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Recent Kansas editorials

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The Topeka Capital-Journal, March 22

Topeka is more than one man and his message:

To say that a death in Topeka rarely generates the national, and even international, attention that is accompanying the passing of Fred W. Phelps Sr. would be a gross understatement.

But the focus on Topeka now is understandable because, in the minds of many who live beyond our state's borders, Topeka, Fred Phelps and the church he led for so long, Westboro Baptist, became almost synonymous over the years, much to the distraught of most Topekans.

Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church became known far and wide for preaching and protesting against homosexuals. Church members traveled the country to picket the funerals of known gay people, military personnel who had died in service to their country and others. Soldiers were dying, according to the logic of church members, because God hated America for its tolerance of homosexuals. Anyone who didn't realize that and fall in line with the teaching of Westboro Baptist Church was doomed to hell.

Phelps and his message became Topeka's cross to bear, and the community did that as well as could be expected.

To be sure, there are others in Topeka, Kansas and across the country who agree with what Phelps was preaching, although no one copied his outlandish and hateful methods.

Wherever Westboro Baptist members and their picket signs appeared, people asked if something could be done to stop the protest. But despite what people thought of the church's message or the way it was being delivered, Phelps and his followers had a right to advocate it. Courts at every level, right up to the U.S. Supreme Court, agreed church members were expressing their First Amendment right to free speech. Time and distance restrictions could be established for protests at funerals and burials, but the protests couldn't be prohibited.

Whether the church will lose some of its enthusiasm for such activities in Phelps' absence is unknown. The church was losing congregants as family members, who are the bulk of the congregation, and others broke away even while the patriarch was still alive.

In an act of cowardice, family members decided there would be no memorial or funeral for Phelps, at least none open to the public. They may have made a mistake. It's not difficult to imagine Phelps would have enjoyed a crowd of his detractors showing up to see him off.

Regardless, an era has ended with Phelps' death, and Topekans have reason to hope others come to know the community for some of its better qualities.

Topeka is more than one man and his message. It always has been.


The Wichita Eagle, March 21

Voting decision disappoints:

U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren gave Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach a court victory, at least for now, as he ordered the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to change the federal voter-registration instructions immediately to reflect the proof-of-citizenship requirements in Kansas and Arizona. But the decision was disappointing.

At least, according to Kobach, the week's decision avoids the absurd dual voting system that Kobach had threatened to implement, in which those registering with the federal form would be denied the ability to vote in local and state races. Kobach said he would use "extraordinary measures" to verify the citizenship of the 65 Kansans who registered using the federal form between the time the state started requiring proof of citizenship and Melgren's ruling.

But the decision does nothing to promote voting in Kansas. The League of Women Voters and other grassroots groups will continue to find it hard to conduct voter-registration drives, because people out shopping or at community meetings aren't carrying around birth certificates or passports.

Nor does the decision help the 15,000 Kansans who've used the state form but had their registrations put on hold and voting rights "suspended" for lack of proof of citizenship. Their status doesn't mean they are undocumented immigrants who sought to vote fraudulently — the intended (and largely fictional) target of Kobach's law. But unless they come up with the documents, or they are among the several hundred people whose citizenship has been confirmed by election officials via state birth records, they won't be voting in the upcoming primary and general elections in Kansas.

Voting rights "suspended" for lack of paperwork are voting rights denied.


The Hutchinson News, March 24

Blind to truth:

When it comes to the debate over wind, conservatives in the Kansas Legislature aren't about to let facts get in the way of their agenda.

Last week, the Senate Utilities Committee passed a bill to repeal the 2009 Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires 20 percent of the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. During discussion on the bill, several legislators regurgitated talking points straight from an Americans for Prosperity television commercial that has been proven to be completely false.

Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, blamed the RPS for higher utility rates, even though only a fraction of a cent per kilowatt hour (.16) can be attributed to wind. Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, echoed the tired refrain that we should "let the market do its thing."

Knox's comment is almost laughable considering that the state has several provisions that reduce or exempt property and severance taxes for oil and gas producers.

Olson's comment is head shakingly wrong to anyone who doesn't rely on AFP for his talking points. Wind energy isn't to blame for higher utility prices; it's a compliant Kansas Corporation Commission that has granted nearly every rate increase request that crossed its desk — and at one point considered shifting corporate utility expenses onto residential customers.

What's more, nearly every utility in the state has met, or is very close to meeting, the RPS requirement. Passing a bill to undo the standard won't lead to the dis-assembly of wind farms and it won't lead to lower utility rates for Kansans.

This unending passion to undo the RPS has nothing to do with Kansans, it's simply another effort by do-as-they're-told lawmakers to please the real power brokers in Topeka — the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity. Yet, this desire by some Kansas lawmakers to show off their conservative bona fides and demonstrate their loyalty to those groups is undermining what could be a lucrative industry in Kansas.

Our state ranks third in the country for wind potential. In fact, Kansas could generate enough electricity from wind to power the majority of households in the country. If our elected leaders had the courage, Kansas could take the lead in a growing industry that will continue to surge elsewhere if our lawmakers continue their obstinate opposition to all things new.

When a lawmaker votes to end the RPS, or against anything that might aid this emerging industry, he or she is publicly stating that the demands of special interest groups are more important than the well-being of Kansans. It's also a statement that Kansas isn't interested in the billions of dollars in investment, the thousands of jobs the industry could create, the many lease payments landowners could reap, or the long-term reduction of utility rates for consumers.

Wind is good for Kansas — as an investment, as a way to create growth and jobs, and as a way to control utility rates well into the future. But as hard as the Kansas wind sometimes blows, it apparently can't hold a candle to the ear benders in Topeka who have become disturbingly used to getting whatever they want from the Kansas Legislature.


The Garden City Telegram, March 19

Keeping Amtrak rolling:

Officials in New Mexico are pushing forward with an attempt to better determine the potential of keeping Amtrak's Southwest Chief on its current route, which includes a stop in Garden City.

New Mexico's recently-signed budget includes a plan for the state's Legislative Council Service to study a proposal for New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to share the costs of maintaining and improving more than 600 miles of track through those states.

Deteriorating track conditions in south-central and southwest Kansas now force the Southwest Chief to slow down, leaving Amtrak with the prospect of re-routing the daily passenger train south of Newton and on through Texas to New Mexico if funding sources for track repairs aren't identified. Amtrak's operating agreement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the track, expires in 2016.

The passenger rail service makes each community on its route more appealing in helping a variety of travelers. Lower-income residents and college students are among those who depend on the affordable, convenient service.

Amtrak reported more than 7,300 passengers at the Garden City station in its fiscal year 2013.

To maintain the current route, Amtrak proposed that Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico share costs of the track maintenance and upgrades with Amtrak and BNSF. The plan called for the states to each provide $4 million annually for a decade.

It's important to know how communities and their states could work together on a solution. As state Rep. John Doll, R-Garden City, said during a recent legislative coffee: "We need to keep the Chief here."

City officials also are on board with attempts to preserve the service.

The Garden City Commission, during a recent discussion of goals, called advocating for Amtrak service a priority. The governing body will look to be represented at the next summit of officials from the three affected states.

While there's still nothing concrete in terms of a possible fix — and we do need to hear more regarding support from the state of Kansas — it's at least encouraging to know some officials won't let Amtrak service slip away without a fight to keep it on track.

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