Gov. Sam Brownback and the state of Kansas today made the front page of The New York Times…Not surprisingly, it wasn’t a favorable story.
The headline was “Kansas’ Blame Game Over School Funding Crisis.” The story was about the fierce kickback Brownback and the Republican-dominated State Legislature are getting over the state’s budget crisis and how it is hurting elementary and secondary education.
Interestingly, three of the people who are quoted in the story as being critical of Brownback and the Legislature are Republicans. One, Dinah Sykes, who lives in Prairie Village, is so upset she is running for a State Senate seat, challenging the Republican incumbent in the August primary.
Sykes, whose photo appears on the front page, along with the story, is quoted as saying: “We’re getting a bad reputation: that our state doesn’t care about public education.”
LeEtta Felter, a Republican who is a school board member in Olathe, says in the story that “any responsible entity has a rainy-day fund except for the state of Kansas.” It had a rainy-day fund, but it got washed away because of the budget crisis owing to the Brownback-sponsored state-income-tax cuts of 2013.
Another Johnson County Republican, Cindy Neely, told The Times the sentiment she regularly hears from people is, “We need different representation in Topeka that will stand up to the governor.”
…When I was in The Star’s Johnson County bureau in 2004 and 2005, I remember a political reporter named Jim Sullinger — now retired — doing story after story about the pitched battle between conservative and moderate Republicans in the Legislature. The battle had gone on for years, so long that some editors at The Star — and probably readers, too — would roll their eyes at the latest incremental development in the battle. Well, the conservatives finally won out, and those stories stopped.
For the last several years, all of Kansas has been paying the price for the conservatives’ victory. Now, perhaps, moderates are about to mount a comeback. And while I’m not too keen on the prospect of a new, years’ long sequence of stories about a renewed conservative-moderate battle, it would be a healthy, positive development for the state.
And, come to think of it, we really wouldn’t be subjected to as many stories as we were before because The Star has its own budget crisis, and the number of reporters doesn’t approximate what it was back in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Congratulations to The Star on the hiring of veteran reporter Steve Vockrodt of The Pitch. (Congratulations to Vockrodt, too, of course!)
Vockrodt’s last day at The Pitch was yesterday; he starts at The Star Monday. Vockrodt has had a number of ground-breaking stories since starting at The Pitch in 2013. Before that he was with the Kansas City Business Journal for six years. He’s also a University of Kansas graduate.
This marks the first time in years, to the best of my recollection, The Star has hired an established, experienced journalist for the newsroom. Several years ago, The Star made a high-profile catch when it hired Vahe Gregorian away from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. But Gregorian is a sports columnist, and sports is the only department where The Star has made an all-out effort to maintain the the quality and substance the paper enjoyed until the mid-2000s, when print advertising started falling off a cliff.
Star editors have toyed with the idea of hiring Vockrodt for a couple of years. I don’t know what finally prompted them to make the leap, but I’d like to think it was the appointment early this year of Tony Berg as publisher. At his introductory speech In January, Berg told reporters and other editorial employees he would fight for them and that he understood the work coming out of the newsroom is “what makes us so important in the community we work in.”
Vockrodt will be primarily a business reporter. Watch for his byline…