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Archive for June, 2015

A week ago today Mayor Sly James stood on the stage at the Gem Theatre and, before a crowd of more than 200, signed a “Pledge for a Moral Economy” — a document that denounces usurious rates charged by payday lenders.

The pledge, fashioned by the public advocacy organization Communities Creating Opportunity, states: “It is wrong to take advantage of vulnerable families by charging triple-digit interest rates. I support reform measures that will stop the debt trap.”

To cheers and applause, James said that taking out payday loans is going down a road that often leads to “long-term prison.”

Of payday lenders, he said, “They’re like roaches — they never do go away.”

This week, however, thanks to some outstanding investigative reporting by the Pitch newspaper, it turns out that the mayor has appointed to the city’s most important economic development agency a man who has been deeply involved in the payday loan industry.

Here’s the backdrop…

The subject of the Pitch story is a man named Herb Sih, who has founded, owned or managed at least three companies with deep roots in the payday loan business. The Pitch story says one or more of Sih’s companies have specialized in generating “leads” for the operators of online payday-loan operations.

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Herb Sih

While Sih (pronounced SEE) may not have sullied his hands by directly making loans and charging interest rates of several hundred percent, which is typical, he has provided lenders with technology that enables the lenders to gain access to vital information about prospective borrowers. In addition, according to the Pitch, Sih’s brother-in-law owned an online, payday-lending company before selling it in 2012.

Sih told The Pitch that he hasn’t been involved in the lead-generation business in more than six years, but Hudnall noted that Sih’s Linkedin bio says that he left the last lead-generation company he was associated with two and a half years ago.

Apparently Sih has distanced himself from the payday-loan business in recent years. He now owns and operates a technology-based business called Think Big Partners, which has a piece of a $15 million, public-private project to rewire downtown into a so-called “smart city” (whatever that means).

Sih is mentioned in only five articles in The Kansas City Star’s electronic library, which tends to indicate that he is not well established in civic and economic development circles.

The best information I could find about him came from a 2014 story in The Wichita Eagle, which says Sih “has started more than 20 companies, including some of Kansas City’s fastest growing companies, and sold seven of them.”

Previously, the story says, he was a senior vice president for Wachovia Securities and before that a helicopter pilot and officer in the military. He graduated from the University of Kansas and is married (or at least was then, according to The Eagle) and has three children.

He is 49 years old and, from what I could find, he appears to have come to the Kansas City area from the St. Louis area.

**

In January of last year, Mayor James appointed Sih and four other people to the board of the newly revamped Economic Development Corp. This was after James had successfully pushed to consolidate several city-funded economic development agencies into the EDC. So, these appointments were critical to the city’s economic development efforts.

Now, giving the mayor the benefit of the doubt, maybe he didn’t know about Sih’s background when he appointed him to a two-year term — the same length as all the other newsly appointed board members. Or maybe he had inklings but didn’t know the depth of Sih’s involvement in a business that the Communities Creating Opportunities organization calls “sinful.”

Yesterday, I spoke with David Hudnall, the Pitch reporter who wrote the expose on Sih. Hudnall has “owned” the payday loan story and is more responsible than anyone else for calling attention to how it has mushroomed here and cost low-income people thousands and thousands of dollars and immeasurable anguish after taking out relatively small loans.

Regarding the mayor’s appointment of Sih to the EDC board, Hudnall said, “My impression is that the mayor didn’t fully vet him.”

Hudnall said he wrote the story because he saw “several strong indicators that he (Sih) was not really what he looks like on paper.”

**

This morning I called the mayor’s office and spoke with James’ press secretary, Mike Grimaldi, who, among other things, is a former business editor at The Star. I asked Grimaldi if, in light of Hudnall’s story, James would reconsider Sih’s appointment to the EDC.

Early this afternoon, Grimaldi sent me this statement from the mayor:

It is important to have entrepreneurial, high-tech representation on Kansas City’s EDC Board of Directors, and that is why I appointed Herb Sih. I expect EDC board members, and all appointees to boards and commissions, to be persons of integrity who act in the best interest of our city. I regularly evaluate the needs of our boards and commissions as well as the impact appointees have on them. I am currently very pleased with the fabric of the EDC board of directors and the forward momentum of the organization.

(By the way, this is the very same statement the mayor’s office gave to Hudnall, so James obviously hasn’t changed his position since The Pitch published its story.)  

I also spoke with Andrew Kling, communications manager for Communities Creating Opportunity (CCO), which has been around for nearly 40 years, advocating for better neighborhoods and better opportunities and public services for the working poor.

Kling said CCO officials were “paying attention” to Hudnall’s revelations about Sih, and he said CCO officials would “meet and talk it through” before issuing a formal statement, perhaps next week.

“I don’t want to pre-judge it,” Kling said. “We’re going to take this at an appropriate and deliberate pace.”

James, Kling said, has been “a great ally” in calling attention to the abuses of the payday lending industry and advocating reform…CCO’s goal is to convince the Missouri General Assembly to pass a bill that would limit interest rates in Missouri to 36 percent, the maximum that credit-card companies can charge.

**

Here’s what I think…

Mayor James needs to have his staff re-examine Sih’s background. Thoroughly. And in my opinion, even if he has washed his hands of the payday-loan industry, he should not be on the EDC board. The damage he has already inflicted on this community should disqualify him from any publicly appointed position.

 

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One prison story leads to another…

My good friend and former KC Star colleague Mike Rice, a paralegal at an Independence law firm, reminded me in an email about the strange case of Paula Barr, a former Star reporter who married a murderer.

I don’t remember much about Barr, except that she seemed like an intense reporter. She was a single mother and talked about her little boy a lot. She was tall, large boned and had long blond hair.

She worked out of the 18th and Grand building at one time, but at some point got transferred to the Independence bureau, where Mike Rice was also assigned at the time.

While in Independence, Barr covered the gruesome murder of a 47-year-old At&T supervisor named Richard Drummond, an Excelsior Springs resident.

…Before I get into more about Barr, here’s the backdrop of that case, which occurred in August 1994.

While driving west on I-70 near Kingdom City, Drummond pulled over and offered a ride to three men whose car had broken down. The men were Dennis SkillicornAllen Nicklasson and Tim DeGraffenreid. Hours earlier, the three had burglarized a home in the area, and they were armed.

A 2009 post on a blog called Missouri Death Row: Capital Punishment in Missouri summarizes what happened that day and in the next few days…

Nicklasson held a 22-caliber pistol to Drummond’s head and ordered him to drive to a secluded area in Lafayette County where Nicklasson took Drummond into the woods and killed him.

Skillicorn and Nicklasson dropped DeGraffenreid off in Blue Springs and kept driving Drummond’s car until it got stuck in the Arizona desert. They walked to a nearby home where Joe Babcock offered to pull them out of the sand. As Babcock was trying to scoop sand from the car’s tires, Nicklasson killed him. They then went back to the house and killed his wife, Charlene, and took the Babcocks’ vehicle.

DeGraffenreid was quickly apprehended and led police to Drummond’s body. Several weeks later, Skillicorn and Nicklasson were captured in California.

…Now, back to Barr.

She wrote about the Missouri and Arizona murders and covered the subsequent trials of Nicklasson and Skillicorn.

Mike Rice said: “As I recall, she became very close to Skillicorn and claimed The Star was not allowing her to publish ‘the truth’ about the case. I think she may have thought Nicklasson was the only one responsible and that Skillicorn was innocent of those murders. She was upset about that, and she left The Star not too long after that.”

For a while, Barr wrote freelance articles for The Star and was doing so when she married Skillicorn in a ceremony at the Potosi Correctional Center, southwest of St. Louis.

The maid of honor was a receptionist in the Independence bureau. The best man was another death-row inmate named Leon Taylor.

Mike Rice said: “I was out of town when she married Skillicorn…Paula did not volunteer the news of her nuptials to any of us, as she probably knew that it would be the end of her free-lancing gig. And indeed, it was.”

**

Curious about what happened with Barr after she left The Star, I poked around on the Internet. I found that after Skillicorn was transferred to the Bonne Terre correctional facility, east of Potosi, Barr (somehow) got a job as a reporter at the Daily Journal newspaper in nearby Park Hills, Missouri.

While lobbying to keep Skillicorn out of the execution chamber, Barr covered a variety of stories for the Daily Journal. Below are two photos I found of Barr on the Daily Journal’s website.

Photo courtesy of Rich Chrismer Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt talks with Daily Journal reporter Paula Barr in his oval office in Jefferson City.

Paula Barr interviewed then-Gov. Matt Blunt sometime in the late 1990s.

Daily Journal reporter, Paula Barr, takes a swing at a car to raise money for Relay for Life of St. Francois County Saturday at the Leadwood Fall Festival. - Jessica Crepps | Daily Journal

In this photo, Barr, then a reporter at the Daily Journal in Park Hills, MO, took a sledgehammer to a junker as part of a fund-raising event.

This morning I put in a call to the Daily Journal, and a woman who answered the phone (she was in the finance department) remembered Barr as a “very nice” person. “Everybody liked her,”  the woman said.

While at the Daily Journal, however, Barr’s main focus was trying to rehabilitate Skillicorn and keep him alive.

Perhaps she succeeded at the former…The Missouri Death Row post, written May 20, 2009, says Skillicorn “went to his death this morning with an apology and with faith.”

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Skillicorn

In a “final statement” read by a Department of Corrections spokeswoman, Skillicorn said he had lived every day the last 15 years remorseful about the killing of Drummond.

In his statement, he went on to say: 

“The sorrow, despair and regrets of my life would most certainly have consumed me if not for the grace and mercy of a loving and living God who saved me. As a husband, I’ve been overjoyed to know the love of a woman unlike any I’ve ever known. She shall forever be by soul mate and I hers.”

Skillicorn was 49 when he was executed.

**

A few loose ends:

:: DeGraffenreid, the accomplice whom Skillicorn and Nicklasson dropped off in Blue Springs, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

:: Nicklasson was convicted of first-degree murder and executed in 2013.

:: Taylor, the best man at the Barr-Skillicorn wedding, was executed in 2014 for the 1994 killing of an Independence gas station attendant. Taylor shot 53-year-old Robert Newton in front of Newton’s 8-year-old daughter. (Taylor also pointed the weapon at the girl and pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed.)

…And Barr? Well, the lady at the Daily Journal said she understood that Barr had moved to Arizona “a couple of years ago.”

I ran Barr’s name through whitepages.com and found a listing for a Paula Barr, aged 60 to 64 — which would be right — in Scottsdale.

No phone number was listed, and I didn’t call directory assistance to see if they had one.

So, the last word about this bizarre story goes to Mike Rice:

“I thought what Paula did was extremely unethical _ not to mention, of course, an utter act of madness. She made The Star look so very bad.”

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The story of how a female prison employee in upstate New York helped two murderers escape is reminiscent of a Lansing Correctional Facility escape several years ago.

In New York, Joyce E. Mitchell, who was a supervisor in the prison tailor shop, is charged with providing Richard W. Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 35, with hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit.

The New York Daily News reported that investigators are looking into allegations that Mitchell, 51, had engaged in sex with Sweat and performed oral sex on Matt.

The two men, who escaped the night of June 6 or the morning of June 7, are still on the loose.

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Joyce Mitchell with her attorney.

I say this without judgment or prejudice: Mitchell is a very homely woman. In addition, she was unhappy in her marriage. There is no doubt in my mind that Matt and Sweat won her over with sweet talk and flattery.

The Daily News quoted a law enforcement officer involved in the case as saying, “I think more than anything, they just played on her emotions.”

Not long after reading about Mitchell’s alleged involvement, I began thinking about the Lansing case, in which a female dog trainer named Toby Young helped a convicted murderer escape from Lansing Correctional Facility in a dog crate in 2006.

Several things about Young mirrored Mitchell.

Young was unattractive and unhappy in her marriage, and the convicted murderer she helped, John Manard, was younger than she and won her confidence with words of love.

The big difference in the two cases is that Mitchell did not accompany the escapees. The plan called for her to do so, but she got cold feet.

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Toby Young

Toby Young, on the other hand, not only drove Manard out of the Lansing penitentiary in her cargo van, she went off with him on a 12-day escapade that ended when the two were apprehended in Tennessee, where they had set up a love nest in a rural cabin.

Among the items authorities found in the cabin were two guns, $25,000 in cash, two guitars, a laptop computer and porn DVD’s…Obviously, it was quite a party while it lasted.

Before running off with Manard, Young had withdrawn $42,000 from her retirement plan and purchased a getaway vehicle. Her husband had discovered two handguns missing from their home.

In a March 2006 letter to a Kansas City television station, Manard said he and Young “have a fairy-tale love the size of infinity.”

Although he has a little poetry in him, Manard would hardly qualify as a “great catch” in the eyes of most women. For one thing, he has a lot of tattoos, including one across his abdomen that captures his self-identity in a word: “Hooligan.” 

Plus the fact he was a cold-blooded killer. He was serving a life sentence (and still is) for the 1996 murder of Donald England in Overland Park during a carjacking. Manard shot England while England was parked outside a hair salon waiting for his wife to finish an appointment. 

In 2008, Kevin Helliker, a Kansas City, Kansas, native who is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter for The Wall Street Journal, wrote a lengthy story about Toby Young. Helliker related how Young’s life was falling apart everywhere except at her volunteer prison job, where where she taught prisoners to train stray dogs.

Only during visits behind bars did she find any relief. In a fortress packed with men, her appearance at age 47 drew more compliments than she’d received at 27, and not just from inmates. One guard, she says, always greeted her by saying, “Hey, beautiful.” Inmates worshipped her for being able to place a dog in their cells.

The price for Young’s 12-day fling with Manard was high: She was convicted of felonies in state and federal courts and served about two years in prison. She was released in May 2008.

Joyce Mitchell is probably going to do some serious prison time, too…And she didn’t even get a post-jailbreak sex party out of the deal.

**

Editor’s Note: Maybe you read my June 12 post about the Ozarks judge, Kenneth Hayden, who said he was busy through 2016 and couldn’t possibly reschedule the Susan Van Note murder trial before 2017. Well, a veritable miracle has occurred: Somehow, some way, he managed to find room in his busy schedule to start the trial on Aug. 17. That’s August 17, 2015, two months from now…Thanks, judge. You can go back to your boat-tampering and cattle-rustling cases in the fall.

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Six fearless adventurers. City slickers heading west, out to the land of tall grass and rocky terrain.

Yes, indeed, it was “The Pioneer Express.” Express because instead of covered wagons, we were in a rented Chevy Traverse that rode high and smooth.

Our destination? The 10th annual Symphony in the Flint Hills, this one in the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Chase County, Kansas.

Just like the real-deal pioneers, we were steeled for anything, including rain, rocks and rattlesnakes. Fortunately, all we had to deal with were the Flint Hills rocks nestled in the soil. (They are much more challenging to navigate in the late-night exodus than in the light-of-day arrival.)

The array of items we carted with us Saturday included sunscreen, bug spray, water, soda pop, umbrellas, ponchos, camping chairs and food. We bought more stuff along the way, including cookies from The Merc in Lawrence (best cookies in Kansas and Missouri) and more cheese…If you’re gonna go pioneering, you gotta do it right!

When we got to the general area of the concert, we melded into a marathon march, consisting of thousands of fellow pioneers, that started in a giant, damp field and proceeded a mile or so to crested ground. There, workers had erected a concert shell and massive concession tents that resembled the peaked roof of the Denver International Airport terminal.

…But enough of the words. The pictures tell a much better story.

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At the entry area, these people were queued up for rides to the concert site. The vast majority of people (like us) hiked.

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This was a typical vista when we reached the higher ground.

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In the distance we could see the well-known Lower Fox Creek School House, which operated from 1884 to 1930. (It is open to the public.)

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Ah, those rocks…This is special ground that stirs the soul…

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…as does the convergence of sky and ground.

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The concert shell..and people shielding themselves from the hot, late-afternoon sun.

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I devised my own sun blocker.

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The pioneers: Tom and Pat Russell (left); Jim Gottsch and Julie Koppen (center); Patty and I. (Thanks to the K-State alum in front of us for taking the photo… Every man a Wildcat!)

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As the Kansas City Symphony performed, the crowd settled in.

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Singer Lyle Lovett was the featured artist. His finishing song was Home on the Range.

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Everybody loves a cattle drive.

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This little girl had a singular way of showing her appreciation for Lovett.

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At sunset, the concert concludes.

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The “after party” was in a large concession tent. One of band members  was Cindy Egger (second from right), a professional musician who is a good friend of ours.

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The dance floor was busy.

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But you didn’t have to dance to enjoy this music.

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I’m already thinking about Pioneer Express II…Thank you, Kansas City Symphony! What an event! What a day!

 

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The criminal case of Susan Van Note, the Lee’s Summit lawyer who is accused of killing her rich father and his younger, attractive girlfriend in order to get his money is one of those stories that reporters and the public love.

It’s compelling from every angle. The Star’s Don Bradley was poised to cover the trial, which would have had tremendous readership, but, unfortunately, the judge had to declare a mistrial Tuesday because some prospective jurors were overheard discussing the case during a break outside the courtroom.

One facet of the mistrial really caught my attention and exasperated me: Everyone connected with the case is ready to get on with the trial as soon as possible, except the judge.

The Star reported that Judge Kenneth Hayden “said his own calendar is full through 2016.”

Through 2016? The next 18 months?

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Hayden

Hayden is presiding judge in Laclede County — Lebanon, MO — which is south of the Lake of the Ozarks. The murders occurred at the Lake of the Ozarks in Camden County, but the trial was moved to Laclede, on a change of venue.)

Let me put this simply: Judge Hayden’s assertion that he is busy through next year is preposterous.

It has always driven me crazy when judges moan and groan about their backbreaking “caseloads.” Here’s how it works: Indeed, they often have cases and related matters, like motions, scheduled for months out, but very few of those cases actually come off as scheduled. The majority of cases, in virtually every court at every level, are settled, dismissed or delayed. Same thing for motions and related matters.

The scheduling of trials and related matters is like dental appointments in this respect: They’re on the books, but the dentist can count on holes cropping up regularly in his or her schedule.

The difference, however, is that dentists only get paid if they work, and so they scramble to fill the holes that inevitably pop up in their schedules.

But in my experience — I covered the Jackson County Courthouse for seven years in the 1970s and have watched courts ever since — many judges don’t move aggressively to fill the gaps when cases fall through. I want to emphasize that it isn’t this way with all judges, but with many: Since they’re getting paid and report to virtually no one, they’re in no hurry to fill the gaps.

Here’s another thing: Laclede County has a population of 35,000. If Judge Hayden’s schedule is booked solid for the next 18 months, it’s not with any cases of the magnitude of the Van Note case.

I’d bet just about anything that Hayden could try the Van Note case within the next month. He might have to move a few things around, but how hard can that be? Not much more difficult than rescheduling those dental appointments, I would imagine.

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Van Note

Some lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants might be disappointed that their cases were delayed a bit, but this is a five-year-old murder case. The murders occurred Oct. 2, 2010, and it is in the public interest that this case get going as soon as possible.

In criminal cases, delays almost always works to the advantage of defendants, and here we have a woman who probably shot two people to death.

Susan Van Note needs to be tried right away.

My guess, from reading about the judge’s claim that he’s booked for a year and a half, is that he simply doesn’t want to hear the case. It’s a high-visibility case; it will attract a lot of media; and the judge would be under a lot of pressure. He’d probably prefer to lie low and handle the penny ante stuff that comes across the transom in Laclede County.

But somebody needs to hear this case soon; it cannot wait until 2017. That’s ridiculous.

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Today I attended a rousing and inspirational fund-raising luncheon for the MainStream Coalition, and I’m starting to get keen on Kansas.

Keen on getting Kansas back on track, that is, in light of the legislative debacle that has been taking place in Topeka.

I had heard of the MainStream Coalition but knew virtually nothing about it. A week or so ago, my friend and former colleague in The Star’s Wyandotte County Bureau, Mark Wiebe, emailed me an invitation to the luncheon at the Matt Ross Community Center in downtown Overland park.

Mark, who now works for Wyandotte Inc., Wyandotte County’s community mental health center, is secretary of the MainStream Coalition, which has its offices in Mission.

The coalition is a 22-year-old, bipartisan, non-profit organization — 501(c)(4) — that can spend up to 50 percent of its revenue on politics. Its mission is to oppose extremism and fight for good government, sound fiscal policy and strong public schools.

A noisy crowd of about 230 attended yesterday’s event, and a sense of energy, optimism and defiance permeated the room.

Speaker after speaker talked about the need to “Restore Sanity to Kansas” (the organization’s slogan) and cited reasons why Kansas was not a lost cause just because extremists hold sway right now.

For example, coalition president Sheryl Spalding, a former Republican state representative from Johnson County, said that although Gov. Sam Brownback was re-elected in 2014, he had the support of only about 25 percent of the state’s registered voters. (He defeated Democrat Paul Davis 423,666 to 390,614.) Spalding said she thought many people who voted for Brownback now regret it.

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Spalding

Spalding was one of many Democrats and moderate Republicans who were washed away in 2012 by a flood of outside money from ultra-conservative outfits like the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

To rousing cheers, Spalding said, “With your help, we can make a stand, we can speak out, and we can turn this state around!”

Another speaker was Carol Marinovich, former mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County-Kansas City, Kansas. It was under Marinovich — and at her agitation — that the Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte County governments merged in the late 1990s.

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Marinovich

Citing the importance of working across party lines, Marinovich said Republican legislators were key sponsors of legislation that authorized a vote on consolidation in Wyandotte County. In addition, she said, then-Gov. Bill Graves, also a Republican, “could not have been a stronger partner” in Wyandotte County’s ascendance.

“Consolidation laid the foundation for the economic resurgence of Kansas City, Kansas,” Marinovich said.

Republican state leadership supported Wyandotte County in those years — the late 1990s and early 2000s, Marinovich said, because they knew that a prosperous Wyandotte County would be good for the whole state, partly by generating millions of dollars a year in new sales-tax revenue.

Echoing Marinovich, Jill Quigley, another former Republican state representative, told the crowd that working across party lines was essential to “bringing about positive change.”

On the importance of mainstream politics, Quigley quoted the late Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was raised in Abilene, Kansas:

People talk about the middle of the road as though it were unacceptable. Actually, all human problems come into the gray area. Things are not all black and white. There have to be compromises. The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.

**

For the MainStream Coalition, the timing of Wednesday’s event was perfect. The organization appears poised to surge ahead in what could be a long and resonating backlash to the folly that extremists have unleashed on a once-moderate state government.

In his invocation yesterday, Rev. Robert Meneilly, retired pastor at Village Presbyterian Church, prayed that “our beloved state” would be saved from “its present state of shame.”

What reasonable, moderate person could argue with that characterization?

…If you’re interested in learning more about the MainStream Coalition, visit their website, http://www.mainstreamcoalition.org, or give them a call at (913) 649-3326. Brandi Fisher is the executive director. The organization’s office is at 5960 Dearborn, Mission.

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I usually don’t write about Kansas government because it’s 1) so ridiculous and 2) so boring.

Even this clown show that Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature have engaged in since the Legislature drastically cut income taxes four years ago is boring.

But now it’s gone well beyond ridiculous and boring, to the point of being maddening and outrageous. Because what the governor and Legislature are in the process of doing — if the House today approves what the Senate did on Sunday — is substituting $187 million worth of new sales taxes for a like amount of wiped-out income taxes.

Income taxes are the gold standard of taxation: you pay in direct proportion to your income. They are closely followed by property taxes: you pay, essentially, on the basis of the size of your house and the neighborhood you live in.

The worst and most regressive tax is the sales tax. It hits hardest at those who are least able to afford it.

…In the last two years I have been closely involved in efforts to defeat two sales-tax proposals in Missouri. The first was in 2013 when Jackson County proposed a half-cent sales tax for “translational medical research.” It was the most bogus proposition I had seen in 40 years in Kansas City, and it went down to an 86 percent to 14 percent thrashing, perhaps the largest margin of defeat for any measure in county history.

Then, last year, I collaborated with a campaign committee based in St. Louis to help defeat a proposed three-quarter-cent sales-tax increase for the state transportation department. Had it passed, we average citizens would have had to pay through the nose for better highways, while the trucking industry, which inflicts the vast majority of damage on our highways, would get a pass. Our very effective theme was, “You pay, trucks don’t.

That proposal came crashing down like a bad bridge — the margin being 59 percent to 41 percent, despite the “concrete cartel” spending several million dollars to try to convince Missouri voters to approve it.

So, in Missouri, we’ve reached a point where it’s pretty clear that voters are very unlikely to approve a sales-tax increase for just about anything.

I’m sure Kansas residents feel the same way and that it would be virtually impossible to put a sales-tax increase on a statewide ballot that voters would approve. I think it’s particularly unlikely that Kansas residents would approve a four-tenths of a cent sales-tax increase to offset the foolish income-tax cuts that Brownback and the Legislature engineered in 2012.

But now it looks like it’s going to happen without a vote of the people.

On Sunday, the Senate voted to increase the sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.55 percent. The House is probably going to take up the measure today, and if the House also approves the bill, Brownback has said he will sign it into law.

**

When I was campaigning against the translational medical sales tax, people sometimes asked me to explain what I meant by the sales tax being “regressive.”

Here it is in a nutshell:

If a person with an annual income of $20,000 pays $2,000 in sales taxes per year, the tax amounts to 10 percent of his or her income. If a person with an annual income of $100,000 pays $2,000 in sales taxes, the tax amounts to 2 percent of his or her income.

Now, it stands to reason that someone with the $100,000 income is going to be a bigger consumer than the person with the $20,000 income, but it’s very unlikely the 100-grand person is going to consume five times more than the 20-grand person. Everyone has a lot of basic expenses — food, phones cars, TVs, etc. — and the sales tax hits those in the middle- and lower-income ranges a lot harder than those in the upper reaches.

Remember, too, that the divergence between the haves and the have-nots is continuing to expand and many more people are spiraling into the lower-income ranks all the time. They’re the ones that sales-tax increases kick below the belt.

The sales tax is a tax that only the rich can love. That’s why billionaire St. Louis area resident Rex Sinquefield, president of a think tank called the Show Me Institute, has been spending millions of dollars promoting Missouri candidates who share his determination to lower income and earnings taxes and raise sales taxes.

So far, thank God, he hasn’t been very successful in the Show-Me state. But now I picture him, 250 miles away, smiling broadly at what he sees going on across our state line.

**

Now, here’s that song you’ve been thinking about since you read the headline on this post…(Note, in particular, the slide whistle — Wheeee!)

mitch

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