Kansas Common Sense


Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thanks for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. Please feel free to forward it on to your family and friends if it would interest them.

Supreme Court Nominee Announced: Judge Neil Gorsuch
The president announced his nominee to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy on Tuesday left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The nominee, Neil Gorsuch, currently serves as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and has an outstanding legal career befitting of a Supreme Court Justice. His suitability for such a serious judicial role was previously affirmed by the U.S. Senate when he received unanimous, bipartisan support during his 2006 confirmation after being nominated to serve on the Court of Appeals. As this Supreme Court confirmation process continues, I look forward to examining Judge Gorsuch’s body of legal writing and meeting with him to personally discuss his record and views of the judicial branch and the Constitution.

Meeting with Betsy DeVos
I met with Betsy DeVos, nominee for Secretary of Education, in my Washington, D.C., office this week to hear directly from her about her intentions if confirmed. I had the opportunity to ask about concerns I had after her confirmation hearing and based on the input I’ve received from Kansans. My thanks to those who have reached out to me to share your thoughts - I appreciate hearing from you. I also wanted to share with her what, from a Kansas perspective, I’m seeking in our next Secretary of Education.

The Secretary of Education should have a limited role in setting education policy at the federal level and avoid one-size-fits-all standards for schools across the country. Local school boards, teachers and parents should have the most influence and decision-making power. I also feel strongly that helping one group of students to find more opportunity should not come by reducing the resources available for other students. High-performing schools in Kansas – be they rural, urban or suburban – should be able to continue on their path to success without federal intrusion. 

I frequently visit elementary, middle, and high schools as well as community colleges, technical schools and universities across our state. My goal during the visits is always to make certain our schools are succeeding and the federal role in education is not too overbearing. I know that the impact our teachers and administrators have on our kids, their development and well-being is impossible to overstate. Teachers change the world one student at a time. The future of our state is decided on a daily basis in our classrooms, and our strong local schools help us make good things happen at home and across the country.

As I mentioned, I laid out a number of my concerns for Ms. DeVos – namely, the threat of a federally-mandated voucher program in our state and potentially insufficient enforcement and funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. I shared my view about the limited role she should have from the federal level.

Here is how Ms. DeVos responded to my questions:

  1. She will oppose federally mandated vouchers. 
  2. She will work with me to achieve the goal of full funding of IDEA to provide greater support for students with disabilities.
  3. She understands that voucher driven private schools may destroy or harm small rural schools in our state, and therefore this must remain a local or state issue. She understands that Kansas rural, urban and suburban schools are almost always considered to be excellent and many Kansans therefore don't see voucher-driven private schools as necessary to improve quality. 
  4. She has spent much of her life trying to see that children with much fewer resources receive the same quality education as her children. That's a noble effort, but the quest to improve the opportunities for those lacking quality education should not be pursued at a cost in resources of our public schools.
  5. She agrees that we must return control over our students’ curriculum and assessments to the state and local levels by implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act as Congress intended.

After our discussion, I will vote to support her nomination. Educators who interact with our children each day in the classroom have a much greater impact on the quality of their education and the lives these students will live than a Secretary of Education ever could, and I believe it should remain that way.

Demanding Accountability at the VA with Secretary Nominee Dr. David Shulkin
As a Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I had the opportunity to question Dr. David Shulkin, the president’s nominee for VA Secretary, during his confirmation hearing this week. I made it clear that I expect Dr. Shulkin, who has already been working for the VA as the Undersecretary for Health, to hit the ground running and make the changes necessary at the VA to get our veterans the benefits they deserve. I pushed him to address the VA’s pattern of unresponsiveness to members of congress attempting to help constituents with better access to healthcare and the department’s history of thwarting congressional intent in application of the laws we have passed. I also requested that Dr. Shulkin work with me to get answers from the VA as to how a physician assistant at the Leavenworth VA Hospital could have been allowed to commit crimes against veterans and then retire instead of being fired.

I expressed to Dr. Shulkin that as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, I want to make certain the VA is using their budget and taxpayer dollars in the most effective way possible. I will revisit this issue with him when my committee receives the VA’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2018. Click here to watch clips from the hearing.

I also had the chance to sit down with Congressman Phil Roe of Tennessee, who was selected as the new House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman. Congressman Roe and I are likeminded when it comes to the changes that must occur at the VA to better serve our nation’s veterans. We believe that veterans deserve real choice, under the Veterans Choice Program or otherwise, to access the healthcare they earned. We also agree that bad actors in the VA must be held accountable for their misconduct and disservice to veterans. As the new chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Congressman Roe and I will have additional opportunities to work together in service to our nation’s heroes. I look forward to working together to reform the VA to make it an agency worthy of the veterans it was created to serve. 

Meeting with Governor Sonny Perdue, Ag Secretary Nominee
I met with Governor Sonny Perdue, President Trump’s selection to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. Coming from a state where rural communities serve as the bedrock to our culture and economy, I explained to Governor Perdue there are few cabinet positions that I am more concerned with than the selection for Ag Secretary. Kansas farmers and ranchers are looking for someone who has their finger on the pulse of rural America, including volatile commodity prices and challenging weather conditions. This individual must also oversee the many other functions of USDA beyond traditional farm policy, such as providing affordable rural housing, operating farm loan programs and expanding agriculture research efforts. Furthermore, the Ag Secretary must be willing to go to bat for rural America in all other areas of the administration, such working with the EPA, Fish & Wildlife Service or U.S. Trade Representative to make sure the interests of farmers, ranchers and rural communities are understood and advanced.

I set a high bar for the Secretary of Agriculture because of its importance to Kansas and the country. I believe that Governor Perdue exceeds those standards and will prove to be an excellent selection for Secretary of Agriculture. I look forward to supporting his nomination and working to advance our shared goal of improving the lives of people in rural America. Read more about why I’m supporting Gov. Perdue in Agri-Pulse here.

Touring Gulfstream Aerospace
On Monday, I toured the headquarters of Gulfstream Aerospace. As a wholly owned subsidiary of General Dynamics, the company designs, develops, manufactures, markets and services business jet aircraft. Most importantly, Gulfstream provides a substantial source of business for manufacturing suppliers in Kansas including GKN Aerospace Precision Machining in Wellington, which I visited the week prior. During the tour, I was shown the manufacturing and completions facilities for Gulfstream’s signature aircraft, the G650, along with their research and development labs where their cutting-edge technology is undergoing constant and thorough testing. 

As a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and Co-Chair of the Senate Aerospace Caucus, I had a productive conversation with Gulfstream’s leadership team on a number of federal policies that directly impact their day-to-day operations. For aviation manufacturers like Gulfstream, aircraft certification reforms are a top priority as Congress considers Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation this year. Additionally, safety and security issues surrounding recent air traffic control (ATC) modernization proposals remain a consistent concern for the entire general aviation community. Thank you to Ira Berman, Leda Chong, Jay Neely, Paul Robinson, and Scott Martin for leading my tour.

Meeting with Kansas County and District Attorneys
On Wednesday, I met with several County & District Attorneys from across Kansas: Brandon Jones of Osage County, Steve Howe of Johnson County, Charles Branson of Douglas County, Todd Thompson of Leavenworth County, Marc Bennett of Sedgwick County and Mike Kagay of Shawnee County. We discussed the intersection of federal and local issues of importance to their work to make Kansas a safer place, including better responding to mental health challenges in our communities and more effective prosecution of crimes related to sexual assault and the illicit trafficking of drugs and narcotics. Thanks to these public servants and their colleagues in offices around the state for their daily commitment to justice and public safety.

Encouraging the President to Engage Manufacturing Council Recommendations in Jobs Initiative
As the co-founder of the Senate Competitiveness Caucus and a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, I led a bipartisan, bicameral letter this week to President Trump urging him to utilize the Department of Commerce’s Manufacturing Council to support his Manufacturing Jobs Initiative. Created in 2004, the Manufacturing Council is a private sector advisory committee to the Secretary of Commerce regarding federal government policies and programs that affect U.S. manufacturing and economic competitiveness, and it has continued to serve as a valuable resource administration to administration. 

Kansas manufacturers play a crucial role in our state’s success. In this joint letter with the House Manufacturing Caucus, I encouraged the president to consider the recommendations of the Manufacturing Council, particularly as the Council promotes the Manufacturing USA Institutes. The Institutes, which partner with a variety of industry and academic entities such as Wichita State University and the University of Kansas, work to ensure that the United States leads the world in research and development while implementing cutting-edge technologies. To read the full letter, please click here.

Accepting Applications for Summer Internships
My own interest in public service was sparked by an internship for Kansas First District Congressman Keith Sebelius in 1974. As an intern, I had the chance to learn firsthand how a congressional office operates and how the legislative process works. I am proud to be able to offer this same opportunity in my Senate office today where I have interns year-round who have a unique opportunity to work closely with my staff on behalf of Kansans. Applications are already being accepted for internships in my Washington, D.C., and state offices for the summer 2017 term. The deadline is Friday, February 17. Congressional internships are open to qualified undergraduate and graduate students who have an interest in public service and have achieved academic excellence. Click here for more information. 

Kansans in the Office
Guiding Paws
Andrew Crane of Wichita

Kansas Bankers Association
Lynn Mayer of Marysville
Doug Wareham of Topeka
Chuck Stones of Topeka

Kansas Mentors
Keith Tatum of Topeka
Dan Soliday of Wichita
Mary Shannon of Wichita

Kansas County & District Attorney’s Association
Brandon Jones of Osage County
Steve Howe of Johnson County
Charles Branson of Douglas County
Todd Thompson of Leavenworth County
Marc Bennett of Sedgwick Count
Mike Kagay of Shawnee County

John Goodwin of Mission Hills
Jeff Imlay of Leawood

OK Program
Darron Story of Kansas City
Donald Northcross of Kansas City
Brian Miller of Kansas City

Kansas Wheat
Doug Keesling of Chase
Brian Lomm of Goddard
Ron & Shirley Suppes of Dighton
Jordan Hildebrand of Manhattan
David Schemm of Sharon Springs
Ken Wood of Chapman
Gary Millershask of Lakin
Mike Jordan of Beloit
Daniel Heady of St. George
Jay Armstrong of Manhattan

Kansas County & District Attorney’s Association
Brandon Jones of Ottawa
Steve Howe of Johnson
Charles Branson of Lawrence

National Sorghum Producers
Frank Henderson of Topeka
Gail Billman of Altamont
Dayna Miller of Baschor
Patrick Woods of Topeka
Leah Fliter of Manhattan
Gina McGavan of Ellsworth
Parker McGavan of Ellsworth
Evelyn Hill of Kansas City
Susan Walster of Haysville

Gold Star Mothers
Jennifer Jackman of Elsmore

Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African
Mary Tolar of Manhattan
Trisha Gott of Manhattan

Coalition of Higher Education Assistance Organization
Bruce Lopez of Shawnee Mission

Kansas Independent College Association and Fund
David Spittal of Olathe
Kevin Ingram of Manhattan
Brad Andrews of Winfield
Matt Lindsey of Topeka

Kansas Association of School Boards
Rob Gilligan of Emporia
Rod Stewart of Washington
Lance Russell of Hays
Craig Meeker of Wellington
Zachary Simon of Goddard
Samantha L’Ecuyer of Morrowville
Devin Schierling of Inman
Bill Spiegel of Manhattan
Jeff Mat of Garden City
Earl Roeme of Scott City
Melissa Roth of Clay Center
Kent Winter of Andale

National Federation of the Blind of Kansas
Rob Tabor of Lawrence
Tom Anderson of Overland Park
Ashley Neybert of Overland Park
John Mestenmacher of Johnson County
Afton Harper of Johnson County

Honored to Serve You in Washington
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Thank you to the many Kansans who have been calling and writing in to share their thoughts and opinions on the issues our state and country face. I appreciate the words of Kansans, whether in the form of a form of letter, a Facebook comment or a phone call, who wish to make their voice heard.

Please let me know how I can be of assistance. You can contact me by email by clicking here. You can also click here to contact me through one of my Kansas offices or my Washington, D.C., office.

Very truly yours,

Newsletter Sign-up Form

Note: Fields marked with an * are required.