The Results Remain to be Seen

Several states held elections on Tuesday, with a very interesting Democratic primary to pick who will run against Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky among them, but we can’t say how it turned out. In the age of coronavirus elections are even more complicated than usual, with fewer polling places and a lot more mail-in voting, and as a consequence the all the results won’t been known for another week.
Which is very frustrating for amateur psephologists such as ourselves, and no doubt even more so for the candidates involved, but the coronavirus has wrought all sorts of frustrations. At this point we’re heartened that elections are being held at all, and remain hopeful there will be a national election in November. On the other hand, we don’t hold out much hope that it will be controversial.
Democrats in Kentucky claimed that the number of polling places had been cut in a way calculated to suppress the black vote, but it appears that there was a record turn-out due to the expanded mail-in voting, which the Republicans claim leads to massive voter fraud. No matter who winds up winning, the losers will claim they were cheated, and America’s faith in its democratic processes will be diminished.
As much as we hope that elections and everything else can get back to normal by fall, we’re not counting on it and figure that voting by mail is better than not voting at all. The arguments against voting by mail are not convincing, and also hypocritical given than President Donald Trump and his family and staff and all the overseas military voters Republicans have long counted on have been doing it for years, and we have to admit that lately the Democrats’ allegations of voter suppression are usually very convincing. Trump has criticized Democratic Secretaries o State for sending applications for mail votes to registered voters, and threatened to withhold federal funding from them, but even in such a Republican state and such a Republican county as ours we’ve received applications for mail votes from the local election commissioner for an August primary. Even though we’re willing to don our face masks and go to some remote polling place to cast our vote on election day, and even though there’s no one we’re at all enthused about voting for as a Republican Senator nominee in the primary, we’re grateful for the option.
The long waits for the results will be the worst part, as we’re political junkies accustomed to the instant gratification of knowing who won and lost. What happened yesterday won’t be revealed until next week, and we’re impatient to find out, as it will be very interesting. The Democrats’ senatorial primary in Kentucky is especially intriguing. Amy McGrath, a decorated Marine combat pilot and very centrist and bona fide accent-and-all Kentuckian who barely lost a bid for a House seat two years ago was long considered the presumptive nominee, but in the last couple of weeks she’s been challenged by Charles Booker, a black member of the Kentucky House of Representatives who has staked out more liberal positions regarding Trump and race relations and that sort of thing.
Making it all the more interesting, all the polls showed McGrath running a very competitive race with Republican senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, resulting in millions of dollars of donations pouring in from Democrats around the country. More interesting yet, the most resulting polling in the state suggests Booker also has a shot against McConnell. Kentucky elected a Democratic governor last year despite Trump’s rally appearances on behalf of the Republican candidate, Trump’s promises to revive Kentucky’s dying coal industry have not been kept, and the Grand Old Party now has to worry about yet another long-reliable state.
One of the few elections that were called on election day was a Republican House primary in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, and that was mostly notable because the Trump-endorsed candidate lost. North Carolina is another one of those long-reliable states that the Republicans now have to worry about, and we’ll be watching the eventual election results for more problem spots.
As of now McGrath has a lead over Booker in the Kentucky Senate primary, but that might be because of people who voted by mail before Booker emerged as a credible challenger, which is indeed a peril of voting by mail well ahead of an election. Despite all these difficulties, we hope that everyone will accept whatever the results turn out to be, and that the center will hold and America’s democratic processes will be respected by the masses.

— Bud Norman

The Upcoming Contentious Election

Our hope is that the coronavirus miraculously disappears in time for American voters to safely visit their local polling places, but we’re not so hopeful about that we aren’t thinking about how to run a fair election just in case. One possible solution is having registered voters cast their ballots by mail, and although we don’t like it we’d prefer that to not voting at all.
President Donald Trump seems to disagree. He’s recently “tweeted” threats that he would withhold federal disaster funding from Nevada and Michigan unless they abandon plans for widespread voting mail, saying that it’s illegal and an invitation to voter fraud, He’s not made any such threats against several states that have Republican governors and are more likely to give their electoral votes to Trump, but we’ll assume that’s because those states have systems that are tamper-proof and perfectly legal.
Even so, something about Trump’s stand offends our traditional conservative sensibilities. American elections have long been run by state and local officials, which is in keeping with federalist traditions and has long bolstered the public’s faith in the voting process because they’e easier to keep an eye on, which is the sort of time-honed thing that conservatives once wanted to conserve. A president strong-arming state and local officials for arguably self-interested reasons is another thing conservatives used to grouse about, and we’re not going to abandon that principle for the likes of Trump. Trump is also “tweeting” threats to defund the United States Postal Service, a constitutionally-mandated function of the federal government, and we’ve got conservative objections to that.
Pretty much every Michigander we’ve ever known have been delightful people, and Trump’s specific targeting of their state strikes us as very stupid. Michigan has seen a large number of coronavirus cases and Covid-19 fatalities, its manufacturing-based economy has been worse than decimated by the economic downturn, the central third of the state is literally underwater after a 500-year-rain storm and dam failure caused by lack of state and federal infrastructure spending. Given that Michigan gave its electoral votes to Trump last time, albeit by the slimmest of margins, we can’t see how withholding much-needed federal disaster aid feuding with Michigan’s more-popular-than-he-is Democratic governor and a state Attorney General who seems on solid legal footing by mailing applicati,s to vote for is going to help him in the state.
Trump and his more articulate allies can make a compelling case that voting by mail permits potential voter fraud, but they made the same arguments when Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million last time around, and we retain some faith in American ingenuity. Let Michigan and Nevada and all those Republican states come up with their own solutions for holding an election in time of potential plague, and let all those neighbors who are Democrats and Republicans and kooks work it out on the state and local level, where we can better keep an eye on them. Some good might come of it.
No matter what the United States collectively come up with not everyone will be satisfied. That’s partly due to humankind’s infallibility and even more to do with humankind’s tendency to think the universe is rigged. Trump will contest the results even if he wins, the Democratic nominee might well have some legitimate objections if he loses, and in either case much of a divided country will regard their democratic republic as illegitimate. The legitimacy of our of democratic republic is the thing we most wanted to conserve in our political life, and we’d hate to see it become another victim of the coronavirus.

— Bud Norman

Pompeo Stays Put, For Now

According to both The New York Times¬†and The Wichita Eagle, which are usually reliable sources, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo won’t be coming home to Kansas to run for an open Senate seat. This is a big deal all over an uneasy world, but especially so here in our beloved Sunflower State.
The news was surprising to us, but only slightly so. Secretary of State is a more prestigious title than junior Senator from Kansas, and far more lucrative in a post public service career, but we’re sure that even such an ambitious fellow as Pompeo was tempted to return home to Kansas’s welcoming arms. Any old Senate seat is plenty prestigious and potentially lucrative, Pompeo almost certainly could have had a safe one for as long as he wanted. and with a presidential impeachment trial looming and a potential war with Iran brewing and Pompeo up to his neck in all of it the Senate surely seemed a more placid sinecure.
He was intrigued enough by the possibility to spend a lot of time in Kansas in for someone with such a busy international schedule, some of which was spent having discussions about fundraising with the state’s biggest Republican donors, and he was encouraged to resign and run by some high-level Republicans in the state and national party.
The Republicans are facing an unfavorable Senatorial election map next November and worry about retaining their slight majority in the chamber, so current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted Pompeo to lock down the Kansas seat, Trump gave his blessings to the idea, and the state’s Republican party establishment was equally keen on the idea. Kansas has been reliably Republican in federal elections since it entered the Union as a free state after its bloody prologue to the Civil War, and will probably vote Republican once again no matter how the primary turns out, but it’s within the realm of possibility that it won’t.
For now the frontrunner in a crowded Republican primary field is former state Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who lost a gubernatorial race to impeccably moderate Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly back in November ’18. As the state’s Secretary of State Kobach earned a national reputation for his tough stance against illegal immigrants voting in Kansas elections, which led to Trump appointing him to head a federal commission to prove that Trump would have won the popular vote if not for more than there million illegally cast votes, and he now fully identifies as a a Trump loyalist, but so far none of it worked out for him.
The voter identification laws that Kobach lobbied for are reasonable enough, so far as we can tell from our regular voting, but the Harvard grad with the Yale Law School degree decided to represent himself in a lawsuit brought against him by the American Civil Liberties Union, and he wound up proving only nine cases of voter fraud and paying significant fines for contempt of court and proving the old axiom about how a lawyer representing himself has a fool for a client, or vice a versa. Kobach’s federal commission was disbanded before proving that Trump actually won the popular vote, in part because such Republican states as Mississippi and Kansas defied his orders on state’s rights grounds, and his continued fealty to Trump hasn’t been much help.
Trump easily won the state’s electoral votes last time around, but that was because he was running against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and he’ll probably win again next time around, but that’s because he’ll probably be running against some even crazier Democrat. Which is not to say Trump is particularly popular around here. He finished a distant third in the Kansas caucuses back in ’16, the trade wars that have plunged commodity prices haven’t played well with the farmers and cattlemen, his anti-Hispanic rhetoric doesn’t resonate in a state whose southwest quadrant is economically dependent on Hispanic immigrants, and neither the church-going small town Christians nor the educated suburbanites like his style.
The Kansas Republican party is currently in a sorry state, too, for a variety of reasons of strictly local interest. Our old pal Gov. Sam Brownback, who we know to be a good and well-intentioned guy, purged all the cautious Republican types from the legislature and enacted a radical agenda of tax cuts and spending cuts, and although we liked the idea in broad outlines the details turned turned out to objectively blow a hole in the state budget, with deficits piling up despite severe cuts to what even old-fashioned Republicans would consider essential state services. There were various other scandals about corruption and voter suppression, too. That’s how Kobach wound up losing the governorship to an impeccably moderate Democrat, and McConnell is right to worry it’s within the realm of possibility he might wound up losing to a similarly moderate Democrat in a Senate race.
We wouldn’t say it’s probable, though. The crowded Republican field includes Kansas Senate President and impeccable Kansas conservative Susan Wagle, who is almost as irksome to the state’s Democrats as Kobach, and Rep. Roger Marshall from Kansas’ ranch-and-farm First District, who has occasionally dared to voice disagreement with Trump’s trade wars and immigration policies, and either could win the primary and then the general election. At this point Kobach seems a less sure bet, but we wouldn’t bet against him given the state’s long history and stubborn nature.
Pompeo would have been the surest bet for that safe Senate seat, given his extradorinaiy name recognition and formidable fund-raising prowess and the lingering affection he enjoys here in the Fourth District, where he easily won four terms with our votes, especially if he could somehow distance himself from Trump. According to our usually reliable reliable sources at The New York Times and The Wichita Eagle he’s clinging tight to Trump’s ship of state through times of impeachment trials and impending war, however, and we hold out faint hope he gets through it with his once impeccable reputation intact.

— Bud Norman

A Very Special Election in North Carolina

Today is election day in North Carolina’s ninth congressional district, which is an odd thing to happen in September on an odd-numbered year, and it’s happening for an odd reason. The regularly scheduled election in November of ’18 was never certified because the apparent Republican victor’s campaign had provably been involved in voter fraud, and even the Republicans in the state courts and election board had to admit it, so after many months without representation in Congress the district is at long last getting around to having a do-over.
There’s enough of a chance that the Republican nominee will lose that both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have jetted into the state to campaign for him, which at this point is not at all odd. The district has been held by Republicans since 1963, and in 2016 Trump won its votes by 11 percentage points, but things have lately changed. North Carolina’s ninth is precisely the sort of reliably Republican and highly educated and well off suburban district that the Republicans have been losing ever since Trump won the presidency, and by 2018 the race was tight enough that the Republican nominee’s campaign resorted to outright voter fraud. This time around the Democratic nominee is a centrist military veteran, the Republican nominee is running as a Trump loyalist, there are Libertarian and Green party candidates to siphon off votes from both, and the polls have it too close to call.
A Democratic victory would be embarrassing to Trump, so naturally he held another one of his rock star rallies to endorse the Republican. As usual Trump mostly talked about himself, and the best argument he could make for the candidate he was campaigning for was that what’s his name would enhance Trump’s power, and that the Democrats are pro-crime and hate America and “your way of life is under assault from these people.” This might prove persuasive enough to drag the Republican nominee across the finish line, but if it doesn’t Trump can always blame it on voter fraud, and there will be plenty of distracting news outside North Carolina’s ninth congressional district.

— Bud Norman

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

A Blue Moment in a Red State

After a full week of counting and re-counting votes, the Kansas Republican party at last has a a gubernatorial nominee. The by-the-skin-of-his-teeth winner turns out to be Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and we expect he’s in for a tough general election.
Although a reliably Republican state in congressional and presidential elections, Kansas hasn’t rewarded either the Republicans or Democrats with a third consecutive term since the 1960s, when conservative Democrat Robert Docking won four straight two-year terms, and the past eight years of Republican rule haven’t gone so well. For seven of those years the governor was former Senator Sam Brownback, whose radical tax cut agenda required purges of establishment Republicans in some ugly primary fights and didn’t deliver the promised economic boom and enhanced revenues, and after he resigned to become something called Ambassador for Religious Freedom in the administration of President Donald Trump his Lieutenant Governor and accidental Gov. Jeff Colyer could do little to reverse the state’s fortunes in a year’s time, even though his fellow establishment Republicans had won a second round of ugly primary fights against the hard-liners and some common-sense fixes to the tax code were enacted.
Kobach further complicates the Republican’s problems. He only beat Colyer by a hundred votes or so, with about 60 percent of the party voted for another of the crowded field of candidates, and his audaciously far-right stands on various issues will be a hard sell to a state that’s lately reverting to its cautiously center-right character. Nationally-known for his obsessions with illegal immigration and voter fraud, Kobach won our votes in two races for Secretary of State with such common sense reforms as photo identification requirements for voting, but since his reelection many Kansans such as ourselves think he’s taken things a bit too far.
He was tabbed by Trump to head a federal commission to prove that more than three million illegal immigrant voters had robbed the president of his rightful win in the popular vote, but that went down in flames when both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state refused for both Democratic and Republican reasons to comply with the commission’s demands for their voter data, with even Kansas refusing on the basis of state law to comply with all of it. Some rather stringent voter registrations requirements that we’re not sure we could comply with were challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union, and when Kobach represented himself in the lawsuit he not only wound up on the losing side of the verdict but racked up thousands of dollars in contempt of court fines and much public ridicule in the process. Kobach has fully embraced the snarling Trump style of campaigning and credits the president’s endorsement for his victory, but more than 70 percent of Republican caucus-goers voted against that in ’16 and about 60 percent of Republican primary voters didn’t fall for it in ’18.
Longtime state legislator Laura Kelly won more than 50 percent of the Democratic party’s votes against a crowded field that included such formidable challengers as former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer and the folksy rural legislator Joshua Svaty, and we can’t imagine any Democrat in the state opting for Kobach. Democrats are only about 30 percent of the state, but that’s always a good start in any race, and our guess is that most of Kansas’ numerous independents are leaning Democratic about now, and that many of the state’s stubbornly independent Republicans are getting fed up with their party. Trump won the state’s six electoral votes by the usual Republican landslide, but he was running against the historically horrible Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and such a scandal-free and not-at-all-shrill centrist as Kelly is unlikely to inspire such widespread loathing in the Grand Old Party.
The wild card in the race is independent candidate Greg Orman, a rich businessman making his second electoral run in Kansas. Back in the state GOP’s anti-establshment fervor of ’14 longtime Sen. Pat Roberts narrowly escaped a primary challenge, so Orman ran an independent campaign to the right of Roberts, and the Democratic nominee was so lame that the party withdrew him from the ballot and hoped that Orman would at least remove a sitting Republican from the Senate, but he wound up losing by a lopsided margin and Roberts is still in office and at least resisting Trump’s stupid trade wars. This time around Orman is running on the argument that a two-party system of democracy is a rigged game that has brought the state to its knees, and that only a rich businessman can make Kansas great again, and he’s offering few specific plans.
This strikes us as a losing argument around here, but there’s no doubt some significant number of Kansans will fall for it, so it’s a question of whose voters it will attract. The answer, we dare say, is that the vast majority of Orman’s support will come from the Trump-endorsed Kobach’a column.
Kobach’s national notoriety will probably funnel plenty of out-of-state money to Kelly’s campaign coffers, too, and we expect she’ll spend that far-left money on some very centrist advertisements. We don’t expect Kansas’ nationally notorious mega-donor Charles Koch will make up much of the difference, given Koch’s libertarian views on immigration and genteel aversion to the snarling Trump style of campaigning, and the funding gap will be a problem in the expensive media markets up in those well-educated and well-off Kansas City suburbs that are typical of the places where the Republicans have been having a hard time lately.
November is a long time from now, but the days grow short when you reach September, as the old song says, and on this rainy August day we’re wishing Colyer had won. As things now stand, we might have to vote for a damn Democrat.

— Bud Norman

Hell Comes to Kansas, Or Maybe Not

On even a short drive around Kansas these days there’s no avoiding the campaign advertisements on the radio, especially if you’re tuned into the oldies and country and talk radio stations we favor on the AM band, and as annoying as they all are the most irksome is for a Republican gubernatorial candidate named Ken Selzer. Somehow it seems to encapsulate all the most annoying arguments one hears in Republican politics these days, both here in Kansas and around the country.
The conventional wisdom in Kansas, which usually proves reliable in this conventional state, holds that the race is between Secretary of State Kris Kobach and current Gov. Jeff Colyer, both of whom have far better name recognition. Kobach is by now nationally known, for better or worse, as his two-term tenure in a usually overlooked office has made him a controversial figure in the contentious debates over illegal immigration and voter fraud and other issue dear to the heart of his ally President Donald Trump. Colyer’s name is far less well known outside the state, but that might be for better rather than worse, as he’s well known in Kansas as the guy who took over for controversial Gov. Sam Brownback when Trump appointed Brownback to be something called Ambassador for Religious Freedom, and if his name recognition isn’t quite so high as Kobach’s that’s probably because he’s somehow avoided any serious controversies during his year-and-a-half as governor, which a lot of Kansas Republicans, including ourselves, much appreciate
.Faced with this formidable fund-raising and name recognition disadvantage, Selzer’s ju-jitsu pitch is that he’s the scrappy common-sense businessman outsider trying to bring down the hated establishment, and is thus untainted by any past involvement in the government that has wrought the Dante-esque and Bosch-ian hell that is Kansas. What’s needed to rescue our beloved Sunflower State from its current infernal condition, Selzer suggests, is a rank amateur with utter contempt for every judge and legislator and civil servant and locally elected official in the state. Which strikes us as noisome nonsense on a number of levels.
For one thing, Selzer is currently the state’s Insurance Commissioner, an elected position that is just as much a part of the hated establishment as Secretary of State or even governor. It’s a usually overlooked office, but Kathleen Sibelius used it to get elected Governor as a Democrat, and during her second term President Barack Obama appointed her Secretary of Health and Human Services, and she seemed well on her way to a national career until she so throughly screwed up the roll-out of Obamacare that Obama had to request her resignation. For all her faults Sibelius never affected our home and auto insurance premiums much, and for all his faults neither has Selzer, but we’ll always regard Insurance Commissioners with the same wariness as any other politicians.
Nor do we buy the argument that Kobach’s and Colyer’s more prominent positions in the state government are inherently disqualifying.
We started souring on Kobach when he volunteered to chair a national commission proving that Trump had been robbed of rightful popular victory by more than three million illegal voters, an effort that was disbanded when both Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State refused to hand over the requested data, and even Kansas had to refuse some requests based on state law. After that he was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for the strict voter registration requirements he had imposed on the state, and despite his impressive law school credentials his self-defense wound up losing the case in such embarrassing fashion it made for national headlines and a very funny skit at the local “Gridiron” satirical review. Still, we found his controversial photo-identification requirement at the polling places and most of his other election reforms sensible and not at all onerous, and we happily voted for him in both his races, and we still give him the credit due to the man in the arena.
As for Colyer, we rather like him. We’ve also rather liked Brownback since way back when we were interns together in the office of Sen. Bob Dole way back in the ’70s, and shared his Reagan-era philosophy of surgical budget cuts and optimal rather than maximal tax rates, but we’re forced by facts to admit that Brownback’s axe-swinging budget cuts and not-quite-optimal tax cuts left the state in a deep fiscal hole and its schools and roads and prisons and other essential services operating at bare bones budgets. Since Brownback’s departure with a Nixon-ian 24 percent approval rating Colyer and the old-fashioned sorts of Republicans who re-won their primaries have adroitly dealt with the more obvious flaws in the Brownback tax plan, and despite Trump’s trade wars the state’s economy is faring fairly well, and Colyer’s ads are stressing his plan to restore Kansas’ former reputation as a state with excellent schools, and with his calm-spoken he appeal to the Republican party that used to run the state back in the supposed good old days. He’s been remarkably uncontroversial, too, which lately seems a political liability around the country, but such Kansas Republicans as ourselves appreciate it.
In any case, Kobach and Colyer seem the quintessence of the two warring factions of the Republican party, both here in Kansas and elsewhere around the country, so if they’re both part of the broken system then so is the entire Grand Old Party. Even at this dire moment we’d still hate to admit that’s true, and even if we did we don’t thank that some moderately successful small businessman and one-term Insurance Commissioner is the only one who can rescue our state from its existential crisis.
For that matter, we don’t think things are really all that bad around here. On our drives around town we notice new offices and apartment buildings sprouting in the center of town and another couple of miles of suburban sprawl on both the east and west sides, and despite the swooning commodity prices during the trade war the corn and other crops look tall and healthy as we drive out in the country during this rainy summer, and for the most part our encounters with our fellow citizens are quite pleasant. So far as we can tell there are no civil wars or race riots of constitutional crises afoot at the moment, and our state and our Republic have somehow weathered all of those, so for now we’ll place more faith in our long established political institutions than we do in some demagogue who swears that only he can save us from Armageddon.
There’s also a rich and largely self-funded third party candidate whose ads claims that the two-party system is at fault for Kansas’ and America’s sorry state, and that only he can rescue us, and his ads are also pretty annoying. The pitch has lately worked well enough before around the country, but here in Kansas Colyer seems to have the lead at the moment and none of the Democratic candidates are all that scary, and we expect our beloved Sunflower State will work it all out according to the longstanding traditions that have brought us through so many hard times. We’ll hold out hope the rest of the country is as sensible.

— Bud Norman

Kansas in the News

Kansas rarely makes the national news, which is fine by us, but on Wednesday the state landed two stories in all the big papers. One concerned a guilty verdict in a terrorism case, the other was about involved Kansas’ Secretary of State getting hit with a fine in much-watched court challenge to his his voter registration rules, and neither is the sort of publicity that our state needs.
The three men found guilty on terrorism charges weren’t radical Islamists, but rather self-described Christian “crusaders” in a self-appointed militia who were plotting to build car bombs and massacre the Somali refugees living in their hometown of Garden City. A formerly homogenous small town out in the sparsely populated western part of the state, Garden City become more ethnically diverse when a big meatpacking plant rescued the local economy back in the ’70s, refugees from Somalia were settled there shortly after the turn of the millennia, and by the beginning of this decade whites were no longer a majority in Finney County, a fact which apparently did not set well with the plotters.
During the four week trial at the federal courthouse here in Wichita, the defense argued that they were just engaging in “locker room talk” about killing Muslims with bullets soaked in pig blood, and were entrapped by a Federal Bureau of Investigation conspiracy, and perhaps it should worry President Donald Trump that a Kansas jury didn’t buy these familiar arguments. The average Kansan is just as uncomfortable with diversity and suspicious of the government as the next guy, but he won’t countenance blowing up the local mosque and massacring the local Muslims, and in the end he tends to settle on the facts rather than his suspicions.
Still, it doesn’t look good that such a trial occurred her in the first place. The deadliest domestic terror attack in American history, the 1995 bombing of a federal building just down I-35 in downtown Oklahoma City, was plotted in rural Kansas, the last murder of an abortion doctor occurred in a lovely Lutheran Church over on East 13th here in Wichita, and although the Kansas officials and witness were highly cooperative in bring justice to the bombers and a Kansas jury quickly convicted the abortion doctor’s killer, a certain craziness does seem to require our constant vigilance. We suppose that’s true everywhere, but it’s been a constant feature of the state it’s “Bleeding Kansas” days, and looks so much worse in contrast to the wholesome image we aspire to.
That story about Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach getting hit with the fine in that ongoing court isn’t great publicity for our beloved, either, and it should also worry Trump.
By now Kobach is well known far beyond Kansas for his crusade against illegal immigration and voter fraud and especially illegal immigrants voting fraudulently, and he’s successfully persuaded the past several very conservative Republican legislatures to pass new laws and grant him broader executive authority to execute them. This included requirements that voters produce certain sorts photographic identification cards to cast a ballot, provide a birth certificate or passport of certain other sorts of proof citizenship to register for the first time, and a few other measures. This outraged the left, made Kobach a hero to the right, and he wound up heading the commission Trump had created to prove his claim that votes fraudulently cast by illegal immigrants had denied him his rightful victory in the popular vote.
The federal voter fraud commission that Trump set up and Kobach headed came to a slapstick conclusion some months ago. Voting is mostly a matter left to the states and counties and localities, as it should be, and too many of them refused to cooperate, with all of the Democratic states objecting for self-interested Democratic reasons and a lot of Republican states refusing to cooperate for principled Republican reasons. One of the states that refused to hand over everything Kobach requested was Kansas, where the ever-suspicious-of-the-feds conservative Republican legislatures had passed laws against divulging such information. Trump still insists that he won the popular vote, but he gave up on Kobach’s attempts to prove it.
Since then illegal immigration and voter fraud have most given way to porn stars and the latest policy reversals in the news, but to the extent they linger they’re no longer doing either Trump or Kobach much good. The big, beautiful border went unfunded in that hated-by-everyone spending Trump signed a while back, the “dreamers” Trump promised to deport during his triumphant campaign are still here, and they’re polling better than the president, and there’s no telling where he stands on the matter at that moment, except for his continued insistence that the Democrats are to blame the executive order he signed that put their legal status in jeopardy. At the moment illegal immigration rarely appears on the front pages or at the top of the hour, and although the issue helped Trump when the presidency he should be glad of it.
Meanwhile, back in Kansas, Kobach seems to be having a hard time of it as well. We take a harder stand on immigration and voting issues than do the state’s Democrats, so didn’t mind casting our votes for Kobach in both of his races for Secretary. We found the photo ID requirement reasonable enough, as the average citizen is used to showing such papers to cash a check or buy a six-pack or board an airplane or transact many other legal activities, and although the passport and birth certificate requirements for registering seemed a bit officious we weren’t much bothered. The American Civil Liberties Union took a harsher view, however, and their lawsuit challenging the registration requirements seems to be going swimmingly.
The court has already issued an injunction against enforcement of the law, and the judge’s ruling that by “clear and convincing evidence” Kobach was in contempt of court for acting “disingenuously” to disobey that injunction, and the resulting $1000 fine, is just the latest indication that the defense is not going so well. A licensed attorney, Kobach is representing himself in the matter, and our pal Bucky Walters had an amusing satirical slapstick sketch about it in the recent Gridiron Show, with the judge reminding Kobach of the old maxim that “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client,” and Kobach replying that “In this case it will be just the other way around,” and so far that’s how it’s played out in the news.
Kobach is also running for governor, and it’s hard to explain to an outsider what a mess that is. He’d been hoping to ride his national status as anti-illegal immigrant hard-liner and voter integrity champion to the Republican nomination, but he’s up against his incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, who assumed the office after Gov. Sam Brownback was tapped by Trump to be something called the ambassador at large for religious freedom, and both are vying for the Brownback vote. Brownback was wildly unpopular in the state when he left, though, as his tax-cutting agenda didn’t work out as promised, and the old-fashioned sorts of budget-balancing establishment Republicans who were overthrown by “tea party” have since been winning the primaries, and if one of them doesn’t win the Republican gubernatorial nomination we expect some centrist sort of Democrat could wind up winning the general election.
At this point, we expect that Kansas will happily settle on the least crazy candidates they can find on the ballot. The politics around here have been exhausting for a while a now, and we don’t notice any enthusiasm around here for building walls or deporting dreamers or blowing up mosques, and we’ll assure the other 49 states that for the most part we’re no crazier than the rest of you.

— Bud Norman

A Quick Start to a New Year

The annual holiday lull in the news cycle is officially over, and we head into the first weekend of the second year of President Donald Trump with more stories than we can keep up with.
There’s that soon-to-be-bestselling book that paints of a picture of a dysfunctional White House led by an attention-deficit-disordered and dangerously impetuous president, for one thing, and the mere excerpts have already generated several headline-grabbing subplots. Several of the damning excerpted quotes come from Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign “chief executive” and administration “chief strategist, who is now officially banished from Trump World and cut off from the kooky billionaire family that had been funding his efforts to primary challenge pretty much every Republican incumbent in congress who has been insufficiently loyal to Trump, so that’s a noteworthy development. One of Trump’s many lawyers has issued a “cease and desist” letter to the soon-to-be-bestselling book’s publisher, along with Trump’s characteristic threat of a lawsuit, and despite its obvious futility that assault on the First Amendment was also newsworthy enough to bolster the book’s inevitable sales.
Whatever the errors that are bound to be found in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” its picture of a dysfunctional administration led by an attention-deficit-disorcered is made all the more convincing by other stories currently in the news. Buried deep in the papers was the news that the White House has pulled the plug on its once-ballyhooed commission to investigation of voter fraud, which Trump has long claimed explained his three-million-votes-or-so loss in the popular election but somehow didn’t prevent his victory in the electoral college. The commission’s fact-finding requests had been rebuffed not only by Democratic states who resented the implied allegation that they had cheated Trump of millions of votes, but also by several Republican states who resented the assault on their longstanding Republican principle of states’ rights to conduct their own elections, and no one ever really believed that it was going to explain away that embarrassing popular vote loss to the likes of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The story is of particular interest here in Kansas, because Secretary of State Kris Kobach was in charge of the commission, and its abysmal failure is thus likely to hinder his gubernatorial campaign. He’s instituted some common sense rules about voting and generally did well in the ob, as far as we’re concerned, but the Republican party infighting between the extremist and establishment wings is particularly intense right about now, and we won’t mind at all if his efforts to aid Trump only aid the establishment candidate.
We have two brothers who live in California and Colorado, so we also noticed the news that Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has issued a directive to more strictly enforce federal marijuanas in the many states that have legalized the medicinal and recreational use of the devil’s weed. There’s an obvious legal case to made, and Sessions will likely convince many of his fellow senior citizens on policy grounds that it’s much needed to make America great again, but it strikes us as a political disaster. By now clear majorities of the public have a live-and-let-live attitude about pot-smoking, which includes fastidiously abstinent Republicans who just as rigorously adhere to a state’s rights principle, along with a whole lot of Trump-voting Republicans we know who avail themselves of an occasional toke on the devil’s weed, and although the youth cohort doesn’t partake at the same rate of their elders they seem far more permissive about the practice.
Even the most abstemious among us is tempted to take a long and deep bong hit when confronted with the latest dispatches about the ongoing nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula. In case you haven’t been following this all-too-real reality show, the nutcase dictator of North Korea recently boasted that he had a button on his desk that he could push to launch a nuclear attack on the United States, and the President of the United States responded by “Tweet” that, yeah, well, his button was bigger. The obvious Freudian implications of the riposte fueled late night comedy show monologues, while the South Korean government commenced very talks with their North Korean antagonists and the rest of our allies seemed similarly unimpressed by Trump’s boasts.
Elsewhere in the news there are stories about those “dreamers” who were illegally smuggled into the country as children and now find themselves hoping to maintain their quasi-legal status as mostly law-abiding and tax-paying and college-going and military-serving almost-citizens, and Trump’s attempts to use them as negotiating chips to build his long promised wall of a border wall. There’s also the matter of the recently defunded program that provides health insurance to children whose parents are too rich to qualify for Medicaid but too poor to pay for private insurance, and that has to be worked out in the context of yet another continuing resolution to keep the entirety of the federal government limping along on deficit spending that’s not likely to be alleviated by the Republican’s recent big victory of a tax bill. That’s likely to make for a bad news cycle.
On the other hand, the stock markets are up and the unemployment rate is down, Trump’s deregulations and that budget-busing tax bill clearly have something to do with it, and so far there are no mushrooms clouds over the Korean peninsula and no smoking gun in that Russia thing. Trump’s approval ratings climbed into the low-40s over the holidays, but the new year seems off to a bad start.

— Bud Norman

Kansas, Kobach, Voter Fraud, and That Darned Popular Vote

There was a bewildering amount of news out there for an extended Fourth of July weekend, what with the Republicans’ health care reform efforts stalling and all the “tweeting” about other things about by the president, but it was the story about the newly created voter fraud commission that caught our eye. The issue of voter fraud has long been of general interest to us, now has some specific political implications right here in Kansas, and we’re not sure what to make of it.
So far as we can tell the voter fraud commission has been newly created because President Donald Trump believes some three million illegally-cast votes denied him his rightful popular vote victory in the past election, and he wants an official body to back up the “tweeted” claim. We’re not at all sure that anyone will ever prove that to everybody’s satisfaction, and note that a system so well-rigged it can manufacture three million votes wasn’t able to spread a mere hundred thou or so of them over the three states where they could have tilted the Electoral College outcome, but that’s no reason not to have a commission making sure that the voting in our democratic republic isn’t entirely on the square.
Some of our Democratic friends insist that although people might rob and rape and murder but no one has ever stooped so low as to commit voter fraud, but we’re not so sanguine about it. Historians have definitively documented several cases of past stolen American elections, including the one that elevated future President Lyndon Johnson to the Senate, in more recent years there were some reasonable suspicions about the razor-thin counts in a gubernatorial race in Washington and a Senate race in Minnesota, and except for that Florida re-count in the ’00 presidential race all the ties have gone to the Democrat. There really are an awful lot of non-citizens in the country, too, and we can’t vouch for each of them, but reasonably assume the minority of that might try to vote will vote for the Democrat, so we can’t blame the Republicans for wanting to restrict voting to eligible voters.
Three million ineptly dispersed votes are awfully hard to account for, though, and the Republicans are facing other political problems. The Democrats are protesting that in a zeal to limit voting to eligible voters the Republicans will wind up disenfranchising many eligible voters, most of them poor and minority people inclined to vote for Democrats, and thus far the courts have found that’s exactly what wound up in happening in North Carolina when the state’s Republicans passed its voter integrity law, and of course much of the media and the public are also sympathetic to the argument. The commission is run by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the latter being the the country’s most notorious Republican hard-liner on voter fraud, so we can’t blame the Democrats for suspecting that the commission is seeking federal laws along the same lines as North Carolina’s.
Several Democratic secretaries of state have defiantly refused to provide all of the information requested by the commission, and the president and several conservative news sources have plausibly inferred it’s because they have something to hide, but the Republicans also have a problem with several Republican secretaries of state who have been similarly defiant for very Republican reasons. Mississippi is hardly a fever swamp of Democratic liberalism, but its Secretary of State responded with a letter citing state’s rights and individual privacy and other concerns before advising the commission to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.” Alabama, home of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also declined to cooperate with many of the requests for similarly southern reasons. Arizona, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Texas were also defying at least some parts of the federal order. Even Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was forced to confess to The Kansas City Star that the state’s very Republican privacy laws prohibited him from fully complying with own demands.
Up until Trump decided he’d been robbed of his rightful popular victory, Republicans generally believed that elections were a business handled at the state and county and precinct level, where things have lately been going pretty well for Republicans. This still seems reasonable to our Republican sensibilities, the last presidential popular vote notwithstanding, and we’re heartened to see that so much of the party establishment is also opposed to federalizing elections. We’re steadfastly for restricting voting to eligible voters, steadfastly opposed to disenfranchising even those eligible voters who might be inclined to vote for Democrats, and at this point don’t really care much about Trump’s pride.
We voted for Kobach both times he ran for secretary of our state, and we don’t regret it. The photo identification laws for voting and other election reforms he helped enact seemed commonsensical and proved not at all inconvenient, and despite the best efforts of the state’s Democrats they haven’t come up with anyone for the state’s media to interview who’s been disenfranchised as a result. Every time we vote we run into Democratic and Republican poll watchers we trust, and the local election officials are up for re-election every few years, and although we can’t vouch for California or certain parts of Philadelphia we have confidence in the system around here. Kobach’s critics like to note that in nearly eight years in office he’s only found nine convicted cases of voter fraud, which is nowhere near enough to affect even the closest races in this reliably Republican state, and even on a per capita basis can’t negate that three million vote loss in the last presidential popular vote, but we figure that demonstrates that his Jean Valjean-like zeal is working pretty well.
We’re not sure we want to impose that on Mississippi or even California, though, and we’re not sure if we’ll be voting for Kobach when he runs for governor next year. He’s still a steadfast proponent of current Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax-and-budget cutting stands, which worked in theory but left the state with annual budget shortfalls in practice and were recently repealed when a coalition of Democrats and recently-ascendant moderate Republicans overrode his veto, and at this point we can see him losing to a moderate Democrat even in this reliably Republican state. We still like that economic theory of Brownback’s and expect it would work well in practice at some more fortuitous future date, but for now we’ll be happy to balance the books and avoid all the political acrimony our state has lately endured.
There’s also something unsettling about how Kobach seems intent on proving Trump’s unlikely claims about the popular vote, Republican principles about federalism and privacy and every citizen’s right to vote notwithstanding, and the party’s seeming unconcern with Russia’s obvious meddling, and we’re not sure how that will play with the rest of the state. Trump won the state by the usual Republican margins, and he has his defenders here, but those old-fashioned budget-balancing establishments types who prefer to avoid all the acrimony lately seem ascendant, and we’ll give them a good look before casting our votes in the gubernatorial primary.

— Bud Norman