Recent Kansas editorials

Topeka Capital-Journal, July 29

There’s an adage that good fences make good neighbors.

When U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed a water impairment notice with the Kansas Department of Agriculture regarding water rights at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in 2013, it posed a grave threat to the region. The fences between local communities and the federal government weren’t looking so good in central Kansas.

If an agreement is not met, farmers and ranchers in the Big Bend Groundwater Management District 5 would have had to stop irrigating their crops, and the area would have seen a major decrease in population, forcing businesses to close and farmers to give up their land. The citizens of Barton, Edwards, Kiowa, Pawnee, Pratt, Reno and Rice counties, which the district covers, would ultimately pay the price.

It appears fences are in the process of being mended.

The Hutchinson News’ Alice Manette reported over the weekend a solution is in the works that will satisfy both the wildlife refuge and the area communities impacted by the notice. With the help of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, the U.S. government and area farmers and their representatives, an agreement over water rights at Quivira was signed on July 25.

The newly appointed director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Aurelia Skipwith, signed the memorandum of agreement in St. John. Skipwith, who was brought up in Indiana, said one of the desires of the Wildlife Service is to be a “good neighbor.”

This is what neighbors do when fences need mending. They come together to agree on a solution.

The agreement calls for implementation of water augmentation, retires some water rights in sensitive areas, moving rights to others, and for the removal of invasive trees from Quivira and Rattlesnake Creek, which flows through the community and the reserve. It’s not the final step, but it’s a step in the right direction. A study still needs to take place before all parties can sign off, but it’s forward progress nevertheless.

The News reported that if an agreement had not been reached, the economic impact to the region would cause a reduction in agriculture of more than $300 million a year. The ripple effect would have been enormous.

“We want to make sure we are not just regulating,” Moran said. “The ability of farmers in central Kansas to make a living determines the future of the communities in central Kansas. This isn’t only about farmers and ranchers; it is about the future of rural communities.”

We agree, Senator. Thank you for stepping in with Director Skipwith to help make this happen.

It appears that your work has created a workable solution for all stakeholders involved. That’s a very neighborly solution. A very Kansas solution.

Keep working to mend those fences neighbors.

Kansas City Star, Aug. 3

The Johnson County Election Commissioner has reassured county commissioners and residents that voting places will be fully prepared Tuesday for the primary election amid the still raging COVID-19 pandemic.

The question is, are voters themselves ready? As in, will they wear masks?

Unfortunately, masks can’t be made mandatory to vote under current state law, according to Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab. In fact, he cautions in a memo to county election officials that “voter intimidation or suppression based on the use or non-use of a face mask will not be tolerated and is subject to litigation.”

So be it. But we simply cannot let our No. 1 civic duty trample on our greatest moral obligation — to the health and well-being of ourselves and others. Just Sunday, the Kansas City area added 245 new coronavirus cases, for a total of 20,157. And Johnson County health director Sanmi Areola has warned it may not even be safe to reopen schools after Labor Day.

So please vote Tuesday if you haven’t already, but please wear a mask to do it.

Without our cooperation, even the full weight and power of government can only do so much to make voting safe — despite what appear to be officials’ colossal efforts.

“I want to assure you, we are ready for next Tuesday, and we are geared up for it,” Election Commissioner Connie Schmidt told Johnson County commissioners Thursday.

In a detailed overview of preparations her office and volunteers have undertaken, Schmidt said voters will be socially distanced and provided with pens and stylus pens only they will use, and which they may take home with them if they like.

“We’re calling it touchless voting, and it’s a touchless environment to protect the voters and all of our poll workers,” she said.

In addition, polling places across the state have been outfitted with sneeze screens for poll workers, as well as kits that include masks, gloves, hand and surface sanitizers, and paper towels. Extra masks will be available for voters who request them.

But all the preparations in the world won’t keep everyone safe unless voters pitch in and voluntarily wear masks.

Our intrepid, patriotic poll workers deserve no less — especially since many of them are in high-risk categories when it comes to the novel coronavirus. While the 833 poll workers who will be stationed among Johnson County’s 167 polling places Tuesday range in age from 16 to 90, more 70% are older than 60.

They will assemble to record our votes in a most important election after tedious training sessions in socially distanced groups of 20 at a time. And they will quite literally be risking their lives to keep our republic functioning as it should.

Is wearing a mask really that much to ask of us in return?

Of course not.

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking the danger isn’t real. The Jackson County, Kansas, county clerk/elections officer and one of her employees have already tested positive for COVID-19.

As you might expect, mail balloting has set records this year. Schmidt reported that as of mid-week, Johnson County had sent out 106,150 mail ballots — a full 34% of the 312,515 mail ballots sent out statewide. Nearly 10,000 others in the county went to early-voting polling locations.

But if you’re one of those headed to the polls on Tuesday, please consider all that government officials and your fellow citizens working the polls have done to make it safe, and join in the effort.

Wear a mask.