Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Kansas Politics: Attorney General Phill Kline battles newspaper

By Diane Silver

Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline -- in the fight of his political life -- won a point today.

Kline was able to show that Sunday's hard-hitting Kansas City Star editorial slamming him for "half baked, half truths" contained one error. The Star stands by the "general theme" of it's editorial, but admits the error. The editorial was corrected on the paper's web site. The newspaper also invited Kline to write a letter to the editor or a guest column.

The Star reported the story today:
During his campaign for re-election, Kline has cited numerous examples of criminals released from prison early because of a bill passed by the Legislature in 2000 that addressed prison overcrowding by readjusting some sentences.

The editorial cited one of those criminals, Vernon D. Harris, who committed a murder more than four months after his early release from prison. It stated incorrectly that the bill did not result in Harris's early release.

"Quite frankly, the editorial does not meet the standards of a major metropolitan daily newspaper," Kline said during a short news conference in front of The Star's building at 18th Street and Grand Avenue.

Miriam Pepper, The Star's editorial page editor, said the initial information about Harris came from the Kansas Department of Corrections. A department official contacted The Star on Monday to say that the information he provided the newspaper was in error.
This was a stupid mistake by The Star, but it doesn't negate the points made in the editorial. For that reason, I'm quoting the editorial below (emphasis added).

The attorney general says now the Legislature should have paid for more prison space. But Kline had been a champion of tax cuts in the 1990s that left the state without enough money to even contemplate a major prison construction program.

If Kline objects to abbreviated probation and parole terms, he's certainly had ample opportunity to do something about them himself. As attorney general, he has a seat on the sentencing commission. But except during campaign season, he can't seem to work up much interest in the commission's activities. In nearly four years, Kline has never attended one of its meetings.

Kline deceptively claims in his campaigns that the Legislature and sentencing commission freed hundreds of criminals to commit violent crimes.

In reality, the authors of Senate Bill 323 took pains not to shorten the length of any inmate's original prison sentence. And Kline's attempts to blame the legislation for criminal recidivism are grossly exaggerated. Kline apparently hopes he can slide by, bemoaning crimes without ever explaining how the state should realistically deal with its burgeoning prison population.

This six-year-old bill was passed by a Republican legislature, and won the votes of the GOP candidates for governor and lieutenant governor. The real issue isn't an attempt to solve this problem, but what caused it in the first place.

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