The Wichita Eagle, Oct. 4
Guns, voting don't mix
If Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt decides that concealed-carry of guns must be allowed at polling places, and churches and schools bow out as a result, the responsibility will be that of the 2013 Legislature, which rushed to expand the gun law with far too little concern for such disruptive consequences.
As the House and Senate voted 104-16 and 32-7, respectively, for the bill last spring and Gov. Sam Brownback signed it, the goal clearly was allowing concealed guns in as many public buildings as possible. The law requires counties, cities and other public entities to welcome concealed-carry permit holders bearing firearms if their buildings do not have "adequate security measures." In most cases, meeting that standard would mean doing unaffordable renovations and hiring security guards. Four-year exemptions were built into the law for public universities, community mental health centers and public health care facilities. But many public entities inevitably will give in and welcome guns, if not now then four years from now.
That will be mission accomplished for lawmakers - though 55 percent of Kansans polled in the Docking Institute of Public Affairs' most recent "Kansas Speaks" survey said they oppose allowing concealed-carry of guns in schools, hospitals and government buildings.
Because the law is ambiguous regarding polling places, Secretary of State Kris Kobach recently requested a legal opinion from Schmidt. Polling places usually are located where concealed guns are not allowed, including churches, K-12 public schools, universities and nonprofit organizations. But if the sites are considered property leased by counties or municipalities, either those costly "adequate security measures" would be needed or concealed guns would be welcome. Among the questions for Schmidt is whether it makes a difference if governments pay for use of the sites or use them gratis.
If Schmidt's verdict is that the guns need to be allowed, expect some churches and other private entities to stop being polling places. That will limit the options for some communities. As state Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, said: "It's hard enough as it is to come up with a building that's going to be open all day and that's handicapped-accessible." Parking availability is always key, too.
Guns and voting seem like an uneasy combination at best. As it is, somebody who displays or brandishes a firearm at a poll can be prosecuted for voter intimidation. Even gun-friendly Texas specifically prohibits concealed-carry at the polls.
So it will be a significant change for Kansas if polling places must welcome concealed guns, in some cases trampling on not only the local control of public entities but the property rights of privately owned buildings.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau, a leader of the local effort to open more public buildings to concealed-carry, said the polling-place issue "is something that is going to have to be sorted out at the state level."
That sorting out should have happened before the law was passed at the Statehouse - where, it should be noted, no such gun mandate applies.
The Kansas City Star, Oct. 4
Water plan urgently needed in Kansas
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is looking out for the long-term interests of Kansas by calling for a long-term plan to manage the state's water supplies.
Long-term drought and overuse are drying up the Ogallala Aquifer, the vast underground lake that enables Kansas and seven other states to turn arid fields into productive farmland. At the current rate of pumping, the aquifer will be 70 percent depleted by 2060, according to a recent Kansas State University study. Man-made reservoirs around Kansas are also stressed.
At a well-attended conference last month, Brownback called for water interests to draw up a 50-year management plan.
"We can talk these issues to death, but without vision we won't be able to address these priorities," the governor correctly said.
The agricultural industry has made progress with water efficiencies such as water irrigation technology and crop genetics. But those measures don't come close to closing the gap between use and replenishment of underground water supplies.
A 2012 Kansas law enables groups of farmers within a groundwater management district to come up with their own conservation plans. So far only one group has done so, however. A more comprehensive strategy is called for, one that includes conservation goals with more muscle, and encouragement for farmers to convert to crops, like wheat and cotton, which require less water than corn.
Brownback has shown strong leadership by putting water issues high on his policy agenda. However, a test of his commitment to conservation may be in the works.
The governor and his agricultural secretary, Dale Rodman, want to loosen restrictions on corporate farming in Kansas. The public would need more information on how that economic development goal meshes with smarter water use.
When priorities conflict, water conservation holds the trump card. Kansas won't be fit for farming or much of anything if it allows its repositories to go dry.
The Hutchinson News, Nov. 1
Home in Kansas
Rural western Kansans will always bemoan the loss of representation in state and federal legislatures as long as population decline continues to make that a reality. But when it comes to Congress, at least in the case of Rep. Tim Huelskamp and Sen. Jerry Moran, eastern relocations don't equate to any disregard for western Kansas interests.
As duly noted in a story last week in The Hutchinson News, Huelskamp and Moran have moved to new homes farther east in their respective geographical constituencies. But by all appearances, these were for practical and logistical reasons.
Shortly after entering Congress in 2011, Huelskamp and his family moved from the small town of Fowler to Hutchinson, 140 miles to the northeast. That's not a bad place to be in the district considering it is a top population center, is the location of one of his district offices and is closer to airport transportation for flights to Washington.
Proximity to an airport probably played a big role in Moran's move last year from his longtime home of Hays to Manhattan. Both Moran and Huelskamp are commuter members of Congress, which is to say they don't consider Washington as their primary address and their families remained in Kansas when they started serving in Congress.
Sen. Pat Roberts is another matter. He uses a Dodge City address for his Kansas voting residence, but Roberts and his wife have long lived in Virginia. ...
When Congress is not in session, Moran and Huelskamp almost always are back in Kansas. Moran especially is highly engaged in getting around his district - both when he served in the House and now statewide as a senator. But Huelskamp has continued the tradition of visiting every one of the now 69 counties in the 1st District at least once a year; he maintains an active schedule of "town halls."
Some critics of the commuters suggest that when members of Congress immediately go home upon adjournment the old deal-making that once was more common in Washington suffers. Maybe so. But the alternative risk is becoming Washington fixtures who have lost touch with the realities on the ground back home.
It isn't as if Huelskamp has moved to Emporia or Moran to Johnson County. They're doing just fine where they've chosen to call home.
The Garden City Telegram, Oct. 31
When it comes to future economic prosperity in southwest Kansas, water always bubbles to the top as a concern.
In an arid region — one fueled by agriculture — farmers are left to sap water from the ground to maintain crop production. It's put a serious dent in the supply of water from the Ogallala Aquifer, leaving policymakers wrestling with various strategies needed to slow the rate of depletion from the aquifer.
Water conservation always matters, naturally. Consumers — whether they're producers, businesses and industries, or individual households — should be mindful of ways to get by with less water.
At the same time, it's worth knowing if there could be some way to bring more water into the region when Mother Nature won't cooperate with adequate rain and snow.
Such is the thinking behind a concept that's been tossed about before, but never gained much steam for a number of reasons.
Now, however, a 31-year-old federal study that proposed pumping Missouri River water some 400 miles to the southwest part of Kansas has been resurrected.
The 1982 High Plains Ogallala Aquifer Regional Resources Study by the federal Department of Commerce was done to satisfy a 1976 congressional mandate to examine declining water supplies in the High Plains.
The resulting plan called for creating a river of sorts that would push excess water from the Missouri River in northeast Kansas to parched southwest Kansas. Other communities on the way also could benefit from the new water supply.
Of course, such a project would be costly in setup and maintenance, to the tune of billions of dollars.
Without such a dramatic fix, though, the future of an agricultural economy that helps fuel many jobs and related ventures throughout Kansas could be extinguished.
Extraordinary problems often demand extraordinary solutions.
What may seem like a pipe dream could end up being an economic boon in a state that depends on farm success. For that reason, the idea still warrants serious study and conversation.