Recent Kansas editorials

The Kansas City Star, May 21

The grandiosity of the gaudy, taxpayer-funded, rolodex-building “Madison Dinners” that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan have been throwing at the State Department hideously profanes “Publius,” the name under which James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay authored the Federalist Papers.

Madison, as you may not have been reminded recently, served as both secretary of state and president, hint hint. And somehow, Pompeo’s neo-royalist soirees, complete with a harpist and Champagne cocktails, are supposed to be in the tradition of James and Dolley Madison.

Only, Madison would not approve. They’re not in the tradition of the Hatch Act, either, and seem to be building a donor base for Pompeo for President in 2024, with detailed contact information being sent to his wife’s private gmail account.

Even in a town built on a swamp, this is one bold hustle by the former congressman from Wichita, who is still regarded as an automatic frontrunner if he decided to make a late jump — yes, even if pushed — into this year’s U.S. Senate race in Kansas. Do we really have no standards?

These “Madison Dinners” are just the sort of gross exploitation of both the public trust and the public purse that Madison and his friends, who knew a lot about human nature, worked so hard to get out ahead of with checks and balances and more checks and balances.

“Madison certainly paid his own entertainment expenses,” his biographer Kevin Gutzman told NBC News, which broke the story.

In any other administration, Pompeo would be gone already, and not to run for office back home, either. But if he settles for a U.S. Senate campaign here, will he even be seen as damaged goods?

The unblinking chutzpah of using a fund set aside for “confidential requirements in the conduct of foreign affairs as well as other authorized activities that further the realization of U.S. foreign policy objectives,” to catapult Pompeo into a job better suited to his ego is unlikely to have offended his boss. President Donald Trump doesn’t seem to have known about the dinners.

He would fire his favorite cabinet secretary anyway, of course, if Pompeo became a liability. (Remember when Trump called luxury travel-loving, $43,000 soundproof phone booth-building EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who had his security detail run the sirens to get him to his favorite French restaurant faster, to say not to worry about all those silly scandals and to hold his head up because he had his back? Pruitt does.)

For now, though, after months in which the only story in the country has been this administration’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, maybe some old-fashioned corruption scandals involving somebody, anybody else, aren’t so disagreeable to the president.

And if, at some point in the next 10 days before the filing deadline, Pompeo suddenly discovers that his heart really is in this Kansas Senate race, we’re sorry to say that in a time of such severe scandal deflation, voters might not find Pompeo’s behavior disqualifying, either.

According to NBC, just 14% of those invited to the dinners were diplomats or foreign officials, while “every single member of the House or the Senate who has been invited is a Republican.” So why would anyone think this was partisan and thus inappropriate?

After news of these “intimate evenings” broke, a State Department spokesperson said they’re “a world-class opportunity to discuss the mission of the State Department and the complex foreign policy matters facing our exceptional nation.”

Nothing against Reba McEntire or Dale Earnhardt Jr. or anti-abortion lobbyists or Fox news anchors, but it’s a lot harder to see what they have to do with foreign policy than how they could help fund and admiringly narrate a future campaign.

Pompeo is not embarrassed, even if these events weren’t on his official schedule, and he has no intention of missing out on this world-class opportunity in the future, either: “The secretary looks forward to continuing these Madison Dinners as they are an important component of the execution of his duties as secretary of state.”

That’s not the only ethics issue for the former West Point valedictorian, who is so loathed inside the State Department because he doesn’t much value what diplomats do, that the leaks about his lapses should come as no surprise.

Both Pompeo and Trump have said that the president fired State Department inspector general Steve Linick last Friday night because Pompeo asked him to.

Trump said he has no idea why Pompeo wanted Linick gone, and didn’t ask. Pompeo said he doesn’t need to tell us why, which is his attitude about everything. But he will say, and did, that he “frankly should have done it some time ago.”

We do know now that Linick was investigating Pompeo’s decision to go around Congress to expedite arms sales to Saudi Arabia. And he was looking into whether Pompeo makes longtime political aide Toni Porter run personal errands and walk his dog. She is also the chief liaison between Pompeo’s office and the Office of the Chief of Protocol, which runs the Madison Dinners. We don’t know how seriously Linick was looking into those.

But Pompeo’s office was reportedly notified when Linick contacted the protocol office last week with some kind of query. And then, before you could say “above the law,” the inspector general was fired.

At a brief news conference on Wednesday, Pompeo said he couldn’t have fired the inspector general in retaliation for investigations he knew nothing about, though he also said he did answer questions from Linick’s office on at least one occasion.

“I have no sense of what investigations were taking place inside the inspector general’s office. Couldn’t have possibly retaliated for all the things — I’ve seen the various stories, that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner.”

Funny, but not funny.

When Madison wrote, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” he meant that the competing interests of the three branches of governments and of the officials in them would help keep all of them under control. At the moment, though, it looks like he might have been overly optimistic.

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The Topeka Capital-Journal, May 23

As we move into Phase 2 of Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan to reopen Kansas we’re cautiously optimistic about the future. Emphasis on the word cautious.

Even Kelly seems to agree.

“I would like to be clear — moving forward in Kansas’ reopening plan does not mean that COVID-19 no longer threatens our communities,” she said in a public statement about the move to Phase 2. “Modifying Phase 2 to keep some restrictions allows us to reopen Kansas’ economy as quickly and safely as possible, while exercising necessary caution to keep Kansans healthy.”

Kelly has publicly stated that her decisions to reopen Kansas and when to move onto the next phase are based on data and we have no reason to dispute that.

Even though more businesses and services are opening up, that does not mean we can be lax in our precautions to keep ourselves and others safe. Simple things like wearing a mask in public, staying home when you don’t need to be out, when leaving practicing social distancing and washing your hands often will still be critical as we battle the coronavirus.

These things might not have been what you hoped for this summer, but it’s critical that we continue to stay the course to have a shorter long-term quarantine. If we are careful the changes are higher this will end sooner.

We understand the longing to return to normalcy. So many of us had plans we’ve had to place on hold. COVID-19 has upended so many facets of life leaving us with great uncertainty and likely stress from unexpected and rapid change. It’s perfectly OK and normal to mourn those losses.

Additionally, many of us thought that return might be faster, but that isn’t the reality we face. Rushing to reopen the state could lead to a second wave of this virus and no one wants that. At this juncture, it is still very important that we listen to what our health professionals have to say and heed their warnings. But the reality is simple COVID-19 won’t go away overnight. No amount of wishing will make that so. As a result, our resolve must be steady ahead.

Use caution when you venture out. Stay home if you can. The temptation to be more easygoing will only grow as time goes on and the summer takes off. We understand this level of scrutiny might seem exhausting, but remember how important it is in the long run. So start conditioning yourself as we enter into Phase 2 now so that we don’t have to return to Phase 1. At the same time please extend yourself some grace. It will keep your spirits up.

You can do that by paying attention to what local and state officials are saying. Each county and municipality will have specific guidelines to follow as each community has different needs associated with the risk and spread of the virus. If you’re unsure about how to proceed ask questions.

We can do this, Kansas. Together, by staying cautious, we can help slow the spread.

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By The Editorial Advisory Board

Posted May 23, 2020 at 3:01 PM

As we move into Phase 2 of Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan to reopen Kansas we’re cautiously optimistic about the future. Emphasis on the word cautious.

Even Kelly seems to agree.

“I would like to be clear — moving forward in Kansas’ reopening plan does not mean that COVID-19 no longer threatens our communities,” she said in a public statement about the move to Phase 2. “Modifying Phase 2 to keep some restrictions allows us to reopen Kansas’ economy as quickly and safely as possible, while exercising necessary caution to keep Kansans healthy.”

Kelly has publicly stated that her decisions to reopen Kansas and when to move onto the next phase are based on data and we have no reason to dispute that.

Even though more businesses and services are opening up, that does not mean we can be lax in our precautions to keep ourselves and others safe. Simple things like wearing a mask in public, staying home when you don’t need to be out, when leaving practicing social distancing and washing your hands often will still be critical as we battle the coronavirus.

These things might not have been what you hoped for this summer, but it’s critical that we continue to stay the course to have a shorter long-term quarantine. If we are careful the changes are higher this will end sooner.

We understand the longing to return to normalcy. So many of us had plans we’ve had to place on hold. COVID-19 has upended so many facets of life leaving us with great uncertainty and likely stress from unexpected and rapid change. It’s perfectly OK and normal to mourn those losses.

Additionally, many of us thought that return might be faster, but that isn’t the reality we face. Rushing to reopen the state could lead to a second wave of this virus and no one wants that. At this juncture, it is still very important that we listen to what our health professionals have to say and heed their warnings. But the reality is simple COVID-19 won’t go away overnight. No amount of wishing will make that so. As a result, our resolve must be steady ahead.

Use caution when you venture out. Stay home if you can. The temptation to be more easygoing will only grow as time goes on and the summer takes off. We understand this level of scrutiny might seem exhausting, but remember how important it is in the long run. So start conditioning yourself as we enter into Phase 2 now so that we don’t have to return to Phase 1. At the same time please extend yourself some grace. It will keep your spirits up.

You can do that by paying attention to what local and state officials are saying. Each county and municipality will have specific guidelines to follow as each community has different needs associated with the risk and spread of the virus. If you’re unsure about how to proceed ask questions.

We can do this, Kansas. Together, by staying cautious, we can help slow the spread.

————-

The Manhattan Mercury, May 19

The departure of Tom Phillips from the state legislature is a loss for Kansas, and a loss for Manhattan. At least as importantly, it’s a loss for the cause of moderation and compromise.

Mr. Phillips, who has served as the state representative from the west side of Manhattan for more than four terms, announced Tuesday that he’s not going to run for office this fall. In doing so, he told The Mercury: “As a moderate Republican, the political middle ground is shrinking, both at the state and national level,” he said. “It’s just becoming more and more difficult to be successful in the middle space of our political arena, and that’s where I operate.”

That’s sadly true, and the departure of Mr. Phillips from the office makes the middle ground even more tenuous. We certainly hope Republicans and Democrats can nominate candidates who could stand there going forward.

Mr. Phillips served first on the Manhattan planning board, and then the City Commission, in non-partisan positions that introduced him to local politics. That’s a good starting point, in the sense that the job is really about making nuts-and-bolts decisions about things that affect people’s day-to-day lives. You have to read the background material, and you have to listen to people, and the answers are not dictated by some political action committee.

Well, that’s not entirely true. All decisions are political decisions. Always.

But they are not necessarily partisan issues. They don’t divide along lines pre-determined in Washington, depending on whether they benefit the current occupant of the White House or not.

The thing is, the state Legislature has unfortunately increasingly cleaved along party lines, and it’s tough to fit into that template if what you really care about is solving problems and adhering to common sense. It’s not that it’s impossible -- it’s that it’s increasingly difficult.

We salute Mr. Phillips for his time in office trying to take a common-sense approach. We all owe him a debt of gratitude. Hopefully, his successor -- whichever party that person comes from -- will follow a similar path. Kansas will be better off if that’s the case.