Noonletter: Sept. 19, 2018 | KCUR

Noonletter: Sept. 19, 2018

Sep 19, 2018

Campaigning for business

The candidates for governor (let’s avoid “gubernatorial,” on principle) trotted to Wichita Tuesday night to sit for a Kansas Chamber forum and talk about issues relating to the business-happy outlook the group represents.

Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach promised to cut taxes to the levels of the early Brownback years and roll back regulations. Yes, he is, as he calls himself, a “full-throttled conservative.”

Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly, sounding very much like a Democrat from the Kansas Senate, talked instead about making investments in education and infrastructure.

Therein lies the crux of the campaign between the two candidates that polls suggest are frontrunners: Do Kansans want lower taxes and a more free-wheeling business environment less hamstrung by regulations? Or are they willing to bear a higher tax load for better-funded schools, roads, prisons and the like?

Independent candidate Greg Orman, the Kansas City area businessman who made a respectable challenge to Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts four years ago, takes a different tack on the economy. He likes to say that old political parties talk about things in tired, partisan ways.

Instead, he prefers to imagine Kansas as a middle-of-the-map shipping and transportation hub — and advocates for public spending to exploit that perceived economic edge. (Some would argue that Kansas may be in the middle of the country — Nebraska, Oklahoma and a handful of other places could make the same claim — but that the economic center of America is farther east. Ask FedEx why its hub is in Memphis.)

Here’s a little more detail from Kansas News Service reporter Brian Grimmett, who sat through the forum.

Kobach said Kansas can't be competitive for businesses with its current tax burden. For instance, he said the state needs to return a tax windfall to taxpayers that came from a fluke in the federal tax cuts passed last year by President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress. He’d cut the size of government not through across-the-board reductions, but through attrition. Let the Baby Boomers retire, he said, without replacing them. And Kobach would amend the Kansas Constitution to remove its demand for “suitable” funding for education. Let the policymakers decide how much to spend, he argues, not the courts.

Kelly talked of spending on transportation and internet infrastructure to bolster the economy, along with more technical and career training programs. Kansas can keep more of its people here by changing its image and showing it’s a welcoming place for everybody. (Subtext: Kobach’s hard-line anti-illegal immigrant feeds the notion of a place that won’t draw people of color into its economy.)

So the Republican Governors Association is weighing in here, attacking Kelly in its latest ad for — although it’s not explicit — voting to reverse the Brownback tax cuts that ultimately proved unpopular in the state.

Orman is betting heavily on his central hub idea. He also said the state needs more local venture capitalists who can invest in companies and keep them in Kansas. Again, like both Kobach and Kelly, he said the state should spend on technical and career training.

Economic refuge

This year, the number of refugees being allowed into the country is capped at 45,000. The Trump administration wants to cut that by a third next year.

Stephan Bisaha reports that’s got some refugee support groups, and some businessfolk, anxious.

At 3.4 percent, Kansas already has a relatively low unemployment rate. Some economists consider that level effectively full employment.

That’s why it can prove hard to find workers, particularly for the difficult work of slaughtering and cutting up livestock in meatpacking plants.

“We simply cannot find enough labor,” said Doug McKay of packinghouse Creekstone Farms. “This is a problem that's universal for manufacturing in the United States right now.”

Dirty Kanza a Minnesota (-owned) thing

Masochist news: The Associated Press reports that the popular gravel, mud and misery bicycle race known as Dirty Kanza has been sold to Life Time Fitness, based in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

Dirty Kanza co-founder Jim Cummins said he and the current operating board will continue to organize the race that begins and ends in Emporia (and fatigue). Participation is capped at 2,750 riders, slots that fill up inexplicably fast.

Ongoing and awful

The questions about how a 13-year-old girl being kept at a child welfare contractor’s office in May was allegedly raped won’t go away soon.

Stephen Koranda reports that legislators promise a grilling for Gina Meier-Hummel, the boss at the Department for Children and Families. Madeline Fox is interviewing her today and will have more. So turn on your local public radio station to hear more.

Wrong kind of VIP

Paul Davis failed to unseat Sam Brownback in 2014 even though the then-governor’s popularity was tumbling after tax cuts threw the state’s finances into a nosedive.

One reason might have been attack ads that noted his presence at a strip club he represented as an attorney during a drug raid.

The raid happened in 1998. Davis was 26 and single at the time. He wasn’t charged with anything. But a police chief involved in the raid at the Secrets club in Coffeyville would write in a report that officers found Davis “in a somewhat compromising position … in a back room of the club.”

So it was inevitable somebody would look to remind voters in the Democrat Davis’ race against Republican Steve Watkins, a political newcomer who emerged from a crowded primary to run for the U.S. House from Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District.

Here it is. Not from the Watkins campaign. Rather, it springs from the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC closely aligned with outgoing Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Wind coins

Do Kansas and Morocco have something in common? Something with money-making (almost literally) potential?

They’re windy places. With towering turbines, that means lots of sustainable energy. But the vast expanses where you can plant those giant blades on towers are a long way from the population centers that need the electricity they generate. In particular, transmission lines can be expensive to build, and even when you have those energy conduits, power gets lost as it travels.

The Morrocans have an idea. Keep the energy where you make it. What for? Bitcoin, the digital cryptocurrency (invest at your own great risk) that stores virtual money by keeping parallel ledgers on multiple computers. And that sucks up lots of energy.

Bitcoin-mining company Soluna, reports ArsTechnica, is planning a wind farm near remote Dakhla, Morocco.

Some serious caveats. Bitcoin and its brethren are notoriously volatile currencies. The bottom can fall out in a nanosecond. Brian Grimmett, the Kansas News Service’s energy expert, thinks it’s hard to picture building a Kansas wind farm without a way to put that energy on the electric grid. Investors would be unlikely to bite. And bitcoin is only valuable if you can trade it, on the internet. Rural Kansas ain’t known for its bandwidth.

Also, floss

A reminder. Twenty days left to register to vote for the Nov. 6 general election. It’s a thing.

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.