Editorial Roundup: Kansas

Kansas City Star. March 26, 2021.

Editorial: Kansas Sen. Gene Suellentrop is charged with crimes, still secretly leading Senate

On Friday night, Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced he has filed criminal charges against Kansas Sen. Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop, on counts of speeding, eluding or attempting to elude police, driving under the influence, reckless driving and driving the wrong way down a divided highway.

With charges filed, Suellentrop has to resign, as he should have after his arrest.

But so far, he hasn’t even kept his word to step down from his leadership duties. The Star Editorial Board has learned that Suellentrop has not stepped away from those duties, as he promised to do after his March 16 DUI arrest. That should never have been the case.

One fellow Republican said on Friday that Suellentrop still appears to be scheduling, steering and negotiating bills as usual, including in high-level meetings.

“Not just anybody was allowed in that meeting,” the senator said of one conference involving Senate leadership and gubernatorial staff this past week. “He’s running that office. And it’s just real obvious. The only role he’s not doing is on the floor.”

A second Republican senator also said Suellentrop is still pulling the majority leader strings behind the scenes. “I sure don’t see what duties he’s given up.”

A third, a Democrat, said it’s an open secret in Topeka that nothing has really changed.

If the only real difference is that Suellentrop is now having Sen. Larry Alley make the announcements and motions on the Senate floor, while most other functions of his position are still being carried out by his office, what’s the point of this farce?

On Friday night, four hours after news of the charges broke, apparently panicked Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson and Vice President Rick Wilborn issued this sad and silly statement: “This evening, we learned that the Shawnee County District Attorney announced he has filed several charges against Senator Suellentrop. The complaint’s allegations are very serious, and we trust the legal process will ensure due process and a just resolution. We are thankful that no one was injured, and we continue to pray for Gene and his family.

“Last week, Senator Suellentrop took the prudent step of transferring the bulk of his duties to our Assistant Majority Leader. Over the past 10 days, the Senate has proceeded successfully with the people’s business and that will continue for the few remaining days of this year’s session. Upon learning of these formal charges, we have begun reaching out to other members of the Republican caucus about how to proceed most effectively moving forward. Our highest priority is to keep working without distraction for Kansas families and businesses as the state reopens.”

To which we say: Good. Grief. It took you four hours to extend thoughts and prayers? Using the words ‘prudent’ and ‘Suellentrop’ in the same sentence was bold, though.

Then there’s the lack of a public report from the Kansas Highway Patrol. The KHP announced on Thursday it has no public documents in Suellentrop’s arrest.

Because the KHP didn’t produce written proof of the incident, a judge felt forced to release Suellentrop the day of his arrest. How does that happen? If there never was a report, that smacks of favoritism, and if the report was somehow made to disappear, that does, too.

Audio from a 911 call indicates the Senate majority leader had driven on the wrong side of Interstate 70 in Topeka for some 10 minutes. That would make him a threat to public safety at the time. The incident was certainly notable enough to merit a Kansas Standard Offense Report.

KHP general counsel Luther Ganieney explained in an email that they don’t have to fill out such a report on “Group B” offenses and, well, don’t you know, DUI, fleeing police, and driving the wrong way on an interstate are Group B offenses, so that’s that.

No, that is not that. Sorry.

First of all, if that’s really the policy then it needs changing. Gov. Laura Kelly, whom the Kansas Highway Patrol reports to, should see to it immediately.

Secondly, KHP is patrolling in wonderland if it doesn’t realize how bad this looks for the agency.

The powerful Senate majority leader, who holds sway over the agency’s budget, is accused of driving impaired for 10 minutes on the wrong side of an interstate, nearly striking a car traveling the legal direction, and there’s no public report even made?

It was up to the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office to salvage the reputation of government in Topeka, and it did.

Suellentrop’s perfidy in only pretending to step away from leadership duties was just one more reason he should resign. Now that he’s been charged, he should have no choice.

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Lawrence Journal-World. March 27, 2021.

Editorial: Energy and ideology really shouldn’t mix

Kansas leaders spend a lot of energy on ideology. They ought to spend more energy on energy.

A couple of recent pieces of Statehouse news related to energy are worth noting. The first involves a dispute between the City of Lawrence and Kansas legislators. The Legislature has approved a bill that would prohibit cities and counties from doing anything to limit the use of natural gas or propane as a utility option.

Lawrence city commissioners don’t like the bill, in part, because they think it is in reaction to the city’s stated goal of powering the entire city with renewable energy by 2035. The city is correct in that assessment. State Sen. Mike Thompson said Lawrence’s opposition to the bill mainly was for “ideological reasons.” He’s largely correct also.

Lawrence does have an admirable ideology on renewable energy. America needs to make changes in how it produces and consumes energy, and renewable energy is a wonderful opportunity on many fronts.

But it would not be a wise use of Lawrence’s energy to fight over this latest bill. Rather, Lawrence should continue to work to make city-owned facilities as sustainable as possible and be a community champion for others to do the same with their properties.

It’s unclear that Lawrence ever would pass a law restricting the use of natural gas as a utility. This new bill will ensure that doesn’t happen. That is wise and needed. Utility companies are required to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure to deliver energy in Kansas. They deserve some certainty in return. An environment where cities and counties can pass laws rendering certain types of utilities largely obsolete would allow costly uncertainty to reign. There may be a time where we do move away from natural gas as a utility, but such a move needs to be done in a coordinated manner, probably at the national level, but certainly not city by city.

The second item involves wind turbines. Thompson has proposed statewide regulations limiting turbines to one per square mile and keeping them 1.5 miles from any home or public building.

Statewide plans for wind turbines aren’t a bad idea, but how and why Thompson is going about it are. His standards seem arbitrary, and he has been clear that the driving force behind his bill is to protect property owners who don’t want a wind turbine next to their property. That’s a classic zoning issue that should be handled by locally elected officials. Those ideas of local control and property rights are supposed to be some that — as a conservative — he champions.

A statewide plan for wind turbines, though, makes sense from the perspective that this is a very capital-intensive business, but one that could pay great dividends to Kansas as the industry grows. Kansas is one of the few states that doesn’t have a statewide energy plan.

If Kansas wants to attract billions of new dollars to the state’s economy, it really should create an energy plan. But such a plan, if it highlighted a shift to renewable energy, probably would be seen as a betrayal of ideology by certain segments of the GOP that hate anything related to climate change. It doesn’t have to be that way. The GOP could focus on the new money renewable energy would bring to this state, while the Democrats could focus on the good it is doing for the environment. Both sides could have something to be happy about, and we would be in a better place than we are today.

Whether that will ever happen is unclear. The fence lines of ideology can be very solid — except when it is convenient for them not to be. Here’s one last noteworthy item, and it has nothing to do with energy. Did you notice the debate over the idea for a “Don’t Tread on Me” license plate in Kansas? Most of the debate was about whether the imagery was too related slavery in our past. Let’s save that debate for another day.

Instead, did anyone else notice that the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag is supposed to represent limited government and gun rights? Limited government? So, we have a nonprofit organization — the Kansas Rifle Association — that wants to promote the idea of limited government by getting government to produce and then sell a license plate that the nonprofit gets proceeds from?

We might need an ideology conservation plan in this state even more than we need an energy conservation plan.

END