Jim McLean | KCUR

Jim McLean

Reporter and Editor, Kansas News Service

Jim McLean is an editor and reporter for KCUR 89.3. He is the managing director of KCUR's Kansas News Service, a collaboration between KCUR and other public media stations across Kansas. 

Jim was previously news director and Statehouse bureau chief for Kansas Public Radio and a managing editor for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He has received awards for journalistic excellence from the Kansas Press Association, Society of Professional Journalists and Kansas Association of Broadcasters.

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Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Set apart from its fast-food neighbors by a vintage neon sign that speaks of another era, the Hanover Pancake House sits a few short blocks from the Kansas Statehouse. It’s been a Capital mainstay for more than 50 years.

But today, like most dine-in restaurants across the state, it’s closed because of the coronavirus.

Those closures have thrown tens of thousands of Kansans out of work and deprived hundreds of thousands more the comfort of friends in familiar places.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Suddenly tossed from their jobs by the coronavirus shutdown, people from across the state continue to deluge the Kansas Department of Labor with a record flood of unemployment claims.

All that instant joblessness is greeted by one small bit of good news: Kansas appears to have squirreled enough money away to cover the surge in unemployment claims for nearly a year.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — A stay-at-home order for the entire state of Kansas will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday, March 30, Gov. Laura Kelly announced Saturday, making it one of at least 20 states to ask its residents to conduct only essential business. 

The executive order, which will last at least until April 19, is meant to slow the spread of coronavirus. Kansas has surpassed 250 cases of COVID-19 — including two military personnel, one from Fort Riley and one from Fort Leavenworth — and has five deaths. 

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

The coronavirus continues to spread in Kansas. The result of emergency orders is that many people are staying in their homes.

The shutdown of businesses across the state has triggered a record wave of people seeking unemployment benefits. The public health emergency has also forced politicians off the campaign trail.

On this week’s Statehouse Blend Kansas, Jim McLean talks with the manager of one U.S. Senate campaign to find out how that candidate is adapting.

Scott Canon / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — A Democrat hasn’t won a U.S. Senate race in Kansas since the early days of the Great Depression.

It took that economic crisis to propel George McGill, riding on Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coattails, to a win. And he served but a single term.

This year, the country finds itself on the cusp of another economic calamity. The COVID-19 epidemic sent the stock market into convulsions, forced all range of business and campaigning into hibernation and put life in limbo.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Kansas lawmakers approved a basic budget this week before heading home to await whatever the coronavirus has in store for the state and their communities.

They’re hoping to reconvene in late April to wrap up their work for the year. But they left knowing they might not have an opportunity to resolve their differences on several big issues, including Medicaid expansion and a constitutional amendment on abortion.

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — The week started with a Kansas House Democrat making an unusual request to not just his fellow lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, but to the Lord: “Please nudge our counterparts in the Senate. Please help them to work with a little more urgency.”

With the threat of the new coronavirus growing by the day — businesses were shutting down, universities moving fully online — legislators knew time was running out to pass the state’s budget for the next fiscal year. The action was pretty much restricted to the Statehouse’s document room and the chambers. No visitors or school groups in the halls of the Capitol, the hearing rooms empty, the whole place a reminder of how quickly things changed.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

Kansas lawmakers are making contingency plans in case the spread of the coronavirus forces an early end to the 2020 legislative session. A shortened session would lessen the chances of lawmakers resolving their differences on abortion and Medicaid expansion before heading home.

Susan Wagle, the Republican president of the Kansas Senate, is blocking consideration of a bipartisan expansion bill until the House approves a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution. Attempts by legislative leaders to end the stalemate appear to be making little progress.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — A man in his 70s who lived in a long-term care facility in Wyandotte County is the first known death from the new coronavirus in Kansas, state officials said Thursday night. The man was not among the state’s official count of cases, which had risen to four earlier in the day. 

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly also has declared a state of emergency, which gives the government more power to marshal resources and triggers the state's response plan.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Update: 7:30 p.m.

A 70-year-old man who lived in a long-term care facility in Wyandotte County is the first known death from the new coronavirus in Kansas, state officials said Thursday night.

Kansas also has declared a state of emergency, which gives the government more power to marshal resources and triggers the state's response plan.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

This story was updated at 7 p.m., March 7.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas has its first case of the new coronavirus, officials announced Saturday. 

The Johnson County woman infected with the virus appears to have contracted her illness while traveling in the northeastern United States, state and local public health officials said at a Statehouse news conference early Saturday evening. She was tested earlier this week for COVID-19. 

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Kansas health officials say the state is ready to deal with the new coronavirus now that Kansans are starting to get sick.

Lawmakers still aren’t ready to move past a dispute on abortion and Medicaid expansion that is blocking progress on both issues.

Host Jim McLean talks with a legislator at the center of that dispute about why he cast a decisive vote against the anti-abortion amendment. 

Also featured on this week’s episode: an interview with the state’s chief health officer on preparations for the coronavirus.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — A pressure campaign led by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly aims to force Republican Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle to drop her blockade of a vote to expand Medicaid.

A majority of state senators back the plan, virtually assuring its passage if Wagle allowed a vote.

But Wagle, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, insists that the Legislature first put an anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution up for a statewide vote.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Kansas lawmakers sped through dozens of bills this past week to keep them alive past a “turn around” deadline marking the midpoint of the session.

Measures to legalize sports betting and to give citizens more control over property taxes were among bills that made the cut. 

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Conservative Republicans at the Kansas Statehouse are attempting to block passage of Medicaid expansion until lawmakers send a constitutional amendment on abortion to voters.

The amendment, which would overturn a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling that declared abortion a right protected by the state’s Bill of Rights, has passed the Senate but remains a handful of votes short in the House.

Scott Canon / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s transportation plan isn’t as bold as those that came before it.

Since the 1990s, Kansas has spent tens of billions of dollars on three successive 10-year programs. Each required a tax increase and launched with a commitment to complete a long list of new building projects.

But Kelly, a Democrat who won election on a promise to restore the state’s finances, isn’t proposing a bunch of new projects. And she isn’t seeking a tax increase to help pay for her plan.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Kansas is slipping to the back of the pack on some critical economic measures. In this episode of Statehouse Blend Kansas, host Jim McLean talks with Kansas Department of Commerce Secretary David Toland about what the agency is doing to try to reverse those trends.

McLean also hears from Kansas News Service reporters about a proposal to ban the sale of vaping flavors, and he asks why Republicans resist Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s proposal to create an independent office on energy policy.

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

The Kansas House of Representatives has stopped — at least temporarily — an all-out push by anti-abortion groups for a constitutional amendment that they say is needed to maintain the state’s ability to regulate the procedure.

Supporters fell four votes short Friday of putting an amendment on the August primary ballot to overturn a recent Kansas Supreme Court decision that declared abortion a "fundamental" right under the state's Bill of Rights.

Erica Hunzinger / Kansas News Service

OLATHE, Kansas — Candidates determined to keep Kansas’ U.S. Senate seats in Republican hands quarreled Saturday over immigration, health care and federal spending, but no topic was more debated than who is the most friendly and in step with President Donald Trump.

In front of a standing-room only crowd at the 2020 Kansas Republican Party convention, U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, former Secretary of State Kris Kobach and state Senate President Susan Wagle argued over which of them was the most conservative and would be Trump’s most loyal foot soldier in the U.S. Senate.

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

Kansas lawmakers are nearing decisions on two big issues — Medicaid expansion and a constitutional amendment on abortion.

They’re also talking about how to raise more money without increasing taxes. One idea is to legalize wagering on sporting events.

We talk about all that and with Republican state Rep. Adam Smith, chair of the House Committee on Rural Revitalization, on this edition of Statehouse Blend Kansas.

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

In this episode of Statehouse Blend Kansas, host Jim McLean looks at the legislative session. Lawmakers are already at odds on the hot-button issues of abortion and Medicaid expansion. Republican leaders are pushing for quick passage of an anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution. Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning are joining forces to break a nearly decade-long stalemate on expansion.

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

The legislative session in Kansas is just getting underway, but lawmakers are already at odds on the hot-button issues of abortion and Medicaid expansion. Republican leaders are pushing for quick passage of an anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution. Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning are joining forces to break a nearly decade-long stalemate on expansion.

Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Medicaid expansion is a done deal, right?

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Jim Denning, the second most powerful Republican in the Kansas Senate, have compromised on a plan. Together, they bring a majority of lawmakers with them. So, game over.

Sure, the deal still needs to clear the Legislature and get the blessing of federal regulators. But the hard part — breaking an almost decade-long stalemate on the issue — looks done.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and a key Republican lawmaker said Thursday they’ve crafted a deal to make roughly 130,000 more Kansans eligible for Medicaid.

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

Go here to subscribe to the My Fellow Kansans podcast. This season, we look at the prospects of rural places.

DODGE CITY, Kansas — The history of this small city built on the cattle trade sets it apart from most towns in rural Kansas. The mere name of the place evokes recollections of the Wild West and the subsequent romancing of that age.

Yet Dodge City also stands apart from the region that surrounds it. This place is growing.

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

While population numbers decay across so much of the Great Plains in Kansas, Dodge City, Liberal and Garden City stand out as growth stories. Their cattle trade draws immigrants, and those newcomers drive change. Dodge City likes to play up its gunslingin' Wild West reputation, formed in its earliest days in the cattle business. Now giant industrial meatpacking plants define the economy of a modern cowtown.

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

Go here to subscribe to the My Fellow Kansans podcast. This season, we look at the prospects of rural places.

GREENSBURG, Kansas — The massive tornado that leveled this town in 2007 pretty much defines disaster.

Eleven people dead. The place in ruins.

Yet without the tragedy, Greensburg wouldn’t have had the chance to transform itself into “the greenest community in America.”

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

Greensburg, Kansas, already found itself in a struggle for survival before getting leveled by a tornado in 2007. Then outside help and new hope emerged with the idea of rebuilding the town as a green, environmentally sustainable place. But the town's still lost more than a third of its population since the twister. It hopes for a rebirth, but powerful forces continue to drive depopulation even after its makeover.

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