Lawrence Journal-World. May 1, 2021.

Editorial: State’s slow population growth sparks familiar question of “What’s the matter with Kansas?”

In 1896, Emporia Gazette Editor William Allen White famously asked in an editorial “What’s the matter with Kansas?” Surely, one of the answers today is that not enough people want to live here.

Kansas recently received its once-per-decade population figures from the U.S. Census. From 2010 to 2020, Kansas grew by 2.9%, its worst population growth rate since the Great Depression.

The U.S. as a whole also grew more slowly than normal, as the decade featured both the Great Recession and a pandemic. But a slow growth rate for the U.S. amounted to a 7.4% population increase for the decade. Kansas rarely ever grows as quickly as the nation as a whole, but usually we aren’t this much of a laggard. In the preceding decade, the U.S. grew by 9.7%, while Kansas grew by 6.1%. Respectable. This last decade? Concerning.

Kansas doesn’t need more people for the sake of more people. It needs more people because the cost of government gets too expensive if we can’t spread it around, and America’s system of power is partially based on population. Power continues to migrate to the coasts, places with mountains or abundant sunshine. We can lament our lack of such attributes, but nobody will care or hear because we’ll have such a weak voice. We are getting weaker even among central states. In the group of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Colorado, our population growth rate was the slowest this decade — save for Missouri.

Never has there been a more hollow victory chant than: “At least we’re better than Missouri.”

But enough with the hand-wringing. What can we do? Much, and new ideas for growth deserve much more conversation than they are getting today. But here are three basic ideas:

• Embrace the wind. This should be a no-brainer for the state. We need to go all-in on renewable energy production. The state is windy. The country is highly interested in renewable energy. Royalty payments from wind turbines will be a direct cash infusion into the pocketbooks of rural landowners who live in some of our smallest and most vulnerable communities. We need to get over our silly political divisions on renewable energy. If hot air from politicians could produce energy, Kansas could use that as a resource. But it doesn’t, so get on board with the green energy movement. The energy industry already has decided that’s the future.

• Make government more efficient. Kansas probably ought to have 105 school district superintendents — one for each county — rather than the several hundred it has today. Keep the schools in small communities as long as you can, but narrow down the administrators. There are efficiencies of scale to be found in many aspects of government administration. As this page has noted before, Lawrence and Douglas County have low-hanging fruit when it comes to streamlining back office functions. A low-population, slow-growth state must be efficient to be attractive. We can do more on that front.

• Use the magnet of higher education. People often stay where they go to college. Get more of them to come to school here. Sometimes the simplest strategies are the best. The three communities with research universities — Lawrence, Manhattan, and Wichita — have a big role to play. Local governments in each of those communities should dedicate at least $1 million a year in funding to start-up and venture capital money for businesses that come out of their universities. We create a lot of narratives to tell the value of higher education. It would be easier if we pointed to more signs of more businesses that got their start in a Kansas university community.

Then the state needs to do its part by devoting tens of millions of dollars each year to funding out-of state scholarships. Some Kansas residents will complain that it is their tax dollars, so if anyone should be getting a scholarship, it should be them. Understandable. It will take a talented politician to help the masses understand that spending money on people outside the state is our best strategy to ultimately helping those of us in the state. But it is a case that needs to be made.

We can’t afford to become nativists. If we don’t understand that, then we’ve found the answer to that age-old question of “What’s the matter with Kansas?”

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Topeka Capital-Journal. April, 30, 2021.

Editorial: Kansas should consider cash incentive to convince more people to get COVID-19 vaccine

Here’s the deal, Kansas: More of you need to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to the latest data from the Bloomberg tracking website, 42.3% of Kansans have received at least one dose of the vaccine. A bit less than one-third of the state’s population — 31% — is fully vaccinated.

That’s not enough.

To truly eradicate COVID-19, to make it a distant memory, we need herd immunity. That means that enough people are resistant to the virus, either through vaccination or previous illness, that it can’t spread easily. Think about diseases like measles or polio, which have been all but eliminated through just this method.

But to achieve herd immunity in this case takes commitment and dedication from everyone. Some researchers estimate that up to 80% or more of the population will need to be vaccinated to reach that point.

And we’re not there yet.

Let’s state a few facts for all of those who may be reading this who aren’t already vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. They will prevent you from becoming ill in the vast majority of cases. While a tiny percentage of those receiving the vaccine could contract the virus, their symptoms will likely be mild. This is a big deal.

Secondly, there are vaccines available. The country as a whole has reached a tipping point, with more vaccine supply than demand. If you’ve been putting off an appointment because you didn’t think you would qualify for a vaccine, don’t delay. The shots are out there.

Finally, the vaccines don’t just protect you from illness. Research shows they also block transmission to others, which means you’ll be helping your community. And by reducing the number of sick people, you will help prevent variants from developing or spreading.

But perhaps that’s not enough. Perhaps we need more.

West Virginia could offer a model. The state government there is offering young people — those between age 16 and 35 — a $100 savings bond. These folks, who are least likely to suffer severe COVID symptoms, are also less likely to be vaccinated.

A program like that might work in Kansas. Given the federal aid flowing into the state to battle the pandemic, we likely have the resources. And what could be better at ending the pandemic than simply having the most people vaccinated as possible?

We’ve come a long way in the past year. But we have a ways to go. Keep taking precautions, and get your shot as soon as possible.

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Kansas City Star. May 2, 2021.

Editorial: KS lawmaker ranting about suicide needs an intervention, before this ends in tragedy

We urgently need a team trained in crisis intervention — unarmed, please — at the Kansas State Capitol on Monday. Because Rep. Mark Samsel, who was charged with battery after allegedly behaving abusively and raving nonsensically about God, Satan, lesbians and suicide in a Wellsville classroom last week, is melting down in plain sight.

This is neither funny nor in any way political. So yes, Samsel has got to resign, both as a GOP lawmaker and a substitute teacher. But instead of focusing on the partisan or even legal implications right now, what this man needs is medical care, stat.

Democratic Sen. Cindy Holscher, who served with Samsel in the House, said, “the things he’s been saying and doing are not representative of him,” a moderate Republican and even-tempered guy. “This is a break from reality, and I hope he’s getting help.”

After she texted him to that effect, she said, he answered her by saying news accounts were untrue. “He said, ‘The truth will come out soon,’ and then a cross emoji.”

After the story of his scary, unwell rant made news in The Star and then nationally, Samsel said that this was a planned stunt that most of the students were in on. No and no. It was supposed to send a message, though no one knew what message that might be.

Now Samsel has posted a complete ramble on Facebook in response to the story about it in the Anderson County Review, a weekly newspaper run by the local GOP chairman. A chairman who himself made international news last summer when he posted a cartoon on the paper’s Facebook page likening Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s order requiring people to wear masks in public to the roundup and murder of millions of Jews during the Holocaust.

Here’s just a sliver of Samsel’s latest post: “WAKE UP, FOLKS! How can I make it any more clear? Do you know how THE DEVIL does his bidding? NOT HORNS.

“HATE. In a suit. Using deceit, lies, blasphemy. YOU KNOW, THE ANDERSON COUNTY REVIEW. Opinion section. Then disguises it by using YOUR children, God’s children, to create a truly beautiful sports, FFA, band, etc. section. Using OUR kids to spread hate and fear and division. Yes, I AM angry. Enough is enough…

“Ask THE KIDS. The TEACHERS. The COACHES. THEY KNOW. Who bought them pizza, hamburgers, cookies? YOU already KNOW. Then who gets crucified by the EXTREME RIGHT saying ungodly things about me and attacking my motives. WWJD much? Two-faced much?”

As in class, he went on and on from there. But we should not go on and on, pretending that this is just another felonious bigmouth who doesn’t deserve to serve.

He is the third Kansas lawmaker that we know of who ought to have gotten serious help this year.

Samsel’s fellow Republican, former Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop, is still serving in Topeka, after being charged with DUI and driving 90 mph the wrong way on Interstate 70. Barely able to stand when he was finally stopped, according to court documents, he blew more than twice the legal limit, called the arresting officer “donut boy” and bragged that as a former high school athlete, he could “take” the officer in a fight.

Yet even after his arrest, he was still acting as majority leader behind the scenes. His friends and allies mentioned thoughts and prayers instead of treatment and more treatment. It was only after the “donut boy” comment came out that he was removed from leadership.

Then there’s freshman Democratic Kansas Rep. Aaron Coleman of Kansas City, Kansas, whose acknowledged recent history of intimate partner violence should also have led to both legal consequences and a therapeutic intervention.

Instead, he got neither. He was elected anyway, and since his November election tweeted about a “hit” on his fellow Democrat, Gov. Kelly. Republican Rep. John Barker, who chaired the House committee investigating Coleman, declined to let even one of Coleman’s victims testify at the mini-hearing on this matter. Barker said the committee shouldn’t look at any behavior before Coleman or any other member was in office, though it doesn’t have to be that way.

House Democrats wanted it spelled out in the letter of reprimand Coleman got that he had to get some counseling, but even that was dropped from the weak final product.

Each of these cases could have led to loss of life, and still could, frankly. It’s time for leaders in the Kansas statehouse to recognize reality, and address it far more bravely than they have so far.

END