Entries from blogs tagged with “politics”

Lawrence schools would gain big under cost study formula; Baldwin City schools stand to lose

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.

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014. by Nick Krug

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

Related stories

• March 19 — Consultants stand by K-12 cost study but suggest phasing in the massive increase

• March 16 — $2 billion estimate for Kansas public schools shocks lawmakers; consultants’ accuracy questioned


Orman names GOP Sen. John Doll as running mate; senator will leave Republican Party

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.

Kansas state Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, makes a point during a caucus for GOP senators, Thursday, April 6, 2017, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Kansas state Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, makes a point during a caucus for GOP senators, Thursday, April 6, 2017, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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.


The Statehouse guessing game: Who will be the next lieutenant governor?

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.

In this file photo from Nov. 4, 2014, Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, left, and Gov. Sam Brownback celebrate after winning re-election at a Kansas Republican Party gathering in Topeka.

In this file photo from Nov. 4, 2014, Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, left, and Gov. Sam Brownback celebrate after winning re-election at a Kansas Republican Party gathering in Topeka.

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.

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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.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach speaks during a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Topeka.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach speaks during a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Topeka.

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.


Kansas lawmakers to start pushing transparency initiatives

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.

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014. by Nick Krug

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.

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GOP donors not flocking to Barnett this time in Kansas governor’s race

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.

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Rep. Alford’s resignation from leadership slots forces shake-up of key committees

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 this file photo from Sept. 19, 2017, Rep. Steve Alford, R-Ulysses, sits in on a task force meeting at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

In this file photo from Sept. 19, 2017, Rep. Steve Alford, R-Ulysses, sits in on a task force meeting at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

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.


New poll shows how far Colyer is behind Kobach in one key area

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.

In this March 9, 2017, file photo, Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, left, and Gov. Sam Brownback participate in a humanitarian award ceremony at the statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (Thad Allton/Topeka Capital-Journal via AP, File)

In this March 9, 2017, file photo, Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, left, and Gov. Sam Brownback participate in a humanitarian award ceremony at the statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (Thad Allton/Topeka Capital-Journal via AP, File)

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.

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Brownback still optimistic about diplomatic post

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."

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback answers questions during an interview with The Associated Press, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in his Statehouse office, in Topeka, Kan. Brownback says he's not resigning before he's confirmed to an ambassador's post by the U.S. Senate and will give the next State of the State address. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback answers questions during an interview with The Associated Press, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in his Statehouse office, in Topeka, Kan. Brownback says he's not resigning before he's confirmed to an ambassador's post by the U.S. Senate and will give the next State of the State address. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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.

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GOP race for governor heats up as Barnett takes aim at Kobach

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.

In this photo from June 20, 2017, Jim Barnett, a former state senator and 2006 Republican nominee for governor, announces that he plans to run again for governor in 2018.

In this photo from June 20, 2017, Jim Barnett, a former state senator and 2006 Republican nominee for governor, announces that he plans to run again for governor in 2018. by Peter Hancock

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.


Resubmission of Brownback’s nomination explained

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.”

Reply 5 comments from Michael Kort Kevin Millikan Kendall Simmons Ophelia_shorn Pauljones

Report: Senate won’t confirm Brownback in 2017

The U.S. Senate will not confirm Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback for a diplomatic post in the Trump administration before the end of the year, setting up the possibility that he may still be governor when the 2018 legislative session starts on Jan. 8.

The McClatchy News Service published a story Thursday quoting Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee that held Brownback's confirmation hearing, as saying a vote on Brownback's nomination could take place in early January.

“They want a recorded vote and we’re trying to do it in the least painful way possible in early January,” Corker was quoted as saying.

President Donald Trump nominated Brownback in July to be the U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom. But Democrats have objected to his nomination based on his record on LGBT rights and his support of so-called "religious freedom" legislation that critics argued would have legalized private-sector discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.

Samuel Brownback, governor of Kansas and a former U.S. senator, appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as the nominee to be the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Samuel Brownback, governor of Kansas and a former U.S. senator, appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as the nominee to be the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Senate was trying to wrap up its business for the year on Thursday.

Some observers have suggested that if the Senate goes into a formal recess at the end of the day, that could open the door for Trump to make what's known as a recess appointment, a way of filling vacancies quickly when Congress is not in session. Even that, though, would require the Senate to confirm him before the end of the next congressional session, according to Article 2, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution.

Wednesday evening, the Senate approved 39 presidential appointments and military promotions, including the appointment of University of Kansas law professor Stephen McAllister to be U.S. attorney for the District of Kansas.

All of those votes, however, were unanimous voice votes that did not require floor debate.

Reply 4 comments from Phillip Chappuie Dowser Richard Heckler Pauljones

Laura Kelly upends Democratic race for governor

State Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, jumped into Kansas' 2018 gubernatorial race late last week and immediately became the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination, according to some outside observers, sending a strong message to the other three major candidates that party leaders were not confident that any of them could win a general election.

Kelly, who is 67, was first elected to the Senate in 2004, when she narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Dave Jackson in a hard-fought election that was decided by fewer than 100 votes. She has been re-elected three times since then, most recently in 2016 when Jackson tried to win back his old seat, this time losing by 931 votes.

Kelly is known primarily as a centrist Democrat, one who is fiscally conservative but more liberal on social issues. She comes from the upscale Potwin neighborhood in Topeka, but her district includes much more conservative areas of northern Shawnee County as well as parts of Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties.

It is widely reported within political circles that she was urged to get into the race by party leaders, including former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, also a former Potwin resident, as well as a number of major donors and fundraisers in the party.

That may have came as something of a slap in the face to the other major candidates who have already spent months on the campaign trail, although none of them said so directly.

"Kansans deserve a vigorous debate about the future of our state. I welcome Laura to the race, and look forward to continuing to put my vision in front of the voters," House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita, said in an email.

Until Kelly got in the race, Ward had been seen as the front-runner, if only because he was the only candidate currently holding elected public office.

Another Democratic candidate had this to say: “I welcome Senator Kelly into the race for Governor of Kansas and look forward to her joining the discussion about the future of our state," former Rep. Josh Svaty, of Ellsworth, said in a statement to news outlets. "This doesn’t change the ultimate objective for Kansas Democrats, which is to identify the best nominee who can defeat Kris Kobach next November."

Secretary of State Kobach is widely seen as the leading contender in the Republican race, but he faces competition from a number of other GOP heavyweights, including Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, former Sen. Jim Barnett, former Rep. Mark Hutton and former Rep. Ed O'Mallley, to name just some of them.

Also running on the Democratic side is former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.

University of Kansas political scientist Burdett Loomis said Kelly brings a number of assets to the table that will make her highly competitive, starting with the fact that she is the first woman to enter the race that currently includes 24 men who have formed campaign committees.

She's also the only major Democratic candidate from northeast Kansas. That's critical for any Democrat to win a statewide election in Kansas because the Kansas City-Lawrence-Topeka-Manhattan corridor contains nearly half of all the Democratic voters in the state.

Kelly's candidacy may have another big impact on the race overall. According to Loomis, she may eliminate any chance of independent candidate Greg Orman from becoming a spoiler in the general election.

Orman ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2014, getting 43 percent of the vote against incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. But that was a race in which the Democratic candidate Chad Taylor withdrew early on, leaving Orman as the only viable contender.

On a county and precinct level, though, Orman's performance largely mirrored that of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis, indicating that they both drew from the same pool of Democratic, independent and moderate Republican voters. But if Kelly emerges as the Democratic nominee, Loomis said, that could close off any opportunity Orman might have to draw away those same voters.

So far, there has been no public polling in the governor's race, and there is no public indication of how much money they're raising because the first campaign finance reports aren't due until Jan. 10, showing how much they raised in all of 2017.

When those reports do come out, though, everyone will be looking to see if Kelly raised enough in the last two and a half weeks of the year to make her competitive with those who have been campaigning since the summer. If she does, that may make her very difficult to beat in the Democratic primary.

Reply 3 comments from Sara2475 Bob Smith Jeff Zamrzla

Orman makes governor’s race a 3-way contest, to the advantage of Republicans

Greg Orman stepped into the 2018 governor's race Wednesday as an independent, banking on the idea that voters have become disenchanted with the two main political parties.

Orman, readers will recall, is the Johnson County businessman who ran a strong challenge against Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts in 2014. But that was a race in which the Democratic candidate, Chad Taylor, bowed out in what appeared to be a coordinated effort with Orman to prevent Republicans from winning a Senate majority. It didn't work, and Orman ended up losing the race by more than a 10-point margin.

And to be precise, Orman has taken only the first step toward getting into the governor's race by forming an exploratory committee and appointing a campaign treasurer so he can begin raising money.

But political experts in Kansas say if he does get in the race, it's unlikely that he can break the grip that the Democratic and Republican parties have on the vast majority of voters in the state, and his candidacy would likely give Republicans an edge that they might not have otherwise.

"If you look at when Democrats and Republicans do their absolute worst in Kansas elections, it looks like about three-fourths of Kansas voters are solidly party voters. They’re going to vote for that Democrat or Republican, seemingly because their name is on the ballot," University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller said Wednesday in a phone interview.

In any given statewide race in Kansas, he said, any given Republican candidate has a lock on about 40 percent of the vote. That's how much Republican Jim Barnett received in 2006 when he ran for governor against Kathleen Sebelius. And any given Democrat can count on 30-35 percent, roughly the amount Sen. Tom Holland got when he ran for governor in 2010 against Sam Brownback.

"So his first task is to own that other 25 percent," he said, "which is difficult because most of those people lean to a party. It’s also difficult because your truest independents are also the least politically knowledgeable, they care the least about politics and they’re the least likely to vote. His most natural constituency is the most tuned out."

The next task, Miller said, is for Orman to peel away votes from both the Democratic and Republican candidates, whoever they turn out to be. But his performance in 2014 shows that he is more likely to peel away votes from Democrats than Republicans.

"It was basically a small version of Paul Davis’ run for governor," he said. "If you look at the precinct-level results and the exit polls, it didn’t appear that he had a really unique constituency that wasn’t already voting for Paul Davis."

In this file photo from Nov. 1, 2014, independent senate candidate Greg Orman talks to reporters during a campaign event in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

In this file photo from Nov. 1, 2014, independent senate candidate Greg Orman talks to reporters during a campaign event in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Michael Smith, a political scientist at Emporia State University, agreed.

"In my mind there’s no question but that the votes he got against Pat Roberts in 2014 were mostly Democratic votes, with a smattering of independents and moderate Republicans," he said.

According to Smith, and many others, Secretary of State Kris Kobach is currently the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination, although Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer could have the power of incumbency, assuming he is elevated to the governor's office before the Aug. 7 primary.

Democrats would likely be happy with either one, because Colyer will be saddled with all the political baggage of the Brownback administration, and, according to polls, Kobach is seen as a highly divisive figure who may have a hard time winning support from independents and moderate Republicans —although, to be fair, people have said that about him going into each of the last two statewide elections that he ended up winning.

So far, three major Democrats have announced plans to run: former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer; former Rep. Josh Svaty, of Ellsworth, and House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita, the only one in the group who currently holds elected office.

There are, of course, a number of other candidates in the GOP race. But in any circumstance, Democrats will be trying to put together the same kind of coalition with independents and moderate Republicans that carried Sebelius into the governor's office in 2002 and 2006. And Orman's entry into the race makes that more difficult, Miller said, because he can easily be portrayed as a Democrat in disguise.

"He is the only candidate in the race who donated to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Al Franken, and has a history of support from the Democratic Party," Miller said. "And Pat Roberts spent a lot of money spreading that message about him."

Reply 3 comments from Bob Smith Chase Blackwood Richard Heckler

Interim legislative committees preparing final reports, recommended legislation for 2018 session

After a lull over the Thanksgiving holiday, several interim legislative committees will meet over the next two weeks, with some of them preparing final reports and recommended legislation for the 2018 session that begins Jan. 8.

In an effort to keep tight reins on the Legislature's own spending, Republican leaders didn't authorize many interim committee days this year. But the ones they did approve have a lot on their plate.

First up Monday is the Joint Committee on Pensions, Investments and Benefits, the committee that has general oversight of the state pension system. In 2015, lawmakers authorized issuing $1 billion in pension obligation bonds to shore up the troubled retirement fund. Since then, however, the state has also delayed regular scheduled payments into the fund. Executive Director Alan Conroy is scheduled to give a report detailing the fund's current value and the current size of its long-term unfunded liability.

On Wednesday, the KanCare Oversight committee holds its final interim meeting and will approve its final report to the Legislature. "KanCare" is the name of the state's privatized Medicaid program. Federal officials only recently gave Kansas permission to continue that program for another year after initially denying a renewal because of concerns that the program was being mismanaged.

In the meantime, the Gov. Sam Brownback-Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer administration is preparing to launch "KanCare 2.0" in 2019, an expansion of the program that enables Medicaid workers to help line up recipients with other kinds of social and educational services, in addition to health care, but which would also impose a work requirement for some recipients.

On Thursday, the Joint Committee on State Building Construction will take a bus tour around Topeka, visiting state agency buildings, including many agencies that the Brownback administration has moved out of the now-all-but-vacant Docking State Office Building into rented office space under long-term leases.

The following week, on Dec. 4, the 2017 Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision holds its first meeting, which will focus on reviewing the Kansas Supreme Court's Oct. 2 decision in Gannon v. Kansas, striking down the school funding formula lawmakers approved last session, calling it both inadequate and inequitable.

The Special Committee on Commerce holds two days of meetings Dec. 5-6, with most of the attention focused on Sales Tax and Revenue, or STAR bonds. Those are bonds issued to pay for certain development costs for retail or entertainment districts. The bonds are repaid using the increased sales tax revenue that the new development generates. They were first used in Kansas to develop the area around the Kansas Speedway and the Legends shopping district in Wyandotte County.

Kansas lawmakers this year passed a three-year reauthorization of a law that allows cities and counties to set up STAR bond districts — that is, areas for which they can issue STAR bonds to finance redevelopment of areas that are expected to produce new sales tax revenues — but they also imposed a one-year moratorium on establishing any new districts.

The committee will also get a briefing on the history of sales tax revenues in Kansas, a source of revenue that has been growing in recent months after several months of disappointingly flat growth.

Finally, the Special Committee on Assessment and Taxation will hold two days of meetings Dec. 7-8. The most significant of those will be Dec. 8, when the panel discusses the potential impact of changing the way agricultural land is valued.

In 1986, Kansas voters passed a constitutional amendment changing the way property is valued for tax purposes. While residential and commercial property is measured by "fair market value," agricultural land is valued by its "use value," or the economic production coming off of the land.

Farm groups and rural communities insisted on that language at the time, arguing that taxing farm land at its market value could be financially devastating to farmers, especially during down times in the ag industry.

In recent years, though, as the number of farms has declined and the population of Kansas has shifted largely to urban and suburban areas, there has been less and less sympathy for the "use value" assessment system, which many say amounts to a multibillion dollar tax break for the ag industry.

Many officials say the chances of that happening in the near future are extremely slim. It is widely expected, though, that when new legislative district lines are drawn in 2022, following the 2020 census, the balance of power in the House and Senate will shift even further to urban and suburban areas, and at that point, some say, "use value" property taxes for agricultural land may become politically unsustainable.


GOP slams Paul Davis for bringing Rep. Steny Hoyer to Kansas

Democratic congressional candidate Paul Davis' campaign has confirmed that Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House, will be in Kansas this weekend — a fact that the National Republican Congressional Committee is trying to use against him.

The NRCC issued a statement earlier this week using the event as a link between Davis and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, now the minority leader and a favorite foil for Republicans.

That's important because when he announced his campaign in August, Davis specifically said that if he's elected, he would not support Pelosi for another term as leader of the Democratic caucus.

"Think voters will believe Paul won’t support Pelosi for Speaker while the establishment pulls out the stops to prop him up? Yeah, we don’t either," the NRCC statement said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., center, speaks to immigrant rights supporters who gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., center, speaks to immigrant rights supporters who gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Davis, a former state lawmaker from Lawrence and the Democrats' unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2014, is running for the 2nd District seat that Rep. Lynn Jenkins, of Topeka, will vacate next year. There is a crowded field of Republicans seeking the nomination, led by state Sens. Steve Fitzgerald, of Leavenworth, and Caryn Tyson, of Parker.

In their first quarterly campaign finance reports released in October, Davis reported raising more than $400,000 in just a little more than a month, more money than all the Republican candidates combined. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan political handicapping website, rates the 2nd District as leaning Republican, one notch above the toss-up category.

Davis spokeswoman Haley Pollack confirmed in an email this week that Hoyer will be in Kansas on Saturday to stump for Davis as part of a swing through several states where he is campaigning for Democratic House candidates.

But she categorically rejected the idea that Davis is now in the camp of Pelosi, whom Republicans often portray as a quintessential San Francisco liberal.

"Congressman Hoyer is a respected moderate," Pollack said. "Paul has pledged he will not support Nancy Pelosi for Leader or Speaker. His position on this is clear, has not changed, and will not change – period."

She said the event would take place at a "private venue" on Saturday with a small group of supporters after Hoyer campaigns in Kansas City, Mo., for Rep. Emanuel Cleaver that same day.

Reply 6 comments from Armen Kurdian Ken Lassman Brad Avery Richard Heckler Rich_quinlan

Kansas community colleges raise concerns about GOP federal tax overhaul

Wichita — Community college officials in Kansas have begun sounding alarm bells about the potential impact of federal tax changes now being considered in Congress.

Daniel Barwick, president of Independence Community College in southeast Kansas, told the Kansas Board of Regents Wednesday that several parts of the bill being considered in the U.S. House could be devastating for higher education, and especially for community colleges.

"While tax reform is desirable, the country cannot afford to make financing community colleges more difficult," Barwick said, noting that by some estimates, the bill being considered in the House would add $65 billion nationally to the cost of college education over the next decade.

Barwick is co-chairman of the System Council of Presidents, an advisory group to the Board of Regents that includes the chief officers of the six state universities, Washburn University in Topeka and a number of the state's community and technical colleges.

That council urged the 10-member Board of Regents to use its influence with Kansas' congressional delegation to make major changes to the bill. In particular, the council singled out 2nd District Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, who is a member of the House tax-writing committee, and Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

"Our national associations, the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees, have jointly urged both houses of Congress to rethink and reject the dramatic change (called for in the bill) and we hope you will be weighing in as well," Barwick said.

Barwick outlined several provisions of the House bill that community colleges find troubling. Among them were:

Employer educational assistance and qualified tuition reductions: Most higher education institutions today offer free or reduced tuition to their employees and their families, as well as to graduate teaching assistants. Under current law, they can provide up to $5,250 a year as a tax-free benefit, but the House bill would make those benefits taxable, meaning that those who take advantage of those benefits would have to pay taxes on them, just as if they were part of the person's income.

Student loan interest deduction: Currently, people can deduct up to $2,500 a year in interest paid on student loans. That would be eliminated under the House bill, something Barwick said would increase the cost of student loans by $24 billion over the next 10 years.

Charitable contributions: The House bill would double the size of standard deductions, taking away the incentive for many people, especially middle-income earners, to make charitable contributions because they would no longer have a need to itemize their deductions. He said that would reduce charitable giving in the United States by as much as $13 billion a year, something that would affect all charities, not just higher education. He called for a universal deduction for charitable giving that would apply to all taxpayers, whether they itemize or not.

And changes in tuition tax credits: According to a summary of the bill on Congress' official website, the House bill would replace the Hope Scholarship and Lifetime Learning tax credits, as well as the tax deduction for tuition and qualified expenses, with a new American Opportunity Tax Credit. That would allow a 100 percent tax credit for the first $2,000 of certain higher education expenses, and a 25 percent tax credit for the next $2,000 of such expenses, according to the summary.

Barwick, however, said the net effect would be a much smaller tax benefit for many students, particularly older, nontraditional students who are going back to college to get additional training for their jobs.

In an email, Rep. Jenkins' spokesman, Michael Byerly, said Jenkins has been in contact with higher education officials and believes most of their concerns will be ironed out in the legislative process.

“She has expressed some of their concerns with Chairman (Kevin) Brady (R-Texas) and her Senate colleagues and will continue to do so as tax reform makes its way through Congress," Byerly said. "She remains confident that many of these issues will be resolved and by the time this bill is signed into law it will be greatly beneficial to hardworking Kansans’ bank accounts and the Kansas economy.”

Sen. Roberts' spokeswoman, Sarah Little, noted in an email that there are significant differences between the House and Senate tax bills. For example, she said free tuition would remain a tax-free benefit for most people under the Senate bill, and the Senate bill makes no changes to existing tuition tax credits.

Regarding charitable donations, she said, "Filers who donate significant amounts to Universities and charities will likely not take a standard deduction. But for the rest of lower income donors, doubling the deduction will put more money in their pockets to give to causes they care about."

The House is expected to vote on its version of the bill Thursday. The Senate bill, which is already encountering some Republican opposition, likely will not come up for a vote until December at the earliest.


Kansas senators say Roy Moore should step aside if sexual misconduct allegations are true

U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, of Kansas, both Republicans, are saying that GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, of Alabama, should step aside if allegations of sexual misconduct against him are true.

Both Kansas senators issued statements Friday after the Washington Post published explosive allegations that Moore, Alabama's former controversial Supreme Court chief justice, had sexual contact with at least four women when they were teenagers, including one who was 14 at the time, and he was in his 30s.

"If the allegations are true, Senator Roberts would urge Roy Moore to step aside," Sarah Little, Roberts' spokeswoman said in an email to the Journal-World.

“If there is any truth to these allegations, Roy Moore should immediately step aside,” Moran said in a separate email.

Moore is running in a special election in Alabama to fill a Senate seat vacated by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He has vehemently denied the allegations. The election is scheduled for Dec. 12.

Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore during speaks during his election party, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Montgomery, Ala.  (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore during speaks during his election party, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The seat is temporarily being held by Sen. Luther Strange, whom Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley appointed until a special election could be held. Strange lost the GOP primary to Moore in September.

The accusations could not have come at a worse time for Senate Republicans who had hoped to dominate the news cycle Thursday with the unveiling of their own tax overhaul proposal. Both Roberts and Moran had issued news releases earlier in the day touting the tax plan. Roberts serves on the Finance Committee that will begin working the bill Monday.

Republicans currently hold a 52-48 majority over Democrats and Independents in the Senate, and divisions within the caucus have already shown they can have a difficult time passing major legislation such as repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

In another controversial measure, Vice President Mike Pence had to cast the deciding vote to pass a bill taking away consumer rights to join class action lawsuits against financial institutions.

If Republicans were to lose the Alabama race — something that was all but unthinkable just a few days ago — that would leave the GOP with only a 51-49 majority, and virtually no margin for error.

The allegations against Moore are just the latest in a long series of sexual harassment and assault allegations against powerful men in business, entertainment and government. In fact, at virtually the same time the Washington Post was releasing its story about Moore, the New York Times published a story on its website detailing sexual misconduct allegations against comedian Louis C.K.

There have also been recent allegations of widespread sexual harassment against female legislative staff and interns in the Kansas Statehouse.

Reply 18 comments from David Reynolds Heygary1 Roadhog512 Richard Heckler Wakarusaguy Daniel Kennamore Richard Aronoff Brock Masters Evan Taylor Dorothyhoytreed and 2 others

Republican Jim Barnett commits to LGBT nondiscrimination policy if elected governor of Kansas

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Barnett said Thursday that he would be committed to a nondiscrimination policy to protect gay and lesbian state workers, a policy that current Gov. Sam Brownback rescinded in 2015.

"On the social issues, it’s been a huge black eye for our state, and I will make it very clear here today that if I am governor of Kansas, there will not be discrimination," Barnett said during a news conference Thursday.

When asked specifically about an executive order that was in place during Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' administration barring discrimination in executive branch agencies on the basis of sexual orientation or identity, an executive order that Brownback rescinded, Barnett said, "I would support that."

In this photo from June 20, 2017, Jim Barnett, a former state senator and 2006 Republican nominee for governor, announces that he plans to run again for governor in 2018.

In this photo from June 20, 2017, Jim Barnett, a former state senator and 2006 Republican nominee for governor, announces that he plans to run again for governor in 2018. by Peter Hancock

Thursday's news conference was intended to highlight Barnett's agenda for public education, which he referred to as "the driver of the Kansas economy in the 21st century." He said his agenda would be focused on investing in early-childhood education, increasing funding in order to stop the cycle of school finance litigation, and focusing on career preparation for Kansas students.

Answering questions from reporters, Barnett said that during his recent statewide tour of Kansans, he had heard from businesses all across the state that their biggest need is access to a highly trained workforce.

He was then asked about the number of young people who leave Kansas after high school or college for larger metropolitan areas elsewhere in the country that are perceived as more tolerant than Kansas, where lawmakers in recent years have proposed a series of "religious freedom" bills that critics say would legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Barnett, who is known as a social conservative on many issues, said he recognized that as a problem in Kansas.

Since announcing his candidacy earlier this year, Barnett said, he has tried to identify six major issues that he wants to focus on, spending one month talking about each. Earlier, he has gone on tours to focus on agricultural policy, health care, economic development and tourism.

"This month we're talking about education, and our last tour is going to be a young professionals tour," he said. "How do we change the image of this state in the fashion that you just described? And it's hugely important because a lot of us are going to retire, or are retired already, and if we don't replace ourselves we're going to be in trouble."

Barnett is vying in a crowded Republican field for the gubernatorial nomination in 2018. The perceived front-runner in the race is Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is known nationally for his crusades against illegal immigration, and who earlier this week received the endorsement of the nationally syndicated talk show host Sean Hannity.

Also running for the GOP nomination are Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer; Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer; former Rep. Mark Hutton, of Wichita; former Rep. Ed O'Malley, who now lives in Wichita; Wichita businessman Willis "Wink" Hartman; and a number of other lesser-known candidates, including several teenagers.

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Why Kansas can’t replicate Maine’s Medicaid expansion vote

People in Kansas who have been pushing to expand KanCare under the Affordable Care Act no doubt took notice Tuesday night when Maine became the first state in the union to settle that issue by popular vote, bypassing a Republican governor who has vetoed such a measure at least five times in the last six years.

After all, a 2016 "Kansas Speaks poll" conducted by Fort Hays State University showed pretty solid majorities in favor of extending the joint state-federal health care program to an estimated 150,000 people who could become eligible if Kansas took advantage of the federal law.

Similar efforts are also underway in conservative states like Utah and Idaho to get Medicaid expansion initiatives on their state ballots.

So naturally the question arises, is there a way to get a Medicaid expansion proposal onto a state ballot in Kansas?

The short answer to that question is no.

The process used in Maine and other states falls under the general heading of "initiatives and referendums," two methods by which citizens can initiate legislation or constitutional amendments by petition, bypassing the regular legislative process.

Supporters of Medicaid expansion celebrate their victory, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Portland, Maine. Maine voters say they want to join 31 other states in expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the signature health bill of former President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Supporters of Medicaid expansion celebrate their victory, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Portland, Maine. Maine voters say they want to join 31 other states in expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the signature health bill of former President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Although those processes have been allowed in some New England towns since time immemorial, in most other places they are a byproduct of the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The idea was to put real political power directly in the hands of the people so that whenever legislatures or governors became too intransigent or too corrupt, "the people" could take matters into their own hands.

For whatever reason, though, despite the fact that Kansas was steeped in the Populist movement throughout the 1890s, initiatives and referendums were one part of the movement that just never took hold here.

The last governor who even tried to push through a constitutional amendment allowing initiatives and referendums was Democrat Joan Finney in the early 1990s, but that went nowhere fast.

In modern times, some states that allow initiatives and referendums have learned to regret it, in part because "the people" who try to use that process to their advantage tend to be the same well-heeled special interest groups who stalk the halls of statehouses but who use the public vote process when traditional legislative efforts are unsuccessful.

The general public, it turns out, is sometimes much more pliable and persuadable than legislative committees, which have the power to hold hearings, summon witnesses and compel the production of documents when debating complex issues.

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