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Noonletter: Sept. 28, 2018

Crysta Henthorne
Kansas News Service


On the eve of the Kansas Republican primary for governor, President Donald Trump tweeted his endorsement of Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Little more than a week later, when Kobach could finally claim victory, he stood at the foot of the state Capitol and promised to do for Topeka what Trump’s done for Washington. Trump, he promised, was coming to campaign for him.

This week, that campaign promise looks pretty strong.

The president’s planning a Topeka rally to plug the candidacies of Kobach and Steve Watkins, the Republican running for Congress in eastern Kansas. Tickets here for the Oct. 6 event at the Kansas Expocentre.

Kobach and Trump are particular allies on immigration issues, on a crusade of what they claim is widespread voter fraud, and on where they think those issues overlap. Kobach was a key adviser to the president on a since-abandoned commission that aimed to expose a national epidemic of voter cheats. (That idea has not held up well to scrutiny.)

Watkins used a “Good for Trump, Great for Kansas” mailer in a crowded Republican primary, despite any endorsement from the president at the time. A boost from Trump could come in handy now in the wake of reporting that his claims of building a robust business appear not to hold up.

Absent from the rally’s announcement was U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, the Republican in a tough fight to hold onto his Kansas City-area seat. Hillary Clinton beat Trump in that district two years ago — when Yoder was re-elected — and some of the ads aimed at defeating him suggestthe president is a drag for the incumbent.

Old people vote        

Yoder’s fight has him swinging back, accusing Democrat Sharice Davids of undermining Medicare. The spot below shows a man and woman of Medicare-eligible age talking about how they’ve paid into the system. Davids, they say, would “end Medicare as we know it.”

Davids has said the country should move toward some form of universal health insurance and that “‘Medicare for All’ is a goal and a good slogan. But ... we need immediate solutions for people who are suffering and unable to receive health care right now.”

So yes, making everyone eligible to buy into Medicare coverage would change it “as we know it.” But policy experts have serious disagreements about whether that would threaten the finances of the program or improve them.

(ad from Yoder campaign)

Where the sun don’t shine

As a condition for Westar Energy’s merger with Great Plains Energy, it agreed to keep headquarters jobs in Topeka for a few years and to agree to a moratorium on rate hikes. The Kansas Corporation Commission actually approved a rate cut Thursday based on efficiencies expected from the merger.

It also OK’d a change Westar wanted in how it deals with customers who have solar panels and sometimes feed energy back onto the grid. Madeline Fox reports that changes in the rules for those customers will likely mean higher power bills for most of them.

The solar industry fears the shift could change the economics enough to discourage people from outfitting their homes with renewable energy.

The utility has argued that the old way made ordinary customers pick up too much of the cost to keep the electrical grid working and waiting with power. It was a subsidy, Westar argued, of solar customers by everybody else.

New insurance exchange (pretty much) like the old insurance exchange

The Kansas exchange of insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, will include the same three companies that sold policies across the state last year.

And, like last year, people in every county will have at least two companies, and multiple brain-busting plans to pick from.

Open enrollment runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. Break out your spreadsheets.

Dan Margolies reports that about 3 percent of Kansans purchase individual plans through healthcare.gov. Just over 98,000 Kansans got coverage in 2018 through the exchange, about the same number as in 2017.

(Not) so much shakin’ goin’ on

Some Stanford scientists are now predicting a downturn in man-make earthquakes in Oklahoma and Kansas in the next few years.

They’ve been on the rise, in step with the growth of oil and gas drilling that involves disposal of wastewater in underground wells.

The study in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Communications says “if current injection practices continue, earthquake hazards are expected to decrease slowly.”

Reductions in the amount of water drillers can inject into the ground, the study suggests, should cut the probability of earthquakes hitting 5.0 on the Richter scale to drop by more than a third from 2018 to 2020.

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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