Eagle editorial: Why pick Hermanson?

06/06/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:24 AM

Why would the Brownback administration appoint former Wichita state Rep. Phil Hermanson to be acting inspector general of KanCare, the state’s $3 billion Medicaid program? After all, Hermanson has no college degree or career experience in insurance, accounting or health care, and his past problems include a business bankruptcy, a DUI conviction and campaign-finance violations.

Here’s likely why: He’s a loyal Republican insider.

Sadly, that’s not unusual. The Brownback administration has a bad history of making appointments or business decisions based at least in part on political connections.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s political right-hand man and two other former employees are reportedly at the center of an FBI probe related to lobbying and KanCare. “Questions center on whether Brownback representatives pressed companies or organizations to hire specific lobbying firms or whether entities that showed inadequate deference were targeted for political or financial punishment,” the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

The Kansas Health Institute New Service reported recently on the insider connections involved in the state’s privatization of child-support enforcement. It recounted how a private meeting took place soon after Brownback’s inauguration involving two top Brownback officials, a lobbyist and a Brownback campaign contributor who wanted to expand his company’s business in Kansas. Within weeks of that meeting, the state hired an employee of that contributor who then headed up the state’s move toward privatization (in which the contributor’s company ultimately received the bulk of the contracts).

Earlier this year the Hutchinson News reviewed Brownback’s appointments to state boards and commissions and found a long list of “former legislators, Republican and conservative activists, and insiders.” For example, Brownback appointed T.C. Anderson – who was campaign treasurer during Brownback’s first gubernatorial run and is treasurer of the Kansas Republican Party – to the State Board of Accountancy.

Last month Brownback appointed Linda Weis – a Manhattan Realtor who was Brownback’s pick to head the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission after he eliminated most state arts funding – to the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission. Other Brownback appointees to this commission include Felita Kahrs – wife of Jeff Kahrs, a former top aide to former U.S. Todd Tiahrt who is now chief of staff at the Kansas Department for Children and Families – and Gary Mason, who has been active politically with the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and unsuccessfully challenged state Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, in the 2012 GOP primary.

Choosing appointees with political ties is not new; Kathleen Sebelius and other former Kansas governors did it, too. And it’s not necessarily a problem if the person is capable, such as when Brownback appointed his legal counsel, Caleb Stegall, to the Kansas Court of Appeals.

But like Hermanson, some of Brownback’s appointments seem to be based more on connections than on competence.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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