taking over as Kansas governor.
But the news wasn't all bad for Colyer, nor was it all good for Kobach. Although Kobach may have the highest name recognition, it evidently isn't for positive reasons. Only 30 percent of those surveyed said they had a somewhat or highly positive opinion about his job performance, while a whopping 47 percent had a negative opinion of him, including 37 percent calling their opinion of him "highly negative."
Colyer fared a little better, with 34 percent saying they had a positive opinion of him, and only 23 percent with a negative opinion. But that left 48 percent of respondents with no particular opinion about him one way or another — not a big motivator for people to vote for him or write checks to his campaign.
The highest rated politicians in the poll were the three leading Democratic candidates running for governor at the time the poll was taken in the fall of 2017. Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer had the highest positive rating, at 46 percent. He was followed by former Rep. Josh Svaty of Ellsworth, at 44 percent, and current House Minority Leader Jim Ward of Wichita, at 40 percent.
The survey did not ask about Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, because she didn't get into the race until mid-December.
Colyer had been planning to come out of the shadows much earlier, pending Brownback's confirmation to a diplomatic post in the Trump administration. But that has been stalled in the U.S. Senate, and now Brownback, not Colyer, will deliver the high-profile State of the State address next week.
Brownback will be leaving office amid historically low approval ratings, with 70 percent of those polled expressing some level of dissatisfaction, and 62 percent approving of him resigning to take a job in the Trump administration. Obviously aware of that, other GOP candidates in the governor's race have started routinely linking their names in public statements, referencing the "Brownback-Colyer administration" and "Brownback-Colyer tax policies."
Monday's news conference about proposed budget enhancements for DCF could help Colyer turn things around.
Problems at DCF, and particularly the state foster care system that it manages, have been scandalous for the Brownback administration amid news reports about 70-plus foster children who had gone missing, children being forced to spend the night in social workers' offices due to shortages of emergency placement spaces, and children being killed while in the state's custody.
That makes improving the child welfare system a pretty good issue for Colyer to use to start elevating his own profile and separating himself from Brownback.
Amid those reports, even Republican lawmakers started calling for ousting then-DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore, who ended up retiring Dec. 1. Then, in what appeared to be part of a transition process, Colyer was allowed to announce the hiring of a new secretary, Gina Meier-Hummel of Lawrence, who had been director of the Children's Shelter. She is scheduled to join him at the news conference.
Gov. Sam Brownback said Thursday that he was still optimistic that his nomination to a diplomatic post in the Trump administration would be resubmitted to the U.S. Senate and that he would eventually be confirmed, although the White House has not yet made an announcement.
Asked during an impromptu news conference in the Statehouse whether he had heard when, or whether President Trump would resubmit his nomination, Brownback said, "Yes, but I'm not at liberty to announce."
"It is my understanding that, yes, that will happen," he added. "I think it's going to be soon, but the president's office, they have to announce."
Brownback was nominated to be U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom back in July. But during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October, a number of Democrats expressed concern over his record on gay rights, particularly his decision in 2015 to repeal an executive order signed by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, prohibiting job discrimination in executive branch agencies based on sexual orientation or sexual identity.
His nomination passed out of the committee narrowly, on an 11-10 party-line vote. But because of the objections from Democrats, the full Senate did not take a vote to confirm him before adjourning its 2017 session. Under Senate rules, that sent his nomination, along with about 130 others, back to the White House, which is expected to resubmit them during the new session.
Brownback, a former senator himself, said he wasn't surprised that the Senate sent back so many nominations at the end of the session, given the schedule the Senate was under.
"What they had to get done, they did get done, which is the tax bill," he said. "And they got it done, they got it through, and at that point in time everybody's nerves are frayed and people's attitudes of cooperation were diminished."
"I have been talking with the parliamentarian's office," he added. "I believe I'm going to be confirmed, and fairly soon. But this is the Senate, and this is a difficult time."
Brownback has said he would resign the governor's office once confirmed but not before. As a result of the delay, however, he will deliver the State of the State address on Tuesday, and the budget plan being submitted to the Legislature is largely his work.
Former state Sen. Jim Barnett added some heat to the race for the Republican nomination for governor this week by taking direct aim at the presumed front-runner, Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
In a news release, Barnett, a physician who now lives in Topeka but used to represent a Senate district in Emporia, laid out a list of priorities that he wants Kansas lawmakers to focus on in the upcoming legislative session, which begins Monday. Most of the items were part of his standard stump speeches about education, health care and economic development. But then he added an extra item that was clearly aimed at Kobach.
"Finally, as the legislature is looking for efficiencies, I urge them to end the Crosscheck program in the Secretary of State’s office,” Barnett said in the news release. “Kansas taxpayers shouldn’t be paying to administer a flawed program that 25 other states draw from but don’t reimburse us for."
Then he added: "The legislature should also remove prosecutorial jurisdiction from Secretary of State’s office. There should be a clear division of responsibility and prosecution is better handled by the Attorney General’s office and local prosecutors. There is a reason that no other states vest this authority in the office of the Secretary of State.”
Kobach's campaign did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages requesting comment.
The Crosscheck program is something that actually began under Kobach's predecessor, former Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, also a Republican. It's a computer database that is intended to identify people who are registered to vote in multiple states, something that is not uncommon when people move across a state line and register in their new home without canceling their old voter registration.
Initially it involved only the states of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska, but it has since been expanded to include 25 states.
It has gained national attention — and national criticism — in recent months after Kobach highlighted it during the first meeting of President Donald Trump's Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, where Kobach serves as vice chairman. That group is asking all 50 states to submit their voter registration rolls into the system, rolls that contain a lot of personal information, including in many cases the last four digits of Social Security numbers.
An investigation by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica that was published in October revealed that the Crosscheck system is fraught with security issues. "Crosscheck’s files are hosted on an insecure server, according to its own information. Usernames and passwords were regularly shared by email, making them vulnerable to snooping. And passwords were overly simplistic and only irregularly changed," ProPublica reported.
Kobach's office has said it is reviewing Crosscheck's security protocols, but it is not known whether any of the other participating states besides Kansas will share in the cost of any security upgrades.
The other issue Barnett raised is one of Kobach's signature legislative achievements: a law that gives his office the power to prosecute election crimes.
Kobach has gained a national profile as a crusader against illegal immigration and voter fraud. Following the 2016 election, he backed up President Trump's unsubstantiated claim that "millions" of illegal immigrants voted in that year's presidential election, a claim Trump has used to refute the argument that Democrat Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote in 2016 by more than 3 million ballots.
Since the 2015 passage of the bill giving him prosecutorial powers, Kobach's office has filed fewer than a dozen charges, mainly against voters who cast ballots in multiple states. Only one case has involved a person who was not a U.S. citizen at the time he voted but who later became a naturalized citizen.
There is reason to believe Kobach didn't respond to Barnett because he simply doesn't have to. According to one Republican official, a handful of internal polls conducted by some of the campaigns have consistently shown Kobach in the lead, with Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer a distant second and all the other GOP candidates polling below the margin of error.
That, however, could be based largely on name recognition, since many voters in Kansas don't get engaged in the campaigns until after the filing deadline, which is June 1 this year.
Meanwhile, Kobach has continued to conduct much of his campaign through national news. As recently as Tuesday night, he appeared on Fox News, where he denounced a policy of former President Barack Obama known as DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — which allowed certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to remain in the country as long as they met certain conditions.
Kobach also is a regular contributor to Breitbart News, a conservative news outlet that was founded by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
The Trump administration announced in September that it was phasing out that program, putting Congress under pressure to enact legislation similar to DACA. That's expected to be a major issue in the second half of the 115th Congress, which began Wednesday.
There are currently seven major candidates in the GOP race for governor. Besides Kobach, Colyer and Barnett, they include Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, Wichita businessman Willis "Wink" Hartman, former Rep. Mark Hutton, of Wichita, and former Rep. Ed O'Malley, who now lives in Wichita but formerly represented a House district in Johnson County.
If Gov. Sam Brownback is to become the next U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, President Donald Trump will have to resubmit his nomination to the U.S. Senate early next year, according to Senate rules. David Popp, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in an email Friday that the Senate is tentatively scheduled to adjourn the first session of the 115th Congress, “sine die,” on Tuesday, Jan. 2. At that point, under a Senate rule, any presidential nominations that have not been acted upon must be returned to the president. “Nominations neither confirmed nor rejected during the session at which they are made shall not be acted upon at any succeeding session without being again made to the Senate by the President,” Senate Rule 31 states. That rule can be suspended by unanimous consent. But after the Senate adjourned Thursday evening, a new Senate executive calendar was published listing only one name being held over, John Rood, a nominee to be an under-secretary of defense. The calendar listed 139 other nominations not being held over, including Brownback’s. Also on the list of nominations being returned to the White House was that of Johnson County attorney Holly Lou Teeter, an assistant U.S. attorney and a University of Kansas law school graduate who was nominated to be a federal district judge in Kansas. Brownback’s nomination, however, has political significance because it had been widely expected that he would resign the governor’s office before the 2018 legislative session begins, handing the baton to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is running for a full four-year term of his own in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Politically, it would be to Colyer’s advantage to move into the governor’s office as soon as possible so he can begin establishing his own identity as governor and taking on the mantle of the incumbent in what is now a crowded and highly competitive Republican primary. Brownback, however, has said repeatedly that he will not step down unless or until his nomination is confirmed by the Senate, and it now appears that won’t happen until after the 2018 session starts on Jan. 8, if it happens at all. The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who follows presidential nominations closely, said Trump won’t be able to use his constitutional authority to make a recess appointment, which temporarily bypasses the Senate confirmation requirement, because the Senate will not be in recess long enough for that to happen. He noted that the Senate has scheduled so-called “pro forma” sessions throughout the holidays, a procedure that involves one senator to gavel in and gavel out every few days, so the Senate technically won’t be in recess. “I wouldn’t put it past Trump, but Obama didn’t try to do that, just because the Supreme Court said in 2014 that that was OK, the Senate could set its own rules, and these pro forma sessions are meant to prevent that from happening,” Tobias said in a phone interview Friday. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down three of then-President Barack Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board as unconstitutional because he made them during a three-day break between pro forma sessions of the Senate. Regarding Teeter, Tobias said she would likely be confirmed quickly when the Senate reconvenes next month. Because it takes unanimous consent to hold over a nomination, it only takes one senator to block a nominee. In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, was the only member to vote against Teeter’s nomination. The American Bar Association had rated Teeter as “unqualified” because she fell just a few months short of having the minimum 12 years of legal experience needed to be rated as qualified. Other Democrats on the panel, including Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Diane Feinstein of California, supported Teeter despite the ABA’s rating. “I think she’s on track. It’s just going to take a while before she gets a Senate floor vote,” Tobias said. Regarding Brownback, though, Tobias said confirmation may be more difficult, especially in light of the special election in Alabama earlier this month, where Democrat Doug Jones upset Republican Roy Moore in a race to fill the seat vacated when Republican Jeff Sessions was named attorney general, leaving Republicans with only a two-seat majority. “The margin is so thin in the Senate when it comes back, they could pick off two GOP members,” he said. “But I would think he would have a fair amount of good will, sort of senatorial courtesy, from the time he was senator. I had the sense that he was a pretty good colleague and that even Democrats could work with him and that he was easy to work with.”