I spent two weeks blissfully unaware of Kansas politics. But I’m back and testier than ever.

August 7, 2023 3:33 am

The Kansas Statehouse stands behind a statue of President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 9, 2023. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

After two weeks away from the delight and despondency of Kansas politics, I have returned somewhat better rested and with tales aplenty from my vacation.

But I’m saving those for later. Today, I want to catch up with seven piping hot takes inspired by stories Kansas Reflector published in recent days. Let’s just see if I remember how to work this computer keyboard.

Fair warning: I’m feeling especially feisty.

Medicaid mayhem

Kansas official points to mistakes, improvements in processing Medicaid eligibility renewals (Aug. 4)

TOPEKA — Lengthy delays in mail delivery, unprecedented call center volume and a surge in unsigned applications contributed to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s tribulations in processing Medicaid renewal applications that led to suspension of benefits on procedural grounds for more than 60,000 Kansans.

I first wrote about the Medicaid unwinding process in early July, when I called it a staggering dereliction of duty on the part of state health officials.

Senior reporter Tim Carpenter’s story suggests that while improvements have been made, the situation continues to be a mess. Mail delays meant families couldn’t fill out their forms on time. Call center staffing meant pleas for help went unanswered. Computer system shortcomings meant detailed data couldn’t be produced. Meanwhile, Carpenter reported, “children made up two-thirds of Kansans declared ineligible for KanCare due to procedural issues with applications, including missed deadlines and missing signatures.”

Kansans shouldn’t accept such outrageous outcomes from the legislative or executive branches. If the state Medicaid program served the business community, for example, or prosperous middle-class families, the outrage would echo across the Flint Hills. Instead, it serves Kansans without financial resources. That means recipients simply have to put up with neglect from the officials meant to help them.

Christine Osterlund, deputy chief of operations for Kansas' Medicaid program, joined U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids and Gov. Laura Kelly at a news conference to raise awareness about a challenging application process for thousands of Kansans who might lose KanCare coverage. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Christine Osterlund, deputy chief of operations for Kansas’ Medicaid program, joined U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids and Gov. Laura Kelly at a news conference to raise awareness about a challenging application process for thousands of Kansans who might lose KanCare coverage. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)


COVID-19 concerns

Hospitalizations in Kansas and nationwide signal ‘summer surge’ of COVID-19 (Aug. 4)

TOPEKA — A national summer uptick in COVID-19 cases has arrived, but Kansas physicians are still waiting to see if cases in the state follow national trends.

I’ve spent the past couple of months toying with a column about whatever stage of the pandemic we’re all going through now. Yes, the worst appears to have passed, and yes, vaccines have blunted many of the worst outcomes for those infected by COVID-19. But many in both Kansas and the United States still fall ill and die from the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hundreds still die from COVID each week, and as recently as February, thousands were dying each week.

On the other hand, as reporter Rachel Mipro wrote: “New Kansas COVID-19 cases haven’t been widely documented since the end of the federal COVID-19 emergency declaration in May, when the state stopped updating statistics.” Nothing like navigating through uncertain waters without a map.

Nurses draw vaccine doses from a vial as Maryland residents receive their second dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine March 25, 2021, at the Cameron Grove Community Center in Bowie, Maryland. The vaccinations were provided by Prince George's County's Mobile Units as vaccinations in Maryland are now over the 20% threshold. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Nurses draw vaccine doses from a vial as Maryland residents receive their second dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine March 25, 2021, in Bowie, Maryland. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)


‘Tyranny’ twaddle

Kobach alleges ‘wobbly’ claims by rivals in Kansas birth certificate fight an invitation to tyranny (Aug. 3)

TOPEKA — Attorney General Kris Kobach asserted in a new legal filing that a federal district court order issued in wake of a 2018 lawsuit brought by transgender Kansans didn’t render unconstitutional a new Kansas law requiring birth certificates to reflect a person’s gender at birth.

Kobach desperately wants to be seen as a hero in the battle over rights for transgender people in Kansas. Unfortunately, that involves arguing that the state has every right to discriminate against them. In a legal filing, the attorney general wrote that continuing efforts to protect the rights of trans folks to change the gender on their birth certificates was “explicitly anti-democratic.” He argued later that was “an invitation to tyranny.”

As they say in the South, bless his heart. If your pursuit of power requires harming those who are different than you, perhaps the pursuit isn’t worth it. All the overheated rhetoric in the world doesn’t obscure the fact that Kobach has deployed the awesome weight of Kansas government against a measly 0.56% of its population. A less Christian, caring response could hardly be imagined.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach said in a new federal court filing that a 2019 consent decree didn’t hold it was unconstitutional for the Kansas Legislature to require issuance of birth certificates displaying a person’s sex as male or female at birth. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)


Abortion fallout

Kansas birth rate hits all-time low as women contemplate health and finances (Aug. 3)

TOPEKA — Kansas documented the state’s lowest-ever recorded birth rate for the 2022 year, according to a preliminary report.

Mipro’s story identifies several possible reasons why fewer women in Kansas have decided to have children. I have to wonder, though, if the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade also played a role. Yes, an overwhelming majority of Kansans support the right to choose. But what must it feel like to know that such basic human rights depended on a popular vote?

A fetus, incidentally, is not a baby. Abortions are a safe and essential medical procedure. Religious fanaticism shouldn’t dictate public policy, and Kansas legislators should be ashamed of passing even more limitations on women’s bodily autonomy this past session.

Fewer women than ever in Kansas are becoming mothers, according to new information from the state. (Getty Images)


Rural realization

Rural Kansas school district spared in lopsided vote (Aug. 2)

TOPEKA — Residents of a rural central Kansas school district overwhelmingly voted to keep their district intact, defeating an attempt to dissolve the district in anger over a school closure.

You know what more and more folks have come to understand? Burning down civic institutions because you disagree with their actions harms everyone over the long term. Sure, closing the Wilson High School caused problems. Small towns across Kansas have grappled with such consolidation for decades. Blowing up the system, however, doesn’t actually solve any problems. It creates a momentary release of tension, and then everyone has to figure out what happens next.

I’ve written about the struggles of small Kansas communities to survive and thrive in the face of overwhelming odds. Success requires collaboration and positive thinking, not division and acrimony.

Voters in the USD 112 school district are keeping the district together, following months of campaigns. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
Voters in the USD 112 school district are keeping the district together, following months of campaigns. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)


‘Two-step’ gobbledygook

New KHP leader eager to rectify troopers’ flaws, rejects claim agency at ‘war’ with drivers (July 28)

TOPEKA — The new commander of the Kansas Highway Patrol vowed to amend traffic-stop techniques a U.S. District Court judge concluded unfairly took advantage of motorists’ lack of knowledge about constitutional rights, but the superintendent wasn’t eager to surrender law enforcement tools important to saving lives and interdicting criminals.

New Kansas Highway Patrol Commander Erik Smith laid on some dubious doublespeak in his recent interview with Carpenter. To summarize, the KHP was ordered to stop a blatantly unconstitutional tactic that harasses drivers. A federal court judge — not the sort to engage in hyperbole — said the agency “waged war on motorists” by following up routine stops with probing conversations that might lead to drug arrests.

Smith said that simply wasn’t true. He told Carpenter: “We need to use every tool in our tool belt to engage in criminal interdiction in a way that the public expects and that the courts can validate.”

As they say in the South, for the second time in one column, bless his heart. Unconstitutional traffic stops don’t count as a tool. They’re violations of motorists’ rights. A judge told them not to do it anymore, and their boss had better get the memo. Wearing a uniform doesn’t make you morally superior to anyone else.

Erik Smith, appointed superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol by Gov. Laura Kelly, said the law enforcement agency would adhere to a federal judge’s decisions to avoid constitutional problems with search-and-seizure techniques relied on by troopers in traffic stops. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)


DEI truth

Kansas school district fights ‘indoctrination’ rumors, continues DEI training (July 27)

OVERLAND PARK — Sitting on the curb outside of the Shawnee Mission North High School in May, surrounded by American flags, Debbie Detmer said she was inspired by the example of a district teacher to fight against the evils of DEI training.

Let’s be clear, folks, what opposition to diversity, equity and inclusion is about.

It’s about racism. If you’re willing to protest against people learning about differences between different communities and valuing one another, you’re racist. That’s it. You might not think so, but that doesn’t absolve you of guilt. Take a few minutes to learn about structural racism and legacies of unfairness that have scarred our country and state. Read about the Tulsa race massacre. Reflect on why you enjoyed the opportunities you did, and why your Black and brown neighbors didn’t.

At a May 10 protest in Shawnee of school district practices, anti-DEI signs line the curb. (Screen grab of Darrin Dressler video)
At a May 10 protest in Shawnee of school district practices, anti-DEI signs line the curb. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Darrin Dressler video)

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has written and edited for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, and cnn.com. Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.