Thursday, December 18, 2008

What Matters in Kansas: Our Kan-garoo Court

Welcome to the second installment of our new series at Kaw & Border -- What Matters in Kansas. In this post, we will be focusing on the makeup and process of selecting the Kansas Supreme Court.

As any reader of this blog knows, the Kansas Supreme Court has been the subject of much controversy over the past several years. Whether you're talking about the Montoy school finance decision in 2005, in which the Kansas Supreme Court usurped legislative power and ordered the legislature to spend a certain amount of money on schools; or the Limon decision later in 2005, in which the court said "moral dissapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate government interest"; or recently, in the Planned Parenthood case against Phill Kline, when some of the justices, in contrast to their own ruling, went on a blog-like rant against Kline, stating at one point "We are unwilling to make those taxpayers foot any further bill for the
conduct of a district attorney they did not elect in the first place and have now shown the door,"
the Kansas Supreme Court has becoming in our eyes, "Our Kan-agroo Court."

In all three cases, the Kansas Supreme Court either invented law or used some kind of rant or public opinion" to make their ruling. In this environment, can anyone who has a case that goes before the Kansas Supreme Court honestly expect any kind of sensible ruling based on the law?

These rulings, which we could dissect in futher detail to demonstrate their absurdity, would make many casual political observers ask how in the world does such a court even come to existence in a red state like Kansas?

Good question, isn't it?

The answer lies in the way we select our Supreme Court justices in Kansas -- by a bar association-dominated "Nominating Commission." It is composed of four "non-lawyers" appointed by the Governor and five attorneys nominated by their fellow attorneys. This commission then sends three names to the Governor, who then must select one of the three. If he/she doesn't, it then goes to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Can the Govenor reject all three? No. Can the Senate reject any of the three? No. It's basically "pick among these three no matter what".

This process has earned Kansas the dubious distinction of being the only state that has its nominating commission dominated by the bar. Kansas' unique process of selecting judges is discussed at length in Steven Ware's report "Selection to the Kansas Supreme Court".

Really, when you consider it, the Kansas Courts are not really a third branch of government, as set forth in the Kansas Constitution, as that would signify some kind of check and balance by the people at some point. In all practicality, it is a branch by the bar association, with the only elected input being the Governor who must select one of the three. It is a branch without a check, other than a constitutional amendment to change it.

Now, currently, we have a liberal Governor in Kathleen Sebelius who of course, would fill the four non-lawyers with liberals and then, of course, be given three liberal names to choose from. Fine, she probably would anyway, even if we had a different system. Most folks would say, okay, let's kick her out of office -- fine. But consider this:

Say conservative Sam Brownback is elected in 2010, and eventually makes all four non-lawyers conservative Republicans. The problem is, the rest of the nine members are all lawyers appointed by the liberal bar association. So, that commission could feed Governor Brownback three liberals and he'd be forced to pick one -- or have the decision be made by the Kansas Supreme Court. Now, maybe we'll get lucky and get one that is more conservative and have a 5-4 nominating commission majority -- but as one can tell, that creates a lot of hoop-jumping in order to get to that point.

So basically, no matter what happens, the system is rigged so the bar gets who they want as judge. No wonder we get so many silly rulings, huh?

What, of course, needs to happen is a new system. There are different alternatives out there, from making the nominating commission either completely made up of non-lawyers or at least dominated by non-lawyers, or doing away with the nominating commission entirely and letting the Governor pick who he/she wants, and then making that selection require Senate confirmation -- something like the federal system. Or, you could go to direct elections.

The problem is, of course, that any such change would require a 2/3 majority in the legislature and approval by the voters, as the process of selecting Kansas Supreme Court is defined by the Kansas Constitution. But, if Kansas voters want any kind of say in who their judges are, that's exactly what needs to happen. We need to elect state legislators to both bodies who will commit to fundamental judicial reform - and not just tinkering with it, but going to something like the the federal system.

Our preference is to do away with the commission entirely and any involvement from the bar. The bar should have no role in formally selecting judges, other than it can, like any other interest group, say they like or not like a particular nominee. If for some reason we cannot do away with a commission, at the very least, it should ONLY be there to recommend people -- the Governor should have the ability to nominate who he/she wants -- with confirmation from the Senate.

If the commission remains, one creative proposal, to obtain the 2/3 votes necessary for passage, might be this -- if the Governor picks someone recommended by the Commission, it requires only a majority vote by the Kansas Senate. If the Governor picks someone outside that, it requires a 3/5 vote, or 24/40. This is not ideal, but would at least allow the Governor to sidestep the commission if it keeps sending unacceptable nominees -- a "check" against a currently "unchecked" commission.

Until some kind of sensible proposal is made, we will sadly keep seeing nonsensical rulings come down from the court. Even if Brownback were elected and able to get a couple justices to his liking, the likelihood of any more than that, under the current system, is extremely unlikely.

We hear a lot of talk about change in this country -- and the underlying goal of that change should be to make our government work better on behalf of the people. In Kansas, that starts with the way we select our judges.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Election Reaction: Conservatives on Rise in Kansas

The 2008 elections have come and gone and now all that is left is the analysis of what happened and how it pertains to the future.

One thing that the mainstream media is unlikely to mention is that in Kansas as a whole, Democrats are in defeat while conservatives are slowly on the rise. The Kansas City area and Johnson County in particularly are a bit of a different story, but opportunities abound for conservatives there as well.

Governor Kathleen Sebelius had a bad night. In the Kansas Senate, Democrats actually lost one seat -- having picked up Roger Pine's seat but losing Greta Goodwin (to Steve Abrams) and the seat held by Jim Barone (to Bob Marshall). In the Kansas House, they did gain 1 -- by virtue of winning a net additional seats in Johnson County for a total of six wins -- three of which were by very narrow margins. She lost Congresswoman Boyda to State Treasurer Lynn Jenkins, one of the few Republican pickups on the night. Two of her party switchers -- Ron Wimmer and Rick Guinn -- went down to defeat -- to two Republicans who lean conservative, Julia Lynn and Steve Howe.

Conservatives, however, had a good night. In the Kansas Senate, solid conservatives Mary Pilcher Cook and Steve Abrams had convincing victories against well funded opponents. Also entering the Senate are other solid conservatives from the House, including Jeff Colyer, Ty Masterson, and Dick Kelsey. In the Kansas House, while moderates Ronnie Metsker, Jim Yonally and John Skubal all went down to defeat in Johnson County, conservatives Anthony Brown, Kasha Kelley, Lance Kinzer, and others rode to resounding victories.

So where does this put Kansas as we head towards 2010?

First off, we have a likely close battle for leadership in the Senate, where by most counts conservatives are a couple votes away from having control. If they get power, will moderate power-brokers like Steve Morris and John Vratil even stick around? Time will tell. Even if the moderates hold on to leadership, their lives will be not be made easy with Huelskamp and Pyle being joined by Abrams, Pilcher Cook, Masterson, Kelsey, and Colyer. The conservative agenda will have play.

The 2010 election is also setting up well for the first conservative surge in quite a while. The biggest question is what does the governor do? Does she get appointed to the Obama Cabinet, leaving Mark Parkinson as the incumbent? Or does she run for the U.S. Senate? News today has Jerry Moran running for the U.S. Senate, allowing the conservative Huelskamp to run for District 1.

Another huge race will be the open seat for Governor, which Sam Brownback will likely be running for. Brownback's candidacy represents the single greatest opportunity for conservatives in state history. It could set up a wave down the ballot, and potentially even put District 3 in play, should Dennis Moore retire, as some say he wants to. And with the Democrats only candidates being appointments (Attorney General, State Treasurer), all the statewide offices appear in play for quality conservative candidates.

In Johnson County, things are a slightly different story. As noted, the Democrats now hold 6 of the 22 State House seats, though three by narrow margins. Look for Districts 16, 18 and 19 to have races with solid conservatives representing the Republicans this time. With the heavy advance voting experience this time around, look for the huge early voting advantage that the Democrats have to wane, paving the way for likely victories for conservative challengers. It's amazing that in Johnson County that there could be so much diversity, with Olathe and southern Overland Park being solid conservative and areas towards Wyandotte and the Missouri lines turning purple.

The next two years will be fun for sure. Right now, we're all waiting for the shoe to drop regarding Sebelius's plans -- and everything will then cascade from there.

We'll be here to report the fallout!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Election Preview: No Roman Empire in Senate District 10

With the election just a week away, we at Kaw & Border are launching an election preview series regarding several races in Johnson County.

Today, we are focusing on a race we have examined before -- District 10, involving Republican Mary Pilcher Cook and Democrat Pete Roman.

Mary Pilcher Cook defeated Sue Gamble soundly in the primary by a 57-43% margin. Pete Roman barely escaped the Democratic primary, defeating Michael Bolton.

Expectedly, Pete Roman is taking page 1 from the KTRM playbook and using their favorite bogeyman, Phill Kline, in an attempt to bring down Cook. Mary, on the other hand, is relying on a solidly positive message like she did in the primary, combined with a heavy ground game -- which anyone driving through the district can tell.

Roman is hoping for enough Republicans to crossover to combine with Democrats and a few Unaffiliateds to get to the magic number. It is appropriate to note in this case that Roman lost to Nick Jordan 61-39 in 2004.

We at Kaw & Border expected the margin to be smaller, but well short of what Roman needs. Mary is one of the most effective campaigners in Johnson County and has an effective campaign team that has raised the right kind of money and has the appropriate ground game in order to overcome the negative barbs coming out of camp Roman.

The fact is that District 10 leans conservative, and now will have an authentic conservative to represent them. There will be no Roman Empire in District 10.

Is the Kansas political landscape changing?

It seems as if for the past 6 years, since Kathleen Sebelius took over as Governor, that we've been somewhat frozen in time politically in Kansas. Due to her huge cash advantages and the overall mood of the nation, Republicans in general and conservatives in particularly, have been somewhat on the defensive even in a red state like Kansas.

Now, why is this?

Some of this is was bound to happen, in our opinion. First of all, the one-party rule of the 90's was unlikely to sustain itself because constant inner-party squabbling usually results in the other party making up ground, and they have. Secondly, and related to the first point, is that due to the one party rule, a lot of liberals were hanging out in the Republican Party because that was the only path towards getting elected in Kansas. These "RINO's" (Republicans In Name Only) resulted in the party not being able to have either have a consistent message or consistent leadership, and also, many volunteers were simply tired after the primaries, resulting in defeats in the general election.

Now, with the rise of the Democratic Party in Kansas, many of these liberals have found a more comfortable home there. This isn't a criticism, mind you -- that's where they should be. Parties are not meant to be mere political organizations, they are meant to be organizations of people with a like-minded philosophy, even if they sometimes disagree over particulars on issues. When parties lose that philosophical identity, everything else falls apart and it opens up the door for a party with a philosophy (and the Democrats do have one, even if they do not admit it) to rise.

Also, the Democratic Party, frankly, has done a good job in fielding candidates. Now, they might not always win or be of the highest quality, but the first step towards building a party is at least fielding candidates in races, and they have done so. This resulted in 2006 victories in Districts 18 and 16 in Johnson County, as well as in the 2nd and 3rd congressional Districts.

Now, that said, some of the Democrats success in Kansas is a mirage and as a result, signs are beginning to a political realignment in Kansas that will favor conservatives. Now, this might seem strange if you read media reports that seem to indicate conservatives are in retreat -- but a further examination of the political realities in Kansas point to, at the very least, some real opportunities for huge conservative gains in future cycles.

Let's first examine each of the Democrats major political figures -- Sebelius, Lt. Gov Mark Parkinson, AG Steve Six, and Congressmen Dennis Moore and Nancy Boyda. Of these, only Sebelius came to power independent of other factors. Originally elected to insurance commissioner in 1994, an overall huge Republican year, Sebelius was the Democrats one shining star in Kansas. She was able to use that status, and her considerable political skills, to motivate Democrats -- and she then took advantage of a split Republican party in 2002 (which was a three way primary for the GOP) to defeat Tim Shallenburger in November. Due to her fundraising prowess and the Republicans disorganization and fundraising problems, she was able to coast to re-election in 2006, and overall down year for Republicans anyway. She remains a large threat should she choose to run for the U.S. Senate in 2010.

Of the others, each has a rather unimpressive rise to power:

Lt. Gov Mark Parkinson -- a former State Representative whose seat was oddly, replaced by Kay O'Connor and now Lance Kinzer, and State Senator who was replaced by a now conservative-safe-seat in Karin Brownlee, has been off the political radar since 1996. Having never run a tough race in his life, he is a bit of a political bore who is not even that popular in Democratic circles who owes his political status exclusively to Sebelius, and who many observers feel would be a weak Governor candidate in 2010, whether it be against Ron Thornburgh or more likely, potential powerhouse in U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, a conservative.

Attorney General Steve Six -- A political newcomer, he was appointed by Sebelius after former formidable figure Paul Morrison resigned in disgrace early in 2008. Six, who is untested in any electoral sense, will likely face a very stiff challenge from the Republicans in 2010, probably from a conservative. Conservatives are well motivated to win this seat back, so if they can find a candidate who can unify conservatives while appealing to independents and rule-of-law Democrats, they can win this seat.

Congressman Dennis Moore -- Moore, along with Sebelius, is the Democrats other success story in Kansas. However, people forget how he won -- in 1998, the public was voting against Republicans largely due to the unpopularity of the impeachment proceedings against Clinton. Moore, due to that and a split within the Republican Party, defeated Vince Snowbarger. He then won narrowly in 2000 (against a then-popular Phill Kline) and in 2002 (against Adam Taff), but has since largely coasted. This year he faces State senator Nick Jordan, who in a Republican year would have a strong chance, but faces an uphill battle this year due to the overall mood of the country and the fact Moore simply has 10 years of incumbency and a reputation (even if undeserved) of being a moderate. No doubt, he has good political skills and comes across well and has had a fundraising and media advantage that is hard to beat. However, Moore came to office due to overall political winds -- and has not risen any higher. Many observers feel that Moore is looking for a way to retire and that Dems have begged him to keep running, largely because they have no bench in the 3rd District and have been trying to find a successor who could defeat what will surely be the first motivated Republican party in nearly a decade. Point is, this seat could easily become conservatively held once Moore leaves (whether to retire or possibly run for Sam Brownbacks seat) -- its only a matter of time. It will be interesting to see if the Republicans and Democrats can find a decent candidate for their parties.

Congresswoman Nancy Boyda -- Boyda, much more so than even Moore, came to power based on good luck. Crushed in 2004, she ran against Jim Ryun again in 2006, was able to capture a very anti-Republican wind and defeat Ryun, who by almost all accounts ran a poor campaign that took Boyda for granted. Now, Boyda faces Lynn Jenkins, a moderate, well speaking Republican State Treasurer, who even in this bad year for Republicans, stands a good chance of defeating the incumbent, who has largely been an embarrassment in Congress. Should Jenkins win, the seat will probably go back to safe Republican as the Democrats, much like in the 2nd District, have no bench here. (Side note -- it should be noted that if Jenkins wins, Sebelius will be able to appoint Jenkins replacement, therefore perhaps creating another Steve Six situation).

So, you see where we're going here -- the Democrats officeholders are all fairly weak, their one star is term limited, opening the door for Republicans to rise to power again. Now, the question is -- which type of Republican will it be?

Let's first look at the Governor's race. It is likely that U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, the conservatives superstar in Kansas, is going to make the run for Governor. The conservatives have never held the governorship, so this is going to be a huge opportunity for a major political shift in Kansas. Even with Brownback's fight with conservatives on immigration, the fact is on every other issue he is rock solid, and he has been making friends traveling around the state helping out legislative candidates. While Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh has tried the same, despite being in office for 12 years, his lack of a major race (his toughest fight was from Kay O'Connor, who simply didn't have the financial resources necessary to run a statewide effort) and status is unlikely to defeat the machine, name Id, and political muscle that is Sam Brownback. For the general, Mark Parkinson wouldn't have a prayer even if he were to be the nominee -- many think that Dennis McKinney would be the choice for the Democrats.

The other major race in 2010 will surely be the U.S. Senate race. Both parties will have a serious decision here. IN the case of the Democrats, will their superstar Sebelius run? Or, if Obama wins, will she be in his Cabinet? Hard to say. We believe she will run for the U.S. Senate but she would then have to run against either Congressman Todd Tiahrt or Congressman Jerry Moran, both of whom would be formidable. If the Republicans can avoid a primary, this would be a huge fight and conservatives would be extremely motivated, particularly if Tiahrt could emerge. Even Moran, who although conservative is not as much as Tiahrt, would be exciting.

A ticket led by Brownback and Tiahrt would be a conservative force not seen in Kansas since 1994, when both originally came to power. If Moore were to retire, conservatives would also likely emerge in the third and fourth congressional districts. If Tiahrt opted to stay in the 4th and Moran ran, then you might see someone like State Senator Tim Huelskamp -- a dedicated conservative, emerge in District 1 -- remember, Huelskamp raised money for Congress back in 2006 before Moran decided not to challenge Sebelius.

This political force would likely lead to conservative opportunities in other races as well. Of course, you'd have the Lt. Governor, probably a state legislator who was a rising star. It is likely that all the statewide offices would be "open" or at least held by someone who hadn't actually won a race before, such as Six or possibly a new State Treasurer. Insurance Commissoner, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and State Treasurer would all be open for conservatives eager to run on the coattails of a Brownback/Tiahrt or Brownback/Moran surge. The moderate Republicans would surely field candidates, but if the conservatives field effective candidates, the mods are likely to be overwhelmed in the primaries by a motivated conservative base.

This also has effects at the legislative level. Even this year, as we look at the State Senate, we see conservatives emerging. Mary Pilcher Cook, Jeff Colyer, Ty Masterson and Dick Kelsey are all likely to win their seats. Steve Abrams, Steve Fitzgerald and Jim Zeller are all strong candidates poised to win victories on November 4. In addition, two Senators who voted for the Morris leadership team last year -- Roger Reitz and Roger Pine -- are very vulnerable, and Julia Lynn -- whose vote is up for grabs -- is in danger as well. This could very well mean conservatives win control of the State Senate.

In the House, things are open. In Johnson County, conservatives could very well win seats in District 18 and District 22 over former party switchers Cindy Neighbor and Lisa Benlon. Democrats, though fielding candidates county-wide, are unlikely to see any pickups, or if they do, it will be limited to 1 or 2.

And even in the District Attorney races -- conservatives Steve Howe in Johnson County and Eric Rucker in Shawnee County -- have excellent chances at victory in this increasingly hot area of electoral politics in Kansas.

Now, will all these seats go conservative? Probably not. But, for the first time in 15 years, 2010 represents a real opportunity for a change in the political landscape in Kansas. The message here is that conservatives, depressed from recent losses, should simply be patient, fight the fights that need to be fought, knowing that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Conservative "Doers" of Kansas

We at Kaw & Border believe there are two types of politicians: those who get elected to be something and those who are elected to do something. The be something types are a dime a dozen -- those who run for the prestige, the title, the power, the fame, or some combination thereof. You can spot them from a mile away -- and while some may indeed vote "right" some or even most of the time, you rarely find them sticking their necks out or leading the charge on a particular issue. Their focus is on getting elected and on being liked by the highest amount of people possible.

The do something types, on the other hand, are the opposite. Often labeled by the media as "right wing" or "extreme", the truth is that the media -- and even some within their own party -- assign these labels because they fear courageous leaders who seek real change that goes against either the agenda of the media or somehow might be deemed controversial.

The fact is, of course, these leaders -- people like Mary Pilcher Cook, Lance Kinzer, Kasha Kelley, Anthony Brown, among others -- are not extreme in any sense of the word. They take positions on issues -- whether it be life, fiscal issues, government size, etc -- that are well within the mainstream of Kansas values and whose positions, when polled honestly, actually are favored by a majority of Kansas voters. This is proven by their ability to get elected and re-elected.

The sad part is there aren't enough "doers" in politics these days, whether it be in Kansas or elsewhere. The reason is because of the scorn that such brave leadership invites -- from opponents, the media, and even friends. Look at Sarah Palin -- America's #1 "conservative doer", and how she's been attacked across the board. Who would want to be subjected to that?

Which is what makes those who do run and do serve all the more impressive. Kaw & Border salutes these courageous conservatives for standing up and standing proud.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Greg Musil, judicial selection, and defending the indefensible

There are a few things in life that are absolute certainties.

Death.
Taxes.

And the fact that Johnson County moderates and liberals, when faced with likely defeat in a particular election, will bring up their favorite bogeyman, District Attorney Phill Kline, in an effort to sway the voters towards their point of view.

KTRM tried it in primary race in Senate District 10 between Mary Pilcher Cook and Sue Gamble, when trashy hit pieces were sent out trying to link Pilcher Cook to Kline. That strategy proved embarassingly bad, as Pilcher Cook crushed Gamble 57-43 in the primary.

Now, Greg Musil and "Johnson Countians for Justice" are bringing up Phill Kline again in their effort to defeat the November ballot initiative to elect judges in the 10th Judicial District, which encompasses Johnson County. They have even taken to taking out a billboard on I-35, as noted in this Kansas City Star article: . http://www.kansascity.com/news/breaking_news/story/825632.html

The billboard says the following:

“Keep Phill Kline Off Our Court, VOTE NO ON QUESTION 1,” the big red billboard screams on the west side of Interstate 35 just south of Shawnee Mission Parkway.

I know campaigns are full of hyperbole but that's perhaps the most ridiculous ad campaign I've heard in a long time.

Let's assume that Question 1 passes on November 4 and judicial elections are initiatied in Johnson County. There are currently 19 Divisions in Johnson County, meaning there would be 19 county-wide elections for District Judges in Johnson County. These races would be partisan in nature, meaning there would be party primaries and then a general election, as there is for other races.

Phill Kline, in his most recent county-wide primary election, earned 40% of the vote. In his most recent general election, he earned 35% of the vote county wide. Does Greg Musil or anyone else seriously think he would get elected judge, if he were to even run for such a post?

No, of course not.

Actually, this is just the latest in a line of silly arguments Musil and company have been making in opposition to Question 1.

On their website, http://www.justicenotforsale.org/, they say in big bold letters, "Justice, Not Politics." They want the public to believe that th e current "merit system", where FOURTEEEN PEOPLE (yes, 14) send three names to the governor who MUST select one of the three (or the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court selects one), is somehow apolitical. This ignores the fact that virtually all of the members of the current Johnson County nominating commission are politically active or have given significant contributions for Governor (who makes the final choice), Attorney General (who prosecutes cases), and other races. How can one claim a system is apolitical when former Attorney General Paul Morrison was on the commission?

Yet despite the fact that elected officials have served on the current precious nominating commission, another argument they make against Question 1 is that in Wichita, where they do elect district judges, that three (yes, just three-- Judge Eric Yost (former State Senator), Judge Anthony Powell (former State Representative), and Judge Jeff Goering (former State Representative))former elected officials currently are judges, and a fourth (Senator Phil Journey) is running -- insinuating that this is a bad thing. Of course, they cite nothing about any of these individuals that is a problem, other than they had "legislative experience". -- not citing why it is bad. Nevermind the fact that all four are well-regarded attorneys. Plus, shouldn't the fact they were LEGISLATORS and thus KNOW THE LAW a good thing? And what is the big concern over the fact that 4 out of the 25 (16%) are former elected officials? Is there anything wrong with these individuals continuing their public service if the voters support them? Should all former elected officials be disqualified? If they were appointed by a precious nominating commission, would that magically make them qualified?

The "Justice Not For Sale" folks also bemoan the fact that, if Question 1 passes, that the judges would have to run campaigns and "gasp" raise money. Yes, Mr. Musil, God forbid these judges actually would have to share their judicial philosophy with the public. God forbid that these judges would have to be "judged" themselves by the public, who they are supposed to represent (Some will claim they represent the law, not the people, ignoring the fact that the law was created by elected legislators who were elected by the people). God forbid they'd actually have to earn support.

Finally, another ridiculous thing the "Justice Not for Sale" folks cite is that (from their website) "only about 15 percent of all Kansas voters voted in the primary elections in 2006. In such a low turnout election, 7.6 percent of all voters could end up choosing who will be your judge if you are injured in an accident, face a divorce or if someone sues you for breach of contract. Because primary voters tend to be more ideological and partisan, the judges they would select would almost certainly also be more ideological and partisan." First of all, they cite 2006, which was the lowest turnout in recent history in Kansas primary elections, not the fall of 2004, when 75% of Johnson Countians turned out. But, even accepting their outlier turnout example, instead of having 15 percent of the people decide who MIGHT BE "ideological or partisan", they'd rather have FOURTEEN PEOPLE decide, most if not all of whom are DEFINITELY idelogical OR partisan (as seen by their political donations and activism).

And they expect the public to buy this?

Of course, anyone can see through the thin screen of deception in thair arguments. Indeed, it is political motivations alone that is behind the opposition to Question 1:

First of all, while bemoaning the fact political conservatives are some of the people driving the support for the initiative, Johnson Countians for Justice is full of liberal-leaning groups and individuals, including the left-wing Mainstream Coalition, well known liberal "Republican" Dick Bond, the liberal leaning Chambers of Commerce, and Greg Musil himself, who is a former City Councilman in Overland Park who got trounced by Phill Kline in the 2000 Congressional Race in the republican Primary (this was pre-Phill is the devil media campaign).

Isn't it funny how much they criticize "politics" yet how many of them are willing to be part of a political campaign about the judges themselves, contributing thousands to defeat an initiative?

Isn't it also ironic how much these people, who so enthusastically support the "retention" system because its supposedly apolitical and doesn't involve campaigns that involve fundraising, are forming a vast political organization and spending thousands upon thousands to defeat Question 1, which is essentially a retention vote on the system as a whole?

Of course, the main reason why they oppose electing judges is that they want to maintain their current closed-loop system of judicial selection which has no checks and balances, no trail of accountability to the public, and no external method of questioning the system, other than legislative action to reform the system or citizen initiative to elect judges.

Let's review -- the current system is this: When there is a vacancy in the Johnson County District Court, a nominating commission of 7 regular people (each appointed by one member of the Board of County Commissioners) and 7 lawyers (elected by fellow lawyers) meet to submit three "nominees" to the governor who MUST pick one of the three. If the Governor doesn't, the State Supreme Court justice picks one. There is NO confirmation by the Senate, NO election. The ONLY check is the "retention" vote when all 19 judges are subjected to a "Yes/No" vote, despite the fact there is little to no information about their judicial philosophy or decisions -- and as such, no one is ever not retained. And, even if one was ousted, the replacement would be submitted to the same system!

Consider these scenarios:

Scenario A. The State of Kansas elects Sam Brownback as Governor, a conservative. A vacancy occurs in the Johnson County District Court. The Johnson County Nominating Commission, composed of seven liberal lawyers and 3/7 liberal "regular people", sends three liberal names to the governor. Governor Brownback refuses to nominate any of the three, citing their liberal philosophy and the fact that all seven members of the Kansas State Supreme Court are currently liberals, and how the court needs balance. As a result, the State Supreme Court Chief Justice selects one. So, even if the Governor is conservative, he/she could not shift the balance of the court, like is seen on the federal bench.

Scenario B. Judge Smith, a political liberal, is defeated narrowly in a rare retention defeat as the result of an organized opposition to his candidacy. Govenor Sebelius claims that Judge Smith was the victim of a political witchhunt. As such, the 10/14 liberal members of the nominating commission select a close associate of Judge Smith, Judge Jones, also a known liberal as one of the three nominees -- and Governor Sebelius chooses him. No confirmation by the Republican Senate and no immediate retention vote. The public's will is thwarted.

Scenario C. Long-time well known and respected lawyer Joe Smith has had a distinguished career and wants to be a judge, so he applies and his name is submitted to the nominating commission. He is clearly the most qualified of any of the applicants. In a closed-door session, it is discovered that Joe Smith has a conservative judicial philosophy. The liberal dominated nominating commission, upon discovering this, fails to submit his name to the conserative Governor Sam Brownback, who they know would likely pick him. The distinguished Joe Smith is denied a judgeship despite enormous qualifications.

All of these scenarios are plausible, if not probable, under the current system. And all are unacceptable. That's why reform is needed.

What's particiuarly silly about the opposition to Question 1 is the political reality that would likely retain most of the 19 District Court judges in Johnson County. The fact is, that if Question 1 passes, and the 19 District Court Judges had to run for election, the likelihood is that most all would be elected. Why? Because all are incumbents, all would have the financial support and endorsement of the bar establishment, and few, if any, have issued rulings that have angered a majority of the public. Also, because the passage of Question 1 would trigger 19 separate county-wide elections for the District Court, it is likely that most of the 19 slots would only have one candidate -- in fact, as they admit on their own website, only 15 of the 85 District court spots up in the general of 2004 were contested. So where is the vast infusion of politics?

(Side note - Johnson Countians for Justice claims that the merit system is better because while only 15 of the 85 election-style judicial slots actually had an election, ALL of their "merit system" slots had an up or down vote, giving the public more of the choice. Okay, fine -- why not have a system where in races where there is just one candidate after the filing deadline, there is a "make seat vacant" option in addition to the single filed candidate, and if the "vacant" option wins, the governor then appoints a replacement for the term? Just an idea to deal with this line or argument.)

Also, even if all 19 spots were contested, despite the over-the-top factually-misleading fear mongering of the Phill Kline ad, it is likely that most of the 19 spots would be filled by moderate Republicans, as Johnson County, on a county-wide level, leans right but only moderately so. But even if, say, 4 of the 19 judges were conservative, why is this bad? Isn't a good portion of Johnson County (Olathe, for instance), conservative and thus shouldn't part of the District Court have judges who have a conservative judicial philosophy? Why is this unreasonable?

One could argue what the BEST reform could be to the current system. Some could argue for system that maintained a commission, but made all 14 people appointed by public officials, rather than the bar association. Some could argue for nominees being sent to the Governor, but that the Governor could override it and pick who he/she choose. Some could even argue for electing the nominating commission members, so they all would be accountable. But no -- Musil and his pals do not suggest any such alternative reforms.

Why?

Because any change to the current closed-loop system threatens the exclusive control the liberal bar association, elite business groups, and liberal political groups/indivdiuals have over the Kansas Judicial Branch. The support of the extreme left Mainstream Coalition is evidence enough of this. Of course, in any election system, they would still have SIGNIFICANT IMPACT AND INFLUENCE over who is elected becuase of the power and money they have -- but they aren't satisifed with that -- they want TOTAL control, even if it is not based on the principles our nation and state was founded upon. They can't fathom the camel's nose under the tent. They don't want the light of day shined upon the philosophies of the judges they choose.

Oddly enough, Musil and company will not defend the "merit system" on its merits, because they know it has none. Instead, they will rely on fear-mongering billboards with their favorite bogeyman in big letters. One would think that lawyers would rely upon more sound arguments.

Not when their precious little closed-circuit system is in danger of collapse, huh?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Running on Principle vs. Running to Run

The general election is just a little over two months away and as area campaigns take shape, strategies are developing as to the best pathway to victory. As the election season heats up, we at Kaw & Border will be observing what strategies conservative candidates and their hired consultants employ -- and in the end, which of these strategies are most successful.

This is particularly important because conservative candidates have long been uncertain of whether to run on a conservative platform when the mainstream media tells us that conservativsm is unpopular. This conventional wisdom leads to a mix of stealth candidacies or "show" campaigns where candidates run on more innocuous themes like biography or experience instead of the issues that the voters claim to -- and do -- care about.

It is our opinion that too often well-intentioned conservative candidates get caught up in this so-called "wisdom", often echoed by their consultants, and find themselves in a mindset of "running to run", rather than running on a real agenda that will motivate supports and inspire the electorate to vote for you. When too many candidates run to run, you end up with a political system that frustrates the electorate -- one where the next election is always paramount over standing up for what is right, and when standing up for what is right is perceived as politically risky or, as we have heard some legislators put it, "not in line with what my district wants."

Other candidates, however, employ a different strategy -- one based on the idea that issues win elections and that the purpose of campaigns is to sell those issues to the voters. These issues, of course, must be defined, marketed, and re-marketed, because of the dedication of the liberal mainstream media to misrepresent conservative principles -- but in the end, in most cases, running effectively on issues will win the day and be more successful in the long run. This has proven itself in elections over the past decade, demonstrated by the victories of known conservatives like Mary Pilcher Cook, Lance Kinzer, Kay O'Connor, and others -- all of whom are known as conservatives and some of whom have won very competitive races where the opposition was quite aggressive.

One particular area where this divergence in campaign philosophy plays out is in campaign literature. Conventional wisdom dictates that these pieces be thin on issues with basic, nondescript phrases like "efficient government" and "quality education" and a "vibrant economy". The alternative view argues for delving more in depth and proclaiming specific issue positions, even on perceived controversial topics such as abortion and gun control. It is our view that the latter strategy is, while possibly more difficult to employ, is more beneficial in the long run.

First, as mentioned before, it helps motivate core supporters. The fact is that most people get involved in the political process because they were motivated by an issue, a candidate, or both. There are extremely few who just get involved for the political game. This is particularly true with conservative voters and activists. While one's biography may play a role in inspiring devotion and support, that support is likely to be deeper when coupled with a set of issues which the person believes in.

Secondly, when campaigning on an agenda, one becomes less susceptible to political winds. When one runs on general themes, they are more likely to be swept up in political transitions. On the flip side, when one runs on specific core principles and their respective electorates are aware of them, they are less likely to be swept up because voters will separate that person from the party as a whole. This is most evident in the mere fact that most legislative districts, both at the state level and nationally, are safe -- because they are drawn to encompass conservative voters or liberal voters. This results in candidates who thus are less afraid to run on issues and thus , their voters are generally happy with them. It is in swing districts where you often see candidates trying to run on biography or general "nice" themes, trying to capture perceived moderates or certain niches of voters, and thus there is no stability in their electoral fortunes for the future.

Third, conservativism is not just a poltical movement, it is a philosophy. As such, it should be the goal of conservative candidates to "work for the cause" and when one campaigns on conservative principles, they are advancing that cause. When a candidate runs on "issue-empty" themes or biography only, they are more just advancing themselves. Of course, the desire to win in politics is heavy and of course ,that's the goal of elections. However, the view that being thin on issues is the way towards winning is short sighted and does not see how advancing the cause, when done so effectively, actually aids in victories in individual elections.

Finally, it is simply more honest. A quality political system depends upon the voters having an accurate portrayal of what a candidate believes and doesn't believe. As a result, such a system demands more candidates which will proudly run on these beliefs. That doesn't mean a conservative candidate must tell the voters how you'll vote on every single issue -- what it does mean is that candidate will share their principles so the voters have an accurate guide on how they will vote if elected. The good news is that conservatism is a set of core beliefs, giving conservative candidates an advantage when debating their more issue-devoid opponents.

So, in the end, conservative candidates must answer the following question -- are you running to be something OR are you running to do something? Those fitting the former are a dime a dozen while those fitting the latter are the ones who are truly remembered -- and in the end, most successful on winning on election day.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Media Misreading Kansas Primary Results

If you are a casual follower of Kansas politics, and read this article in the Topeka Capital Journal or read this editorial at Real Clear Politics, you would think that moderates are making massive gains in Kansas, and that conservatives are in full scale retreat.

To borrow the trademark line from ESPN College Football Analyst Lee Corso, "not so fast my friend".

The Capital Journal article, written by James Carlson, basically stated that moderates "appeared likely to retain leadership in the Kansas Senate" after the August 5 primary elections. In the article, Loran Smith, a political science professor at Washburn said "Social conservatives have to be licking their wounds." He also said, according to the article, that conservative victories, "were a wash."

Really?

Now, I don't know Mr. Smith, but it seems to me that the kind professor, as well as Mr. Carlson, need to do some more analysis of the primary election results as well as take a look at the upcoming general election. Because, if they did, they'd realize that moderates are actually hanging onto leadership by a thread, due to the fact that there are strong conservative challengers to five incumbent Democrats, with a sixth being challenged by a candidate who although was not endorsed by the Kansas Republican Assembly, did earn the endorsement of Kansans For Life.

Simply, the Capital Journal article focuses too much on the conservative challengers failing to unseat moderate incumbents, and less on the competitive general election races ahead. While none of the conservative challengers to moderate incumbents won, that conservatives did win almost every open seat or where there was a primary against a vulnerable Democrat. In fact, in races where the conservative had any money or name ID -- District 10 with Mary Pilcher Cook, District 37 with Jeff Colyer, District 16 with Ty Masterson, or District 32 with Steve Abrams, and District 18 with James Zeller, the conservative won -- and won handily. The article ignores the fact that conservatives who lost were expected to -- because they were severaly under-funded compared to their incumbent moderates, who could also campaign on their experience chairmanships. Still, despite this, Pete Brungardt nearly lost to Tom Arpke, and Ruth Teichman had quite a fight with Andrew Evans.

So, Mr. Smith, how exactly are conservatives licking their wounds? That is ridiculous on its face. Conservatives put some of their most prominent and strongest voices from the House -- Pilcher Cook, Colyer, and Masterson (plus Kelsey, who is running in Sen. Phil Journey's seat)-- in positions where they are heavily favored to win their seats.

Let's examine the leadership situation more carefully:

The article correctly points out that Steve Morris won the President's seat by a vote of 17-13 (Republicans hold 30 of the 40 seats, currently). It also correctly points out that out of the liberal Republican incumbents challenged by conservatives in primaries, they all held on.

However, the article ignores several key points:

1. Conservative victories in November. Strong conservative candidates are challenging incumbent Democrats or Democratic-held seats in four locations: District 5 (Fitzgerald vs. Kultala), District 18 (Zeller vs. Kelly), District 32 (Abrams vs. Goodwin) and District 19 (Weber vs. Hensley). In addition, in District 13, KFL-endorsed Bob Marshall is running against Patty Horgan. This was Jim Barone's old seat. Marshall defeated Jacob La Turner, who was also endorsed by KFL but the preferred candidate by the KRA, in the primary. In Districts 5, 18, 32, and 13, the margin was slim last time -- 800 votes in District 5, 98 in Dist 18, about 220 in Dist 32, and about 300 in Dist 13.

Let's say Fitzgerald, Abrams, and and Zeller all won but the others lost. This would take the Republican number to 33, and conservative number to 16, just ONE short of the 17 it would take to win a leadership battle. If just two of the three won, conservatives would hold control of 15 of 32, just one vote short to force a tie and two to win. If even just ONE won, conservatives would have 14 out of 31, and just two short, again, to win.

2. Not all of the "Morris 17" are solid. In fact, many estimate up to five of those who voted for Morris last time could be in play this time. In fact, some of these candidates were endorsed by either KFL or even the KRA. Things change in four years. If conservatives are a vote or two away, do you not think these "five in play" would be offered things like chairmanships, etc.?

Now, is this a guarantee that conservatives will win control? No, not at all. A conservative could lose a race in the general, such as Julia Lynn to Ron Wimmer. But, so could a moderate like Tim Owens, who faces a tough Democrat in Judy Macy. However, the moderates appear to have a lid in seats at about 17, while conservatives have a lot of room to grow.

Of broader significane and worthy of discussion is the point discussed in the second article at Real Clear Politics, written by Reid Wilson. Entitled "What's Wrong With Kansas Republicans?", the article largely makes the case that moderates are on the rise in Kansas, while conservatives are falling from power. The article again focuses on the conservative challengers to moderate incumbents losing last Tuesday and also focuses on the losses by Jim Ryun and Phill Kline. It also claims that the rift between conservatives and moderates is declining in Kansas because moderates have reasserted control. Huh?

This simpleton approach again ignores reality.

First of all, again, incumbent committee chairs with huge money advantages should win their primaries! The fact that one of them, the one with the most competitive challenger -- Pete Brungardt -- nearly lost, and a second, Ruth Teichman, could only get 57%, should be very alarming for moderates. It is not some huge sign of conservative doom that these moderate incumbents held on.

Second of all, in hotly contested open Senate seats where a well known conservative was running, the conservative won and won EASILY. Mary Pilcher Cook won 57% of the vote vs. well-known liberal State Board of Education Member Sue Gamble, in a hotly contested race where the KTRM spent thousands on hate pieces trying to smear Pilcher Cook. Jeff Colyer won 70%. Ty Masterson won 60%. Steve Abrams won 60%. James Zeller won over 70%. Steve Fitzgerald was unopposed. Dick Kelsey was unoppposed. Only in District 8, where Rep. Tim Owens defeated Rep. Ben Hodge (who had just moved into the district), did a moderate win an open seat. Let's review: in nearly every open seat where a strong conservative ran, the conservative won easily. In one seat where a moderate incumbent held a huge money advantages, he barely won. And in the fall, the conservatives could pick up as many as 3-4 seats, putting mods in danger of losing control of the Senate leadership, while conservatives still retain easy control of the House leadership. In the Shawnee County DA race, conservative Eric Rucker, former deputy to Kline, easily defeated incumbent DA Robert Hecht. How are the moderates on the rise again?

Third of all, in regards to Kline and Ryun -- both involved more defeats of the candidates themselves more than conservatives in general. In Kline's case, you had a candidate, due to his work, who had become a lightning rod, and the article ignores that Steve Howe was supported by many conservative legislators and activists, including Senator Sam Brownback, who the article cites as part of the conservative wing in dissent. Steve Howe is widely regarded a conservative, and has campaigned as one who is pro-life. In the latter case, with Jim Ryun, you had a candidate who was widely regarded as getting out too late in 2006, and that case, he still only lost by a little over 1000 votes to a well-liked and well-known candidate in Lynn Jenkins. If anything the defeat of Kline and Ryun, who had been around since the early 1990's, was a call for fresh faces, not a movement against conservatives -- as seen by strong conservatives winning in open seats, as mentioned above. So how are the moderates on the rise again?

Finally, there is the issue of the split. If the split is getting any better, it is not because of moderates ascending to power, but due to some of them leaving the party to run as Democrats (Neighbor, Benlon, Wimmer, Morrison, Guinn) meaning the party doesn't have to worry about pleasing them anymore. However, with recent hate mailings by KTRM backfiring but also showing their true motivation/thinking, the divide is likely to grow, not lessen, particularly if the battle for Senate leadership is as tight as it could be.

In summary, the media shouldn't be jumping on the "conservatives in down fall" theme nor should the moderates be counting their chickens in the Senate. If anything, depending on how the fall campaign goes, conservatives are on the verge of making gains in Kansas.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Is there a case to be made against advance voting?

Advance Voting has now been around since the 1996 election cycle. This year, a total of over 23,000 Johnson County voters cast their ballot early -- 30% of primary voters -- a new record in terms of the percentage of voters voting early and total advance ballots returned. While the 22.52% overall turnout was fairly low for a primary, the trend is clearly for more and more voters to vote early. Brian Newby of the Johnson County Election Office recently said that his office was encouraging more and more voters to vote early.

Is this really a good thing?

The conventional wisdom is that it is. Some will say that it increases the likelihood of participation in the political process. Others will say that the more convenient, the better.

Kaw & Border is not so sure.

First of all, we believe that there may be a Constitutional issue here. Take a look at Article 4, Section 2, which deals with the General election in Kansas:
2: General elections. General elections shall be held biennially on the Tuesday succeeding the first Monday in November in even-numbered years. Not less than three county commissioners shall be elected in each organized county in the state, as provided by law.
Notice how it says the general election shall be held on the day. Right now, as a result of advance voting, it occurs on that day -- and the 20 days proceeding election day as well. To our knowledge, this has never been challenged. It may still be okay -- for it doesn't prohibit advance voting, just says that there has to be an election day. For primary elections, which are set by the legislature, there would be no constitutional conflict whatsoever. But, perhaps it was envisioned by our state (and federal) constitutional framers that elections were meant to be on a select day. Why is this? this leads to our second question:

2. Should elections be a snapshot? Political campaigns are continually putting out information, whether they be for or against a candidate or for or against a certain ballot initiative. Due to the nature of campaigns, some information comes out late in the game. This is often the case with ballot initiatives. As such,is it good policy to therefore encouraging people to vote so early in the process (up to 20 days early) that they may miss information that could have led them to a different conclusion?

In the primary this past Tuesday, we have a ready made example of this: The Johnson County Forever Sales Tax. Information against the tax -- including newspaper editorials -- didn't come out until after voting had begun. There was a clear trend against the tax, shown by the results Tuesday evening:

Advance Voting: Yes, 14,036. No, 8606 -- a difference of 5430 votes. (61% - 39%)
Total Votes: Yes, 40183. No, 35,189 -- a difference of 4994 votes. (53%-47%)

Do the math.
On election day, the Forever Tax LOST 26,583 - 26,147 (50.4% - 49.6%).

That's a HUGE swing -- from 39% voting no to over 50! Though the majority of votes were on election day (70%), the 5430 margin win for the tax in advance voting was enough to overwhelm the small 400+ vote No margin on election day. However, there was a clear trend against the tax. A simpleton may say, well, there is no guarantee that those voting Yes early would have voted No on election day, if we had no advance voting.

This might be true -- as the margin was razor thin on election day. But is it such a stretch to think that 2715 advance Yes voters (enough to make it a tie in advance voting) would have changed their mind, given the trend and information coming out against the tax? Had that occurred, the tax would have failed.

What we had here was a rather innocent ballot question, seemingly, asking about public safety and such, plus a taxpayer-funded "information" piece. This drove up the advance number. But, over the last three weeks of the campaign, you had newspapers coming out against the tax, and a lot of buzz about how the tax was a bad plan. On election day, the tax failed, despite the wording of the ballot and the fact that there were no mailings against the tax -- vs. 3 or 4 by the proponents. Point is -- information got out, and the voters, on election day, said no.

But this doesn't just impact ballot questions where information is slow to get out. It also impacts races for office. In races across Johnson County and the state of Kansas, much of the informative mail and information came out in the last week, after a 1/3 of the voters had voted. In Senate District 10, for example, check out the difference:

Advance Voting: Mary Pilcher Cook, 52% - Sue Gamble, 48%
Election Day Voting: Mary Pilcher Cook, 59% - Sue Gamble, 41%

Mary ended up with 57% overall, and would have won in either case, but that 7 point swing is rather large. Could this have been because voters responded to Mary's positive campaign and rejected the KTRM hit pieces, which mostly came in the last two weeks?

If you look at races in the county and statewide, in this cycle and past cycles, you will consistently see a large gap between advance voting and election day voting numbers. Now, some of this is simply because a candidate or party has a better advance voting operation or got out earlier. But, some of it is related simply to money -- challengers to incumbents and new candidates for open seats have a harder time raising money, delaying their ability to get their message to the voters. This leads us to the third question:

3. Does Advance Voting give incumbents and well known candidates an unfair advantage?

The answer here is -- yes and no.

In general elections, the answer is largely no -- as in 2006, Democrats consistently out performed against incumbent Republicans in advance voting, while the Republican overwhelmed the Democrat in election day voting. In a few cases, you'd see the Democrat WIN in advance voting and the Republican win handily in election day voting. In two races, that resulted in the Democrat winning -- District 18 and District 16 -- by very narrow margins (2 votes in District 16!) . This would reflect a superior advance voting operation by the Democrats. Not only that, any challenger would have had significant time -- during the summer and fall, to get their message out.

In primary elections, the answer is largely yes. With the filing deadline on June 10, there is a small window of just 40 days before voting starts. That's not enough time to walk a district, and a limited amount of time to raise enough money to pay for mailings.

Take the race in the District 8 Senate race. Though an open seat, Rep. Tim Owens was from the District 8 area while Rep. Ben Hodge was from an area in Olathe and had recently moved. Check out the numbers:

Advance Voting: Owens, 1552 - Hodge, 795, a margin of 757 votes, or 66-34.
Total Voting: Owens, 4455 - Hodge, 3010, a margin of 1445 votes, or 60-40.
Election Day Voting: Owens, 2903 - Hodge, 2215, a margin of 688 votes, or 56-44.

Now, Owens would have won anyway, probably due to the factors stated above, but the 66-34 - 56-44 difference is a large swing. Hodge was walking, KTRM's hit pieces were backfiring, and it was clear that Hodge was trending up because the voters were getting more information and thus casting more informed votes. Now, does this mean that advance voters are all misinformed? No -- but many just vote to vote early, and wouldn't have had the full set of information in any event.

Another factor here is that it does drive up the cost of campaigns. Many pundits and citizens alike complain about the huge costs of campaigns, running now into the tens of thousands of dollars for state legislative races. Is a system with two election days contributing to this?

So what's the solution? We believe it doesn't have to be an all or nothing approach. Perhaps the advance voting period should simply be shrunk from 20 days to 10 days? That would lessen the impact of the margins above -- and still give people the ability to vote early in case of being gone, and also start advance voting AFTER the deadline to register to vote, which would seem to make logical sense.

The unfortunate probability here is though that no change is likely to occur, as any change would have to be passed by the legislature, and few politicians are likely to vote for a plan that would open them up to a charge that they are restricting voting access, despite the arguments made above.

However, we here at Kaw & Border wanted to pose the question.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Senate District 10 Is With Mary!


Mary Pilcher Cook -- 57%
Sue Gamble -- 43%

If you're KTRM and/or Stephanie Sharp, that's gotta hurt. Apparently District 10 Republicans did not believe the hate mailings claiming that MPC wanted you in jail and women to die of breast cancer. Rather, they responded to Mary's positive campaign, her story, and respected her standing up for Republican principles.

However, the voters' rejection of KTRM's hate mail campaign is just part of the story.

A few months ago, some people, largely composed of outsiders to District 10, claimed Mary couldn't win. They didn't understand the politics on the ground. They hadn't analyzed the election results from 2006. And most of all, they didn't understand Mary Pilcher Cook -- her beliefs on a host of issues, her principles, and her determination.

Mary's campaign was a testament to how to win right in politics. She ran on her beliefs. She ran on her record. And she ran a positive campaign that although highlighted her differences with her opponent, did not cross the line into personal, over-the-top hateful attacks that do nothing but energize the opposition, anger undecided voters, and dillute your own message. She took her case directly to voters, knocking on as many doors as humanly possible, making her case.

And District 10 responded in resounding fashion.

What Mary's victory should also show is that conservatives should be careful about putting political calculations above principle. When one stands up for the conservative cause like Mary Pilcher Cook has done over the last eight years, conservatives should rally around these principled warriors, particularly when their defeats were by the slimmest of margins in one of the worst years for Kansas Republicans in recent history -- 2006.

Finally, for other conservative candidates, Mary's decisive win should be a model for how to win in other districts. You raise enough money to compete; you develop a strong, positive message; and you take your case to the voters -- by mail, yes, but also on foot.

Kaw & Border salutes, and congratulates, Mary Pilcher Cook on her big victory -- and wishes her the best in the General Election.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Tax Hacks of Johnson County

It takes a rare issue to unify conservatives and the Kansas City Star Editorial Board on an issue.

The issue which achieved this incredible feat? The now-infamous "Forever Tax" is a question on the August 5 primary ballot, which would impose a 1/4 cent countywide retailers sales tax, presumably for public safety -- most particularly a jail, a crime lab, and new juvenile services.

We chose the word "impose" for a reason -- because that's exactly what is going on with this tax. Not well thought out, it is the brainchild of what we are now calling the "Johnson County Tax Hacks": Annabeth Surbaugh and Frank Denning specifically, as well as the other city and county "leaders" pushing this offensive, unnecessary, never-expiring tax on hard-working Johnson County voters. Of special note are the co-chairs of the "Public Safety 1st Committee", made up of self-appointed community leaders Ron Wimmer (Democrat running for the Kansas Senate in District 9), Bob Regnier (Banker and Treasurer to Wimmer and liberal Senate District 10 Candidate Sue Gamble), Fred Logan, and Larry Winn III.

Not only are they asking us to vote for it, they are threatning us with higher property taxes if we don't. Who exactly do they think they are? Such threats are not the actions of community leaders, but rather, arrogant political hacks who won't stop until their agenda is shoved down the throat of an unwilling public.

One would have thought that with the soccer initiative being well-wide of the goal in 2006, that the Johnson County leaders that are pushing this forever tax would have learned their lesson. Sadly, that is not the case.

This tax is bad for many reasons:

It never expires. As Wayne Flaherty explains, the county already has one such never-expiring tax and another one up on the ballot in November. It is simply bad policy, in our mind, to have any sales tax, approved for a specific purpose, never expire, meaning it will never be subject to public scrutiny again. Future commissions will not bring it up either -- it will literally go on forever, forgotten. Since these taxes are approved by the public, they should have to be reviewed and renewed by the public after a reasonable time period. Even if you are for it, the fact it never expires limits flexibility later.

The county grows, and therefore sales tax revenue grows. As our friends at the Kansas Progress recently pointed out, the county grows by 10,000 people each year, all of whom pay sales and property taxes. The county should be able to live within its means.

1/3 of the money goes to cities with no strings. As the Kansas City Star pointed out, 1/3 of the funds raised under the tax would go to the cities, and although the cities claim they'll use the tax for public safety, they are not required to do so and they have not laid out detailed plans to the public.

It over-taxes the public. According to the Kansas City Star, the cities would have "excess taxes" of $100 million -- are you kidding me? As the Star pointed out, that's truly indefensible, and in our opinion, offensive.

It's not new and to say otherwise is a lie. The ballot language claims that it is, but the current tax EXPIRES at the end of the year and is for different purposes. This is a NEW TAX that goes on forever, and it is dishonest to claim otherwise.

The county could come back with a tax that expires. They already have plans to do so if this fails, so it is the height of arrogance to have put this on the ballot.

This isn't fiscally responsible. The county has a $700 million dollar budget. Surely, there is room in the budget to cut.

Despite these signficant drawbacks, opposition from the Star, and opposition from the General Manager of Channel 9, "community leaders" continue to push it. What's even more offensive, however, than the downsides of the tax itself, is the way it is being shoved down our throat.

First of all, there was the county-wide "information" mailing which was more like a campaign piece -- which cost almost $40,000 and was paid for by taxpayers (hat tip, Kansas Meadowlark). So that's right, your tax dollars paid for a mailing essentially asking you to raise your taxes. Only the "Tax Hacks of Johnson County" could justify such a mailing. In this link (another hat tip, Kansas Meadowlark) you can find an image of the "information mailing", which looks a lot like a "vote yes" mailing to us. It didn't even include the ballot language!!!!

Second, there is the incredible arrogance of those pushing this. County Chair Annabeth recently had the gall to say that if voters reject the sales tax, the county will just raise property taxes. They don't even have to do so through a mill levy increase -- they can just jack up the value so f your homes -- i.e., the ghost tax. Frank Denning, another major promoter of the tax, got a tax approved by the legislature that has a 10-year sunset, but continues to support the forever tax. The county commissioners, excluding John Toplikar, continue to push for this tax even though they know there are better alternatives. Who wants to bet they all ran as fiscal conservatives, too? There is nothing fisically conservative or responsible about a never-ending, unnecessary sales tax that directs 1/3 of its funds to cities with no strings.

Third, there is already a 1/4 cent sales tax for public safety already in place! Where is that money going? With the increase in population, what is the deal at the County?

In our opinion, the voters need to stand up and reject this ridiculous tax, just like they did with soccer. Not only because it is bad policy, but to send a message to Annabeth Surbaugh, Frank Denning, area mayors and city councilman, and other self-appointed "community leaders" who are supporting this tax -- a message that says that the addiction to sales tax increases, no matter how poorly conceived or what they are for, needs to be treated.

In the opinion of Kaw & Border, the county commission, local chambers and city councils have lost touch with the voters. Send a message to the Tax Hacks of Johnson County, and vote No to the Forever Tax on August 5.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Worried John Vratil Changes Rules; Reveals Short Memory

State Senator John Vratil and his puppets in the Senate "Republican" Leadership must be worried. The most recently published Receipts and Expenditures Report from KTRM revealed that the Senate "Republican" Leadership PAC had donated $45,000 to the group, whose primary mission is to take out conservative Republicans.

One would think in a state in which Democrats are continuing to look to make gains, as evidenced by the filing of a Democrat in almost every single Johnson County legislative seat, that the supposedly neutral Senate Republican Leadership would want to save their money for the general election, to help fend off the serious Democratic challengers in competitive Senate seats. But, instead, the Senate leadership dumps money into KTRM to fight in Republican primaries. Why?

Well, according to the Kansas City Star's Prime Buzz Blog, John Vratil claims the rules have changed:

“I think things have changed,” said one moderate Senate leader, state Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican.

He accused conservatives of lining up primary challenges for several moderate leaders.

“Does that change the rules of the game?” Vratil asked.

Apparently so.

Now that's rich. Perhaps Senate Vice President John Vratil is so distraught over worries that he and his moderate pals will lose control over leadership posts (and thus their power) that his short-term memory is suffering. One must only think back to 2004 when in the last Senate election, then-Republican now-Democrat Lisa Benlon ran against incumbent Senator Nick Jordan in the primary, Rob Boyer ran against incumbent Senator Kay O'Connor in the primary, and moderate challengers ran against incumbent Senators Tim Huelskamp and Susan Wagle. Did the Senate Republican Leadership PAC ride to the rescue then?

Vratil's statement also ignores a second reality. Even if one accepts Vratil's suggestion that Republican incumbents shouldn't have challengers, and that justifies the Senate Republican Leadership PAC spending money to protect moderate incumbents (such as their $1000 donations to Ruth Teichman and Pete Brungardt), how does this justify them contributing $45,000 to KTRM, who is spending thousands upon thousands on two open seats currently held by Senator Nick Jordan (running for Congress) and Senator Barbara Allen (retiring), not to mention the direct donations by the Senate Leadership PAC itself of $1000 to Sue Gamble and Tim Owens, who are the "moderates" running in the respective open seats. If there are races where supposedly neutral Republican organizations should stay out of, it is open primaries where there is no Republican incumbent.

Seems to us that it is John Vratil and Steve Morris who are changing the rules, not conservatives.

Of course, what all of this is ignores is political reality. If you are an incumbent Republican with a voting record that Democrats would be proud of on both economic and social issues, you are inviting a primary challenge. That's what politics is all about. Perhaps if Umbarger, Teichman, and Brungardt (the Republican incumbents drawing the strongest conservative challengers) actually voted conservative on something, they wouldn't have this problem.

This is exactly why Kaw & Border was founded -- to expose the true agenda behind individuals and groups in area politics. John Vratil and Steve Morris are misusing their Senate Republican Leadership PAC (note it doesn't say "Moderate" anywhere in the title) not because of some mythical anger at incumbents being challenged, as that has been going on for years, but because they are worried that they are on the verge of losing control of Senate leadership and the power and influence that comes with.

The political reality is that conservatives are only 3-4 seats away from having the votes to win leadership. The strong candidacies of Steve Fitzgerald in District 5 and Steve Abrams in District 32 (running against Democrats Mark Gilstrap and Greta Goodwin, respectively, both of whom barely survived in 2004) have put that number potentially even closer.

Of course, neither Vratil nor Morris has a short memory. The reality is Vratil and Morris can count -- and they know that if Fitzgerald and Abrams win, and conservatives hold their ground in other seats, that conservatives are a seat or two, max, away from winning control. This is simply personal political preservation -- President Morris and Vice President Vratil don't want to revert back to Senator Morris and Senator Vratil. They are dumping thousands into races in supportive of candidate they know will vote for them for leadership, retaining their positions in the Senate.

Let us be clear: Kaw & Border has no problem with Morris and Vratil wanting to hold onto leadership nor wanting moderates to win more seats that conservatives -- they are moderates themselves. But rather than claiming bogus reasons such as that the "rules have changed", or misusing their PAC, perhaps President Morris and Vice President Vratil should form a new PAC -- and entitle it the "Preserve Our Power and Leadership PAC".

At least that would be honest. But in state where so many Democrats run as Republicans to hide their true ideology, who would expect that?

KTRM: Kansans Trashing Republican Mailboxes

Our friends at KTRM have provided yet more proof they are worried about District 10 voters not Gambling on August 5:

When all else fails, bring out your bogeyman -- Phill Kline. Phill Kline is Pages 1-100 in the KTRM playbook, and they're bringing him out now. Will this work? They are assuming everyone hates Phill Kline, including conservative Republican primary voters in an area where Phill represented for 8 years. This is on the heels of a largely positive Kline radio and mailing campaign and the DA's successful handling (even in Steve Rose's opinion) of the Kelsey Smith case. This is a calculated risk -- but if the Gambler is behind, what else can they do, talk about Sue?

At least this piece actually mentions Sue Gamble, but on the trails of the previous two trash pieces, one wonders if Republican voters in District 10 will reject the very negative efforts of the open and tolerant moderate KTRM.

The political wizardy of KTRM continues to amaze.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Environmental Fascism Alert: Speed Limit to 65 in Kansas?

Never underestimate the power of do-gooders to try to impose their "good" on the rest of society. There is probably no more zealous group of such well-intentioned folks than environmentalists.

So, it was no surprise when the Kansas City Star's Prime Buzz ran this article regarding recommendations by the "Greenhouse Gas Policy Committee", a government task force "looking for ways the state can reduce it's carbon footprint."

Among the recommendations?

- Reduce the speed limit from 70 to 65 mph.
- Increase fines for speeding, including elimination of the 10-mph grace zone.
- Undertake statewide initiative (public and private) to promote "optimal driving speeds."

That last one takes the cake -- we're now going to have a public initiative encouraging people to drive at some utopian speed? Did Sebelius call Big Brother? Apparently so -- as the Kansas Energy Council, the umbrella arm for this Greenhouse Gas Policy Committee, was created by the Governor by executive order in 2006, which is essentially a recipe for big government in the state of Kansas.

Putting aside the question of whether we should have a taxpayer funded task force of this sort anyway, it seems evident that this task force has gone from the seemingly noble goals of such things as "encouraging energy efficiency" and "ensuring a low-cost, reliable and sustainable energy supply" to now telling Kansans how to live and, in fact, how to drive -- and pretty soon, what to drive.

According to the article, the U.S. Energy Department says that driving 70 mph loses 30 cents a mile vs. 65 mph on your gas bill. Fine, I'll accept that. But shouldn't that be the decision of drivers on whether to pay that, not mandated by government? Perhaps I'm willing to pay the few bucks extra to get where I'm going a little quicker. I know some will ask, "What's the harm in encouraging efficiency?" -- but imagine the next step, using the exact same justification of saving a few cents a gallon -- telling Americans what cars they can and can't drive. Make no mistake -- some liberals want us all driving around in Ford Focuses. Perhaps they can all be a neutral color too, so as not to distract drivers.

Pardon the sarcasm, but this is environmental fascism cloaked in do-gooderism. Frankly, one could make a case that the 70 mph limit in western Kansas is too LOW, not too high -- as surrounding states like Colorado and Nebraska have it at 75 mph, a reasonable limit on rural, four-lane, well kept highways like interstates. Not to mention the fact the environmental impact of "carbon emissions" is highly debatable.

While things such as energy efficiency, conservation, recycling, and overall environmental stewardship are noble, Kansans -- and Americans overall -- should be careful about letting our laws become playlands for extremists with an agenda.

KTRM: Mary Pilcher Cook wants you to DIE!!!

Yes, that's the absurd claim made they are attempting to make in their recent hate-mailing in District 10:


Not only that, KTRM also is trying to make the case that Mary Pilcher Cook wants you in jail:



Jail? Death? They don't make it clear which comes first.

Of course, the ridiculous part of this is that KTRM is the group of so-called "moderates" who claim to be tolerant and striving for unity. Unity how? By accusing fellow Republicans of wanting people to die?

Comparison pieces and letting people know about voting records is one thing. Making absurd, over-the-top, ridiculous claims becuase someone disagrees with you on a social issue is wrong and does not add to the discourse politics sorely needs. Not to mention it's politically insane.

All KTRM has done by these mailings is violate rule #1 in politics -- they've made the race about Mary Pilcher Cook, while Sue Gamble is now just an afterthought. These hate mailings (and we're sure there are more coming) do nothing except to depress turnout or make the opposition angry and motivated -- and turn off undecided voters.

Way to go KTRM -- traditional Republicans? Right. More like "Kansans Trashing Republican Mailboxes".

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Welcome to Kaw & Border

Kaw & Border is a new blog dedicated to telling the story behind the story of Kansas City area politics -- both of the politicians themselves as well as political operatives such as key individuals, PACs, and other groups of influence. The core mission of Kaw & Border is to expose the truth behind area politics on both sides of the border -- such as the quest for money, power, and the true agendas of some individuals and groups.

In addition, look for some thoughtful conservative commentary on occasion -- not just from us, but from thoughtful conservative thinkers across the two-state area. Finally, don't be surprised if you find useful information and predictions on upcoming elections in both Kansas and Missouri.

What this blog will not be is a vehicle for personal attacks on people, no matter which political persuasion fits their beliefs, nor will it be a place of unfounded rumor and gossip. It will simply be a new news source for exposing the stories not told by the mainstream media -- and certainly not revealed by those entities wishing to not air their real agenda.

We hope you enjoy.