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Noonletter: Sept. 27, 2018

Crysta Henthorne
Kansas News Service

Who built it?

Steve Watkins emerged on the Kansas political scene this year as a relative unknown, but with a resume that political consultants could work with. West Point. Army Ranger. Combat patrols on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Mountain climber. Degrees from MIT and Harvard. Started his own business and grew it to nearly 500 employees.

Um, on that last bit, The Kansas City Star’s Washington bureau did some reporting and concluded: GOP candidate Watkins told voters he owned a company he built from scratch. He didn’t.

Watkins already faced a tough task trying to keep the congressional seat Lynn Jenkins is stepping away from in Republican hands. Polls suggested it was a toss-up between him and Democrat Paul Davis. (It didn’t help that the GOP establishment had rallied against Watkins in the primary.)

Given that Watkins is a newcomer, voters’ impressions of him likely remain fairly plastic. News that he’s, well, stretched the truth about his business bona fides can’t help.

“Everyone’s learning on the fly with Steve Watkins,” Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty told Nomin Ujiyediin. “I would argue it puts more of an intense spotlight on the info he does say about himself.”

Deuling dirt

Meantime, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s super PAC has let loose another campaign commercial going after Davis for clients he’s represented as an attorney. It brings up again his presence at a strip club he was lawyering for when the place was the target of a police drug raid in the 1990s. The word “sleazy” gets repeated a fair amount.

The Davis campaign responds with its own spot, touting votes his votes in the Kansas House to restrict “adult” businesses and an endorsement from a police union. It says Watkins’ own fellow Republicans have called their party’s candidate a liar.

A combined minute of mud below:

No do-overs

Nancy Kassebaum was one of just two women in the U.S. Senate 27 years ago when law professor Anita Hill leveled sexual harassment charges against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kassebaum’s vote ultimately helped put Thomas on the high court for life. She was swayed at the time, she says, by Episcopal priest and then-senator Jack Danforth’s endorsement of Thomas.

Looking at allegations against Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and the mounting charges of mostly long-ago sexual mistreatment of women, she said the Senate needs to take whatever time is necessary to get at the truth.

“If it is true – and he has vehemently denied it,” she told Jim McLean, “then I think that is a problem.”

Bad Beef

First, the USDA launched a recall of tons of ground beef from the Cargill Meat Solutions plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado, not far from the Kansas border. Now it’s telling us what chains carried the hamburger.

High Plains Public Radio’s Angie Haflich tells us the meat was shipped to Target, Safeway, Albertson’s and Meijer’s stores nationwide, and to Aldi stores in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

Maybe don’t spend it on burger meat

The Bureau of Economic Analysis says we’re, collectively, making more dough. Personal income was growing a little faster earlier in the year, but in the second quarter personal income still grew 4.2 percent. In Kansas, things are a tad better, growing 4.7 percent.

Campus whiteout

A fresh report suggests public colleges in Kansas aren’t doing enough to draw black students to their campuses or to graduate those who enroll.

They’re far less likely to finish college than other students in Kansas, says a University of Southern California study that looked at the phenomenon nationally.

“We caution college and university leaders to not pass the buck,” USC professor Shaun Harper told Celia Llopis-Jepsen. “There are things that happen on college campuses that also help explain the status and condition of black students.”

About 3 percent of students at Kansas State are black. It’s 4 percent at the University of Kansas. The state’s college-age population is 7 percent black.

The times they are a changin'

So here comes a congressional candidate (underdog, yes, but not from the fringe) in conservative Kansas pushing to legalize cannabis. Democrat James Thompson is running against incumbent Ron Estes in the Wichita-centered 4th Congressional District.

Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @ScottCanon.

 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post. 

As the editor of a statewide news outlet, I aspire to work with our reporters to give Kansans a clear-eyed view of the place they call home. That means delivering hard-hitting stories that expose those things that keep Kansas from being the most vibrant, healthy place it can be. You can reach me at scott@kcur.org or 816-235-8023.
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