Archive for Friday, January 16, 2009

Exiting president has left legacy in Kansas

January 16, 2009

President George W. Bush’s eight years in office, the actions of his administration and the policies he put in place have marked Kansas — and Lawrence — in unexpected ways.

Here is a round-up of where Bush’s presidential seal has left the most significant impressions on our state.

Military Bases

No doubt Bush’s name will forever be connected with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, his decision to go to war has changed the lives of many Kansans from those who serve to the ones who stayed behind to support them.

But it was the decision under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to bring the 1st Infantry — or the famed Big Red One — back to Fort Riley that had a major effect.

While the division’s return hasn’t driven quite as much economic activity as some had hoped, it’s kept the area somewhat insulated from a worsening recession.

“People talk about the economic problems and we live in a bubble. Real estate seems to be good, housing sales seem to be good, (employment) is fairly high and that’s because of the university and Fort Riley,” Kansas State political science professor Dale Herspring said.

“I don’t see Fort Riley on the chopping block,” Herspring said of any potential cuts to the military.

Along with the return of the Big Red One, the announcement that the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility would be housed in Manhattan was made under Bush’s watch. The $450 million construction project is expected to last four years and generate 1,500 construction jobs.

The location was picked on merit, not politics, said Joseph Aistrup, a K-State political science professor, referring to the decision to move the facility from Plum Island, N.Y., to Kansas.

“His administration was the one who put it in action or made the decision possible,” Aistrup said. “That kind of decision will have a big impact for many years to come.”


Perhaps no other city in Kansas felt the presence of the president more than Greensburg. When a Category F-5 tornado decimated the southwest Kansas town in May 2007, it came on the heels of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s much criticized response to Hurricane Katrina.

“The hurricane issue really became emblematic, many thought, of (Bush’s) mismanagement of the federal government,” Aistrup said. “By the time of Greensburg, he had managed to learn some lessons from that and reacted in a different manner.”

Bush visited the devastated city twice, once after the storm and a year later when 18 seniors graduated from Greensburg High School.

Greensburg Mayor Bob Dixson met the president on his second trip.

“He was genuinely interested,” Dixson said of Bush’s concern for rebuilding the city.

While FEMA’s handling of Hurricane Katrina has largely been viewed as a bungled response, Dixson praised the agency for its efforts in Greensburg. It quickly brought in trailers for displaced towns people, facilitated community planning meetings and continues to be in contact with the town, he said.

Dixson acknowledges the damage in Greensburg was of a far different scope than that of Katrina, but said FEMA did “everything in it’s power” to help the town.

Ethanol production

Across the state, 2007 was a bumper year for farmers, whose net profits were the highest in decades.

Many economist attribute the good farm year to the increased demand in ethanol, which sent the price of corn — and in turn other grains — skyrocketing. It was a move that many consumers felt at the grocery store.

The drive for ethanol was part of Bush’s Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007, which called for biofuel production to ramp up to 36 billion gallons in the next 15 years.

“For a crop farmer, it was a wonderful time,” said Bill Wood, director of Douglas County’s K-State Research and Extension office.

While the official numbers aren’t in, Wood estimates that 2008 hasn’t blessed farmers nearly as well as 2007. Crop prices have fallen and input costs, such as fertilizer and fuel, remained high for much of the year.

As for Bush’s impact, Wood calls his policies a wash for Kansas farmers.

No Child Left Behind

The education act that was passed during Bush’s first year in office, No Child Left Behind, has panned out pretty well in Lawrence, Superintendent Randy Weseman said.

Placing importance on standardized testing, No Child Left Behind has centered attention on student performance. Test scores show performance of at-risk children, not to mention all students, have gone up in the school district, Weseman said.

“It is a cumbersome, paperwork-laden, unfunded mandate, but I think schools in Lawrence and across the state and nation have responded in a way that has been beneficial for kids,” he said.

Still, Weseman is among many educators who criticize the lack of funding that went with the bill. But he noted the biggest difference is that data is now used for guiding how teachers instruct in the classroom.

Obama in the office

As for what is to come under the next president, Washburn University political science associate professor Bob Beatty said he is hopeful that Kansas could profit on Barack Obama’s push for alternative energy sources. It’s an opportunity Beatty thinks both the Clinton and Bush administrations failed to capitalize on.

And, K-State professor Aistrup said Kansas — like many states — could see the arrival of more federal funding in the form of infrastructure projects, block grants and general revenue sharing. With some of that money, strings could be attached, Aistrup said.

If Obama is successful in implementing some of his campaign promises, then the corporate and personal income tax would increase.

“For the immediate future a change in administration may be a change in tax policies and may end up benefiting the state of Kansas in the long run if the economic conditions improve. And I mean that is a heck of big if,” Aistrup said.

Whatever the changes, Obama will have an uphill battle convincing a state that didn’t vote for him that he is doing a good job, said Christian Morgan, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party. In Kansas, Obama lost to Republican presidential candidate John McCain by 57 percent to 41 percent.

“Kansans are kind of a special bunch of people. They don’t really rely on a president or somebody bringing something to get things done in the state,” Morgan said. “I’m not even sure what we are gaining or losing by having Barack or President Bush in the White House. What we don’t gain is the satisfaction of putting that president in that office.”


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