Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe): Newspaper Attempts to Wrangle a Scandal at State Fair

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Newspaper Attempts to Wrangle a Scandal at State Fair

It’s mostly fun and games at the state fair, but one news organization isn’t having any of it. The Hutchinson News is attempting to back the bus over Gov. Sam Brownback for his recent appointment to the Kansas State Fair Board.

Brownback could save a drowning toddler from a municipal pool, and the media would turn it into a story about how Brownback’s state funding of municipal services was responsible for the toddler falling into the water. And so, of course, when Brownback made an appointment to the lesser known (in JoCo, at least) board, the scribblers sensed blood in the water.

A Hutch News story begins: “Gov. Sam Brownback appointed Hutchinson business executive Matt Lowen to the Kansas State Fair Board this year even though his qualifications were the weakest on paper among the nominees forwarded to the Governor.”

That’s quite a subjective start for a news piece.

The reporter, Mary Clarkin, goes even bolder, naming who she thinks was the most qualified candidate for the gig.

“The strongest candidate on the letter submitted to the Governor’s office was West McArthur of Minneapolis, Kansas.”

McArthur told the newspaper that the selection of Matt Lowen, a Hutchinson businessman, was political.

Um. Yes, that’s how all of these appointments by politicians to boards work. All of them, and not just Brownback’s appointments to boards.  I mean, President Obama gave Kathleen Sebelius the job of running one-sixth of the U.S. economy. I’m still waiting for the breathless story about how she was appointed as a political favor. She was clearly not qualified, and she botched it in epic fashion.

I’m told that some of McAurther’s words to the Hutch News reporter were left on the cutting room floor. He serves on the Kansas Fairgrounds Foundation, and it would be very surprising if he didn’t mention something like his ultimate goal is to make the fair a success.

Of course, kind, decent words didn’t fit the narrative, and so, we get instead the few words he said about appointments being political. Well, yes, and this Hutch News story with its breathless accusations of wrongdoing, is political as well. You can trace the Hutch News’ ire back to one person-- Terry Bruce.

Brownback’s choice for the board, Lowen, was the treasurer for Bruce’s campaign. Bruce is a state senator who lost his re-election bid in the August primary.

There are 13 members of the Kansas State Fair Board. Some are at-large; others are related to specific roles. For example, the Kansas Extension Office has a presence on the board. The Governor appoints to the board but candidates for different seats must meet some statutory requirements. The at-large appointments are simply the Governor’s choice. Others, like Lowen, must meet some requirements like having ag interests, but that ag interest may be as little as owning some farmland.

The Extension Office parses through the candidates and forwards three names to the Governor from which to pick. Originally, the extension office forwarded the names of the incumbent, Brad Rayl, who had served on the board for 20 years; McArthur, and Lowen.

Rayl withdrew his name from contention, and the extension office replaced it with Christopher Charlton. Charlton sells ads for the Hutchinson News. No conflict of interest there, Hutch News!

The appointment statute makes no mention of “most qualified” or “person the Extension Office likes best.” It’s simply a binary option--either the candidate meets the requirements or they do not, and the extension office sent the Governor’s office a letter saying that all three nominees, McArthur, Lowen, and Charlton had ag interest.

You would think that Hutchinson folks would be happy to have a local businessman on the slate of the largest event in the community, but the Brownback appointment of someone who is friends with Terry Bruce was just too rich for the newspaper to ignore. (Instead, I would suggest that the Hutch News should consider doing an expose on who insures the fair and the connections to fair leadership. Word on the street is there’s a story there, if some journalist wants to take a brief reprieve from screeds about the evil of Sam Brownback.)

Lowen met the requirements, and the Governor appointed a successful businessman to the State Fair Board. This will probably be a good thing for the fair. All appointments have an element of politics, and it’s ridiculous to pretend there weren’t politics behind the other top candidates for the fair board gig.

There’s really nothing to see here. The Hutch News is trying to wrangle up controversy where there should be none. They would be wiser to just grab a Pronto Pup and enjoy the fair instead.

(Full disclosure: Many years ago, I worked for the Hutchinson News, very, very briefly.)

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