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The Down-Ballot Blues

One of our final chores leading up to every election day is dong some cursory research on all the down-ballot races, and this year that meant reminding ourselves of the name of the Republican who’s running for Kansas Secretary of State. The fact we had to look it up is further evidence of the currently sorry state of the Republican party in this reliably Republican state.
By now even the most apolitical Kansans are surely aware that the Democratic nominee for Secretary of State is Brian “Bam” McClendon, “the Google guy from Kansas.” He’s saturated the radio and television airwaves and especially the internet with advertisements touting his experience as the Google executive who oversaw the development of its undeniably impressive Google Map, which has McClendon’s hometown of Lawrence as the center of “Google Earth,” and they make a persuasive argument that such high tech savviness qualifies him to oversee the state’s computerized voting systems and deal with the other boring business of the office.
Meanwhile, we haven’t seen nor heard a single advertisement for the Republican nominee, a former small business owner and pharmaceutical executive and current state Representative whose name turns out to be Scott Schwab. After we looked that up we noticed the name on two or three lawn signs during our drives around town, but they’re vastly outnumbered by the ubiquitous “Bam!” signs that urge voters to “Google it!,” and Schwab’s been vastly out-spent and out-campaigned. Which doesn’t usually happen to Republicans around here.
Schwab won the nomination by a plurality against four other little-known contenders, and we vaguely recall that he got our vote, as he seemed the most reassuringly boring of all of the candidates. Schwab and his main contender both vowed to continue the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirements for voter registration, although they’ve been ruled unconstitutional by the federal courts, but otherwise he seems determined to make the Secretary of State’s office a boring down-ballot entity once again. After the last eight rock-’em-sock-’em years of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, it would be a welcome respite.
Kobach used the office to gain a national profile as a hard-liner against voter fraud in general and illegal immigrant voter fraud in particular. He won our vote when he first ran for office with excellent educational credentials and some common sense reforms he was proposing, and we voted for his reelection because we thought that some sort of official photo identification isn’t an onerous requirement for voting, but since then we’ve soured on him. He was appointed by President Donald Trump to head a commission to prove that Trump lost the popular vote because of three million votes illegally cast by illegal aliens, but that effort was abandoned when both Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State refused to cooperate with a federal takeover of their constitutional state rights, and even Kansas couldn’t legally comply with the commission’s requests. Then Kobach got sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for the far-more-onerous-than-a-photo-ID requirements for newly registered voters, and he represented himself in the case and not only lost but wound up paying some contempt of court fines.
Somehow Kobach won the state Republican party’s gubernatorial nomination by 300 or so votes over the reassuringly boring Gov. Jeff Colyer, who had taken the office when the very unpopular Gov. Sam Brownback made his way out of the state to become President Donald Trump’s “ambassador for religious freedom,” whatever that is. Kobach is promising to continue the Brownback tax-and-budget policies that never quite panned out as promised, and the Harvard and Yale and Oxford graduate spent the summer driving around in a red-white-and-blue painted Jeep with a replica machine gun, he’s fully embraced Trump and has been fully embraced in return, yet somehow finds himself in a too-close-to-call race against the reassuringly boring Democratic nominee state Sen. Laura Kelly. Kelly’s endorsed by all but one of the state’s living past Republican governors, two of the three of its living past Senators, half the current Republican legislature, and such lifelong Republicans as ourselves.
Which makes the Secretary of State race a hard call for us.
Based on his web site and the scant coverage from what’s left of the Kansas media this Schwab guy strikes us as a fellow boring establishment Kansas Republican white male, and he seems at least smart enough to hire some high tech savvy Google guy from Kansas to keep the state’s computers safe, which is exactly the sort of Republican we’ve routinely voted for over our many years. These days they’re damnably hard to find, though, and we feel a certain obligation to protect this endangered species.

On the other hand, that “Bam!” fellow is clearly what Trump would consider the more “high energy” candidate, and although we’re instinctively distrustful of energetic people he seems likely to devote his energy to keeping the state’s computer’s safe, and he’s apparently politically savvy enough not to facilitate any massive illegal immigrant voter fraud. He’s the sort of Democrat we’ve occasionally and reluctantly voted for, and in this midterm election there are several of them./div>

We have until tomorrow afternoon to make up our mind, so we’ll put it off until then. We’re also mulling some of the other down-ballot races. too. We always vote to retain any judges we’ve haven’t heard of, as we we figure that means they’re doing a good enough job, and we’ll be voting for the incumbent Republican state Attorney General according to the same logic.
So far as we can tell the Republicans aren’t running anyone here in our fashionable Riverside district of the House of Representatives, so we might wind up voting for the crazy lefty and old childhood buddy who represents. There’s an intriguing Sedgwick County Commission race around here, too, with an unabashedly progressive Democratic single mother and folk singer challenging the notoriously stingy and anti-establishment Republican incumbent, and the Republican incumbent’s stubborn stinginess and anti-establishment attitude has alienated a lot of local Republicans who like business as usual, and even when we drive past Riverside we notice she’s winning the yard sign war by a rout.
We’ll make up our minds about it by tomorrow afternoon, and hope for the best. Here’s hoping you’ll do you’ll some cursory research on all of your boring yet consequently down-ballot races, too, and that it also works out for the best.

— Bud Norman

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On the Murders Sunday in Las Vegas, Lawrence, and Elsewhere in the United States of America

Three people were killed and two others were injured early Sunday morning when at least 20 gunshots were fired on a crowded downtown street in Lawrence, Kansas, but you probably didn’t hear about it. Later that same day a shooter in Las Vegas killed at least 59 people and injured another 500 or so, setting a new American record, so that understandably took up almost all of Monday’s news.
By now mass shootings are almost numbingly routine, and despite the outrage and heartbreak they always provoke most Americans would be hard pressed to recall any details of the last one or the one before that, but this time might prove more memorable. There’s the record-setting death toll, the apparent use of a fully automatic weapon, the much older than usual age of the shooter, and an especially frustrating lack of any plausible explanation.
There’s never an adequate explanation for these slaughters, of course, but usually there’s some detail or two in the initial stories that gives some clue what going on the deranged mind of the shooter. Sometimes they’re named Mohammad and shout “Alahu Akbar” and had posted Islamic screeds on their Facebook pages, other times they’re white guys with haircuts and Facebook postings that announce their racial grievances, the guy who shot up the a Washington, D.C., softball field and wounded a Republican congressman had a deep-seated hatred of Republicans, and the guy shot up a political rally in Arizona and wounded Democratic congresswoman apparently did so because she had failed to an incomprehensible question he’d asked at a town hall, and usually they turn out to be kind of crazy that family and friends and neighbors had long noticed but never knew quite what to do about it.
None of that amounts to an adequate explanation, but it’s something to cling to as we humans instinctively search for some reassuring reason when tragedy occurs.
This time around the Islamic State terror gang claimed the shooter was a recent convert who had heeded their call to jihad, but they always they do that whenever someone kills random people, and it’s quite unusual for recent converts to any religion to keep quiet about it and so far everyone who knew the shooter says he never expressed any religious opinions at all. The target of the shooting was an outdoor country music festival, so there was immediate internet speculation that the shooter was someone who wanted to killed a lot of Republicans, which quickly led to some irresponsible right-wing sites fingering an innocent fellow with a lot of pro-Democratic Facebook postings, but apparently this shooter never expressed any political opinions of any sort, and was said to be a country music fan himself. According to everyone the armies of reporters have rounded up to interview, the shooter was an undeniably odd duck but not in a way that made you think he’d spray automatic rounds at a crowd of random strangers.
According to the neighbors he mostly kept to himself in his comfortable gated over-50 community in rural Nevada, and was often away from home for long periods of time during high-stakes gambling binges in Las Vegas. He’d apparently done well as an accountant and made some savvy real estate investments, and without any children to worry about he could afford the indulgence and still lavish gifts on his mother, so neither the neighbors nor his family found it worrisome. His brother gave a lengthy interview to a cluster of news cameras and microphones that was clearly too distraught to be at all disingenuous, and he was clearly surprised to learn that shooter had acquired a veritable armory or deadly weapons.
The usual post-mass-shooting debates about gun control are already underway, but this time around they’re all the more complicated for both sides. Apparently all of those weapons had been acquired legally, with the shooter’s previously pristine legal record and lack of any noticed mental health problems carrying him through all the required background checks, and automatic weapons have long been illegal, it’s too late to charge the now-dead-by-self-inflicted-gunshot shooter with the apparent crime of altering his semi-automatic rifles to fully automatic, and it’s hard to think of anything that would have stopped this guy without imposing onerous restrictions of the rights of the vast majority of peaceable gun owners. Those peaceable gun owners have long made the reasonable argument that if there’s some crazy guy shooting up a crowd you don’t want him to be the only one there with a gun, but in this case he was shooting from 400 yards away where none of those of presumably gun-toting country music fans would have known where to shoot, and if any of them had drawn their weapons during the panic the police and security on hand would have been well within their rights to shoot them.
The same dreary arguments will continue, nonetheless, along with the ancillary debates about why so many Americans wind up getting shot to death every year. Across most of America the murder rate has happily declined over the past few decades, those mass shootings and the daily carnage in Chicago and a couple of other cities notwithstanding, but the numbers are still high by first-world standards and merit national concern. Those mass shootings are by now a longstanding problem, too, dating back at least to a sniper attack from the University of Texas’ landmark tower in Austin in 1966, and back in ’76 a guy started shooting from the balcony of what was then the tallest building in our hometown of Wichita, and there was a kid shot up his junior high school in a nearby suburb back in ’85, and when we think about we can recall the schoolyard in Connecticut and the homosexual nightclub in Orlando and far too many details of other mass shootings.
An autopsy showed that the Texas shooter had brain disease, that guy in Wichita had just been jilted by his girlfriend, the junior high kid in the nearby suburb had endured the usual junior high bullying, the Connecticut shooter was so clearly crazy his mom had been warning the cops about him, the homosexual nightclub was another one of those “Alahu Akbar” incidents, and when we think about we can recall some semblance of a reason for all those other mass shootings. According to the police in the normally placid university town of Lawrence those three victims who died there early Sunday morning weren’t random targets, and that the violence was the result of some beef between low-lifes who have always used guns to settle their differences, and we note that the incident followed a rap concert at the school’s arena, so we’ll make the same stereotypical assumptions that some people make about country music concerts, and hope it’s all enough to satisfy our all too human need for some reason that tragedies occur.
None of it amounts to an adequate explanation, though, and we hope that America in its extraordinary greatness will take time out from the usual political to ponder why it has such a persistent and extraordinary problem with Americans getting shot to death, and how it might be addressed without stripping the vast majority of cherished rights.

— Bud Norman