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Huelskamp, Lincoln and Principle

This past month residents of Kansas' First Congressional District were treated to a stark juxtaposition in political styles. On the big screen Abraham Lincoln, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's movie "Lincoln," cajoled, maneuvered, pleaded to both the higher and lower instincts of others, and yes, compromised, in pursuit of passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Meanwhile in the present, First District Congressman Tim Huelskamp, proud of the fact that he does not compromise, was removed from his Agriculture and Budget Committee Assignments by the Republican House Steering Committee. It's worth examining the differing approaches to "principle."

Money in our Electoral System

SALINA, Kan. - It must have been the title of the book that caught my eye. I've always enjoyed wandering through bookstores and their stacks of hidden treasures. One day in Rio de Janeiro years ago I was indulging in this favorite pastime when I came across a book entitled Fidel & Religion, by a Brazilian priest named Frei Betto. Maybe its odd title was too intriguing to pass up, and I bought it.

The book was the result of conversations that Betto had with the Fidel Castro over a couple days in Havana back in the mid-1980's. It didn't change any of my negative impressions of Cuba from a previous visit, but the work did offer interesting insights into the Cuban leader's thinking.

Both Indiana and Lugar Lost

SALINA, Kan. - Earlier this month Indiana Republican primary voters retired six-term U.S. Senator Richard Lugar. Ordinarily I don't mind when an octogenarian Senator of either party is forced into retirement. The founding fathers didn't intend for elected federal office to be a lifetime job. But in the case of Senator Lugar I feel conflicted. It's worth taking a look at some of the highlights from his distinguished career.

Huelskamp's Healthcare Update

SALINA, Kan. - This past week my congressman's update on the federal health care law arrived in my mailbox. In small print under the return address was a note saying that the mailing was "prepared, published, and mailed at taxpayer expense." The report and its disingenuous claims require further scrutiny.

Decision Time in Topeka

Bare-knuckled political battles over redistricting have set the stage for some high drama when the Kansas Legislature returns next week. Governor Sam Brownback has led by example, bringing Washington D.C.'s brand of take-no-prisoners partisanship back to the state capitol. House Speaker Mike O'Neal has joined with the governor and dropped all pretense of statesmanship while moving aggressively to gerrymander legislative districts to ensure conservative Republican dominance of Kansas politics during the next decade.

SALINA, KaN. - Ted stopped by and shared the news. I never thought I would care about, let alone feel sorry for the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team. Another generation of kids young and old had been disillusioned.

Immediately I had flashbacks to my worst moments as a Royals' fan - the trade of the hometown boy and reigning Cy Young Award winner David Cone to the Yankees, the Johnny Damon trade, the Carlos Beltran trade, etc. , etc.

Oh, I almost forgot, Ted's news. The Brewers' star player, Prince Fielder, left his team and signed a $215 Million dollar contract with the Detroit Tigers. To add insult to injury, the Tigers play in the same division as the Royals.

Ignoring our War Next Door

SALINA, Kan. - While the United States remains focused on Iran and Syria the war next door drags on. I refer to the drug wars that have convulsed Mexico during the past five years. While Vice-President Biden was meeting with Mexican leaders in Mexico City this past week, Juarez, Mexico, residents Manuel and Isabel Martinez were in Kansas visiting their daughter who is a student at Kansas Wesleyan University. I found their observations on Mexico's plight on the eve of its own upcoming July Presidential election worth sharing.

PACing 'em in Congress

SALINA, Kan. - A college friend of mine, a conservative Republican from Chicago, is a proponent of publicly funded federal elections. When pressed a couple years ago he succinctly explained his reasoning. Under such a system members of Congress would arrive in Washington beholden to the citizens who elected them instead of the special interests that currently elect our congressmen.

This conversation came back to me last November as my civic club listened to our congressman speak over lunch. By coincidence, that same day the congressional Super-committee in Washington announced that they had been unable to reach agreement on a plan to cut the nation's deficit. As we filed out that afternoon another individual remarked to me, "What you heard here today was a demonstration of the problem."

Romney's Defense of 'Romneycare'

SALINA, Kan. - It was a memorable highlight in the health care reform debate, one that will undoubtedly be replayed often in the coming months. Afterward, John McDonough, professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, credited Mitt Romney with the "most effective and persuasive rationale and defense of the individual mandate" to date during the presidential campaign.

Rick Santorum elicited the response from Romney during the January 27 debate between the remaining Presidential candidates in Florida. When he tried to attack "Romneycare," what many believe to be Gov. Mitt Romney's biggest policy success in Massachusetts and a model for the federal health care overhaul, Romney responded with one of his best moments of the evening. "If you don't want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for ... your bill ... no more free riders. We're insisting on personal responsibility. Either get the insurance or help pay for your care."

Bush Was Right on Redistricting

SALINA, Kan. - "It's actually pretty good," my uncle insisted. When he asked if I had already read my Christmas gift from him, a copy of George W. Bush's Decision Points, I joked that I had been waiting for it to come out in paperback.

My uncle and I frequently give each other books on or by political figures we hold in low esteem. They're sort of gag gifts, but I still usually read them. By listening to opposing points of view one can frequently learn something, and occasionally discover heretofore unknown areas of agreement. I had such an experience reading the 43rd President's book.

Bush's political memoir didn't redefine for me the major points of what I believe his legacy will be for historians. The Bush Presidency will be forever tainted by two disastrous policy decisions - huge tax cuts which ushered in crushing deficits, and the invasion of Iraq, an undertaking billed to a credit card which was not worth the cost. But in a chapter entitled "Leading," he talks of the need to reduce the ideological extremes in Congress and proposes that redistricting be carried out by committees of non-partisan elders.

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