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Noonletter, Oct. 31, 2018

Crysta Henthorne
Kansas News Service

Of Trump, bomb plots and Twinkies

Lawyers for one of the men convicted of a Kansas terror plot are essentially arguing: the president made me do it. And that their client should get less time in prison because President Donald Trump’s rhetoric inspired a plan to set off explosives at an apartment complex in Garden City where Muslim immigrants live.

Prosecutors say, um, no. That Patrick Stein deserves life in prison for his role in the attack.

Still, Stein’s attorneys contend that strident anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim talk from the president should be a mitigating factor.

Frank Morris ran that argument by University of Kansas political scientist Don Haider-Markell. He said it sounded like the so-called Twinkie defense. That term sprang from the light sentence given to Dan White, a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, after White assassinated Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor (and gay-rights pioneer) Harvey Milk in the late 1970s. In fact, White never blamed a junk food habit for his behavior, but "Twinkie defense" has become shorthand for blaming your crime on some outside factors.

“I’d expect more of it,” Haider-Markell said, after the killings at a Pittsburgh synagogue last week or pipe bombs sent to high-profile Democrats. And the term Twinkie defense might make way for the Trump defense.

Stein and his two comrades in terror are scheduled to be sentenced in mid-November.

Abandoning ship

Early in Greg Orman's campaign, according to the man who was treasurer until this week, the independent candidate for governor told his staff that he’d drop out of the race on Oct. 6 if he saw no plausible path to victory.

That one-month-before-Election-Day date came and went. Orman’s poll numbers don’t hint at much chance of winning. He usually draws 9 to 10 percent in polls, while Republican Kris Kobach and Democrat Laura Kelly appear locked in the low 40s.

On Tuesday,  former state senator and moderate Republican Tim Owens quit that treasurer’s job after the campaign filed its latest fundraising report. He endorsed Kelly and told Jim McLean that he thinks Orman might take enough votes to swing the election to Kobach.

“I hate doing this to anybody that’s a friend. But Laura’s the one who can win,” Owens said. “She’s a good candidate for governor and she’ll do a good job.”

Owens was one of several moderate Republican senators who lost re-election in 2012, taken down by then-Gov. Sam Brownback and groups who wanted to clear away opposition to his tax cuts.

Oh, we’re watching

The website Ballotpedia is calling the Kansas governor’s race one of its “Top 15 elections to watch” this year. It says Orman is more likely to pull votes from Kelly than from Kobach.

Office for sale

The last of the pre-election campaign fundraising reports are in. Again, it helps to be rich, know rich people or pick one as your running mate.

Laura Kelly brought in the most cash, about $2.3 million in the last three months. It came from the usual suspects for a Democratic candidate — individual donors, unions and health care groups.

Kobach raised about $1 million less. While he, too, turned to his party’s reliable sources — groups supporting gun rights, tougher immigration laws and abortion prohibitions — the biggest chunk came from running mate Wink Hartman.

Hartman poured $621,000 into the campaign on Oct. 25 (and yet Kobach ended the period with just $61,000 on hand). Throughout the campaign, Hartman has loaned $2 million to the Kobach cause.

Here’s more from Stephen Koranda.

Poll watching

The U.S. Attorney for Kansas is sending at least one representative as an election observer in Dodge City. That's the latest sign that outsiders are worried about the effect of the community having just one polling place on the outskirts of town.

The American Civil Liberties Union has asked a federal judge for a temporary restraining order to force the opening of a second voting location. Ford County officials say that’s unnecessary and logistically impossible at this late date. A court hearing is set for Thursday in Topeka.

‘Bout time

One of the hottest U.S. House races in the country is happening in the Kansas City suburbs. A Republican incumbent, Kevin Yoder, has been trailing in polls to a political newcomer, Sharice Davids.

But campaign gamesmanship blocked a debate, or even a meeting, between the two until Tuesday.

They split on Trump, on health care, on immigration and whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is a force for bad or ill.

Andrea Tudhopebreaks down the showdown.

Pick ’em

The race to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins is a known versus an unknown.

Paul Davis has a long history as a state lawmaker and attorney in the area. He’s a Democrat, which doesn’t help much in any Kansas congressional district. But when he ran, and lost, for governor in 2014, he at least won within the confines of the 2nd Congressional District that covers most of the eastern third of the state.

Steve Watkins is brand new to politics, a West Point graduate and combat veteran. He’s also a guy who’s touted impressive business and humanitarian records, and then seen reporters dismantle that narrative.

The folks in eastern Kansas seem split on the choice. Polls consistently show the race tight and political forecasters across the board see it as a toss-up. Jim McLean looks at the candidates and the dynamics of their race here.

Shoot ’em up

All shooting ranges, it turns out, are not created equal.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism has shut down the Don Brown Memorial Shooting Range at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge near McPherson.

The agency said people have used automatic weapons and targets that explode, both of which are not allowed. And people have been shooting at night in a range that isn’t entirely surrounded by earthen berms, posing the possibility of stray rounds fired beyond the range.

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 to ksnewsservice.org.

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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